Editor's Note- Richard Symons from England found the Slipangle podcast on the wide open expanse that is the internet... and we influenced him to go to his first trackday. He wrote about it, and I thought it was cool to hear from a beginner perspective again, especially one from another continent. The track he was running at, Castle Combe, is one of the oldest in the world, having opened in 1950, just 18 months after Silverstone (a famous UK circuit) opened. Castle Combe is one of those little club tracks you don't hear much about in mainstream media, like many we have here in the US, but in reading about it after going through this story, it has more history and racing pedigree than almost any US track anywhere. Stirling Moss won there, etc. Besides the goofy, cool looking license plate on the Civic, I also enjoyed the different way Richard wrote, as you can almost hear his accent in his typed words. Beginner's stories aren't often told, because, well, usually they don't write them down. Beginners are needed to keep the track-world going, and we'd like to tell a few of the first-timer stories here from time to time. Thanks so much for the submission Richard! -Adam
My First Proper Track Day
Firstly I guess I should start by saying “HI!” from England, this is the story of my first track day. I’ve been into cars and motorsport since I can remember and I have always modified my road cars to some extent or another. The want to drive faster/push myself has always been there, but life, and more specifically budget, had kept me from doing anything about getting onto track apart from a few 15 minute sessions at car shows.
Near the end of last year I had some disposable income so I started building my civic to take to the track. This has taken ages and has been quite a slog. It’s so much more work than the odd weekend lowering a street car. While I was getting super bummed at scraping sound deadening off the floor and removing the heater matrix etc I stumbled across a podcast where all the guys (and girls) talked about was driving “silly little Honda’s” around race tracks and how everyone was having a blast. While binge listening to all these people having so much fun while I was freezing my butt off in the garage there were a few comments about driving standard cars. I thought driving OEM cars on track was a bit silly, all that body roll and slow throttle response. There was only so much listening to this before I gave in and booked a track day at the local track for my road car, which is a 100% bone stock eg civic esi (d16z6 engine). If these guys can have so much fun then surely I can get in on some of the action?
After signing up for the trackday, things started to go slightly wonky. I will start by saying if you plan on doing your first track day in your road car and driving it to the track then give yourself more than two weeks to get yourself ready… I ordered myself a helmet and balaclava. I’ve been karting and used hire (rental) helmets before. I was all excited until my helmet was delivered to the wrong address, but luckily the track gods were shining down on me and the people who had the parcel were super honest and brought it round to my house. With the first potential drama solved I went on to check the car over-just basic stuff: suspension bushes/rack play/tyres/brakes. This was when I noticed the pads were getting a little low. Queue disaster number 2! In my infinite wisdom I decided that putting the old hubs from my ek on there would be a good idea as they had 260mm disks instead on 240mm. They already had fast road pads in, they had however been stood for a year or two and promptly seized up the passenger side calliper on the test drive. This left me to get someone to drop me off a calliper and I changed it in the dark in a lay by at the side of the road. The next day I went to fit new disks and pads after the extreme over heating of the day before. Unfortunately the retaining screws were several years old and very rounded off. My drill was broken and by the time I borrowed one and finished bleeding the brakes it was 9:30 pm. I was cold, wet, it was dark and I sat there wondering what the hell I was up to. There was, by now, only 50 or so hours until my track day and I had nothing ready or even a fully functional car as the centre section of the exhaust had needed replacing for some time. The next day I replaced the exhaust and cleaned the car thoroughly including using rain repellent on the windscreen which turned out to be a really good idea. If there is any chance of rain then I recommend everyone else to do this as well. I should point out that during all of this I was checking the long range weather forecast and it was predicting temperatures of -2 degrees Celsius and snow! Now we can get on to fitting the exhaust that went without a hitch, or at least I thought it did…. The gasket for the cat to centre section join I bought was a fire ring style instead of the old style triangle gaskets that the bolts go through. It fitted fine and didn’t leak much , so I was good to go.
The evening before the big day I filled the tank and a 20liter fuel can, did the tyre pressures and checked the levels again. I packed some basic tools, container of coolant, brake fluid and bleeding bottle, glass cleaner, paper towels and a jack. Got my helmet and driving licence ready and packed the gopro (more on cameras in a little while) and tried to get an early night for the 5 am start the next morning. The next morning I get up and look outside=no snow! Just lots and lots of rain.. I get about 35 minutes into the 2 hour or so drive in the pouring rain and darkness thinking I’ve just done the stupidest thing ever when I come round a tight bend on a rural road and hit a mass of standing water. I make it through to hear quite a bad exhaust blow. I get to the next big town and park in a petrol station forecourt to jack the car up and take a look. Well that fire ring gasket that was a design change was gone completely and I had a very broken car (the new replacement cats have a small area for this ring to sit where my original cat didn’t). By now I was fairly sure the world didn’t want me to go to the track and have fun like all these other people I had listened to on the Slipangle podcast. I laid down in the puddles and did the bolts up as tight as my 3/8th ratchet and standard Honda tool kit 14mm spanner would let me and fire it up expecting the worst. I was in luck the faces mated quite well and although I couldn’t do the top bolt of the three up it wasn’t blowing so off I went. I got to the track to see all these really nice fully prepped race cars (endurance bmw’s, cayman gt4’s, 911’s some mini race cars and Pugeot 205 special saloons) and the lump appears in the back of my throat. I knew I shouldn’t come to the track in a standard car, damn the guys from the podcast, this was such a ridiculous idea !!! Although after this initial shock, some less expensive and highly modified cars turned up and put my mind at ease slightly.
