For many auto enthusiasts, driving on city streets just isn’t exciting enough and most, if not all, are glad to have taken their pride and joy for the first track day. But it all comes down to preparedness.
However, many first-timers make mistakes. They can be easy to do, but also embarrassing, especially if there are a lot of people there who practically live at the track. Here are a few common mistakes people make at their first track day, and also some tips on how to avoid them:
1. Arriving Late or Underprepared
Take whatever steps are necessary to prepare your vehicle and get to the track on time. Make sure you have everything ready before you leave and are aware of the rules and requirements the school or instructor has laid out. Make sure beforehand that your car is ready to pass tech inspection.
I learned this the hard way when I arrived in my Focus ST and blew out a spark plug. It’s a small thing, but I didn’t have any extras. Luckily, the guy I was with had just gotten some of these spark plugs and I was saved. I felt pretty foolish though, and always make sure to bring some small spare parts now.
2. Overestimating Your Abilities
One you’re there, you’ll need to come to terms with the limits of your capabilities and stay within them. This is a new experience, and there will be other drivers on the track of various skill levels. There will always be someone faster than you.
Refrain from trying to outperform or outmaneuver others until you have a feel for the track and are familiar with the corners and the way your vehicle behaves under pressure. It takes time to develop the proper skill set, and you can’t rush these things.
I’m very competitive, so this one is hard for me. If someone flies by me my first instinct is to catch them. I have to remember that I’m still new at this and trying to prove something could end poorly.
3. Driving on the Mirrors or Fixating
Your mirrors are mainly there to help you when parallel parking or changing lanes, and at high speeds relying on them too much takes your eyes off the track and what’s in front of you.
Additionally, you’ll want to make sure you aren’t fixating on a target when looking ahead. For example, if you’re looking at the rear wheels of the vehicle in front, you’ll inevitably drive toward them instead of where you actually want to go, and this will impact your ability to anticipate and perform turns correctly.
4. Braking in the Middle of Turns
While there are advanced trail-braking techniques often used for front-wheel-drive cars by experienced drivers, generally, using your brakes in the middle of a turn is a no-no. This a common mistake by novice drivers that hopefully can be caught early on by the track driving instructor. If you use your brakes in the middle of a turn because you feel you came in too hot, chances are you will upset your vehicle’s dynamics and end up going off the track.
You need to know the turns and work your way up. Make sure to brake before the turn and achieve the ideal speed for the turn BEFORE you turn in. Little by little you can go faster and faster until you feel your car’s limit. Leave the trail-braking techniques until after you get the basics down.
5. Failing to Check Your Gauges
It’s easy enough to forget to check your engine oil and water temperature levels as you drive around the track due to the excitement, but as your vehicle is exposed to greater stress, the need to do so becomes critically important.
Generally, the best time to check your levels is on the longer straights where you’ll have more time. While it might sound like a minor thing, if you don’t develop good habits in this area you may run into trouble down the road.
If you avoid these common first track day mistakes by following these simple guidelines on how to avoid them, your chances of success on your first track day are greatly increased. If you put your safety and the safety of other drivers first, you’re guaranteed to have a good time and will be able to make the most out of your first track day. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself booking your second session within the week.