I pull up next to a guy in the paddock who has a mini race car on his trailer and he immediately offers me to store all of my gear under his lifted land cruiser to keep it drier than covering it in just my tarp. Maybe these people won’t spend all day laughing at me then? He shows me where to sign on and I fill out all the forms, get my helmet checked and sign my life away while I wait for the drivers briefing. The briefing was very thorough going over flags, where marshals are stationed, the side for passing and the correct procedure and places for giving somebody a point past and the instructors were introduced. Instructors are optional and all you need for track days here is a valid road driving license a car that will pass the 100db static noise test at 4500 rpm and clothes that cover your arms and legs. I was sent off for the noise test which thankfully I passed easily at 92db. But my gopro had to be removed as I had it mounted on a clip in mount that sticks to the dash and wasn’t a bolted fixing. So if you want some video then do a bit of homework on what mounting systems are allowed. ...always ask the group you are running with their requirements for cameras!
We were then sent out in three groups for 4 laps behind a course car at low speed to see the track conditions and spot the big puddles of water and brought back in. I was lucky to then have my 25 minutes of instruction immediately after this. I go out and do my instructor session which gets me used to the track and also to getting passed at speed by cars. He gave me a few small line corrections and kept telling me to brake later and get the steering angle off quicker. This was something that took some getting used to after driving on narrow roads. After the instruction we parked up in the paddock and the instructor gave me a few pointers on where to improve slightly and lines to watch but said that for the day my car was almost perfect, very good grip and almost no power to get into trouble with. With his words fresh in my mind I went straight back out for around 20 minutes getting passed by everyone but keeping out of trouble and on the tarmac. After letting the car cool and retightening the exhaust bolts I headed back out for about another 30 minutes. I seemed much more at ease after a while, and was starting to get small lock ups as I was pushing the braking a little more where I felt I could. I was starting to be able to carry 3rd gear through one of the chicanes as the wheel spin on exit was so much less (this I did without making a conscious effort but it was also part of one of the Ross Bentley driving tips from the podcast).
There was a lunch break which I used to tighten my exhaust again and take stock of what was going on and where I thought I may be able to go a bit faster through a corner or where I thought a slower entry might help the speed down the next straight. Although I didn’t write it down, visualization did certainly help the next time I went out which was for around 40 minutes. By the end of that session I felt quite comfortable, I had locked up brakes, had some turn in over steer and some under steer mid corner moments and I knew roughly where I felt happy with the car. I even got my first point-past by a guy in an mx-5 (Miata in the USA). It was about that time I started having enough mental capacity to look at my gauges a little bit down the straights, which was handy as I was almost out of fuel. I think if I had the session red flagged for running out of fuel I would have just gone home there and then from embarrassment! Luckily I escaped that drama. After a couple more sessions I was feeling super comfy, had a line I felt good with and was passing a few cars that even surprised me. I had thought I’d spend the whole day getting my doors blown off porches, which I did but I also managed to hold my own with some of the other road cars there like Renault Clio 182’s and Pugeot 206 gti’s. Just as I started feeling like I would be quite happy to spend the rest of my life driving around the track only pitting for fuel and coffee/toilet breaks the chequered flag was out and it was time to tighten the exhaust one last time and head home.
If you are considering doing your first track day then I can’t recommend doing it enough! Don’t worry about how good your car is or what spring rates you should buy. Just go and drive. Yes a tracked prepped car will be faster but it certainly isn’t a necessity by any means. You can have 90% of the fun and sensation of speed when your suspension nearly lets your wing mirrors rub the road with body roll! Obviously make sure the car is safe and in good mechanical condition, but you really don’t need thousands of pounds/dollars/euro’s in mods to go have an awesome time and meet some super nice friendly people. Just make sure if there is any work needing doing to the car then do it before you book so you don’t spend the week before working solidly to get ready!
I wish you all a safe track season and hope you all have as much fun as I did, but be warned! It’s the most addictive thing I have ever done and the next one will be booked on pay day at the end of the month. I have a feeling now I won’t be spending so much on car parts and much more on track time.
Richard Symons, England.