• Prep for Track Days

    Getting ready for your first track weekend:

    Well here we go. You've decided to venture into a track weekend. It looks like a lot of fun, and it is. As of novice (that's actually the correct technical term for those new to track events) you will spend much of your off-track time listening and learning, and there is a lot to learn. You may be a pretty good driver on the highway, or the back roads around your county. You may even consider yourself a decent "wheel-man", but I can virtually guarantee that you have never ever driven your Cobra (or any vehicle) at FULL SPEED for 20-30 minutes with 15 or 20 other drivers doing the exact same thing just a few feet away from you. It's a very dynamic situation to say the least. If your equipment (that's your car) is in good shape, and your head is clear, a track weekend can be the most fun you'll ever have in your Cobra.

    Now, things can and do go wrong. Parts fail and accidents can happen. But, for the most part it's just plain fun. The first step towards your track adventure is preparing your vehicle. Please, do not expect to show up at the track, pay your admission, rent a helmet, and expect to have a good weekend - you won't. You have to prepare both your car, and your self. So, let's get ready.

    Most tracks or organizers of HPD events (that's an acronym for High Performance Driving Event) have a technical inspection check off sheet, often referred to as simply "Tech". Normally, an event official will want to see your tech sheet, and will visually inspect your car to verify the statements on your tech sheet. Sometimes your tech sheet may even have to be signed by an ASE certified technician (that's the mechanic at any professional auto service garage). Mostly though, most events are "self-tech" meaning you have checked your car, and you have filled out your tech sheet. At this point, I would strongly suggest that since your car has probably never been on the track, and in all likely-hood you are NOT an ASE certified technician - that you do indeed have your vehicle thoroughly inspected by your mechanic using the tech sheet as a guideline.

    Here's a sample list of items generically found on most tech sheets. You can use this as a guideline to get started, and Iíll add some commentary.

    Long pants, leather shoes are required; long-sleeve shirts required. Fire-retardant suites required for Pro-Class. Donít show up in shorts and t-shirt and expect to run. Itís going to be hot. Learn to like it. Bring some extra shirts and plenty of water, Gatorade, and soda.

    All open cars must have a roll bar; single loop Cobra roll bars are acceptable. SCCA type roll bars recommended for the pro class. All Roll Bars must be attached to frame and fully functional and not ornamental.
    Some tracks frown upon Cobras. The may want to do a broomstick test. They will lay a stick or board on your roll bar and extend it to the top of your windshield. To pass the test, you must be seated in your car with your helmet on and NOT touch the stick.

    All cars must have competition type belts and shoulder harnesses. The latch and lock harnesses you probably have in your Cobra will qualify. That is a 4-point harness system. At some point you may want to consider an anti-submarine belt. That is the belt that goes from the floor, between your legs and connects with the rest of your harness system.

    Seats must be mounted securely; all loose objects must be removed. Please make sure your seats are secured to your frame. Also, remove your floor mats, and anything inside of your car that is not bolted down. That includes empting your glove box.

    Must be securely mounted; terminals tight and in good condition. Positive terminal must be taped or covered. This is often times overlooked in a Cobra, because our batteries are most likely mounted in the truck. Check your battery. Make sure the connections are tight and the battery hold down system is tight. The last thing you want is that battery flopping around your trunk at 100 MPH slamming into fiberglass.

    All loose items must be removed. Seriously, take everything out of your truck. Also, make sure your trunk latch is secure. You may even consider using a bungee cord to your trunk handle to make doubly sure that your truck does not come open at an inopportune time.

    Must be in good condition with no patches or plugs. In the novice class youíll probably be running your street tires. Make sure you have at least half of the tread remaining on all your tires. You are going to abuse your tires a lot this particular weekend. There will be plenty of tire wear. Make sure you have the tread for it.

    Will be tested for pedal travel and fluid levels. You should have fresh fluid in your system too.

    Must be operational.

    None allowed.

    Check for tightness; remove hubcaps and beauty rings. You must remove those little center caps on your Cobra wheels. Also, a good practice is to remove your wheels to inspect your brakes and pads and then replace your wheels. While the wheels are off you may also want to make sure they are balanced properly and the wheel weights are secure.

    Check for play; check wheel bearing tightness. Wheel bearings are easy to check. With your wheels off the ground, grab the top with both hands and try and rock it back and fourth, and up and down. There should be very little or no movement at all. If there is too much movement, get them inspected. They may just need to be tightened or adjusted. They may need to be replaced. Either way, it is very unsafe Ė so get it fixed

    May not be cracked or broken.

    Good condition and secure. This includes header bolts and header/collector bolts. Check them all

    At least 1 qt. can required. Make sure that it is empty

    Two (2) required. A double return spring is available at every auto parts store. You should have this no matter what

    Required by drivers and passengers at all times while on track. Certified Snell SA2010 or newer. DO NOT show up with a motorcycle helmet. DO NOT show up with a pit-crew style helmet. ONLY use a helmet rated for automobile racing. Make sure that it is the proper size. Not too loose. Not too tight. Good GOD, if you ignore everything else on this page Ė donít ignore this.

    At least one rear view mirror required.

    If you have a Superformance Cobra Ė your car comes standard with this. Otherwise, you really need this no matter what. A drive shaft hoop is a curved steel band that goes around your drive shaft. Itís purpose it to protect you and your car in the event that your drive line breaks. Without this hoop, your drive shaft (which is right next to your hip and leg in a Cobra) will act like a huge saw and destroy everything in a 12-inch radius. Get a drive shaft hoop

    REQUIRED for all Pro Classes.

    Okay Ė thatís tech. But thereís more prep that you need to consider. While you are getting your car ready, letís finish the job. Remember, all of this work is just to make sure you have a good time at the track.

    Get your fluid changed to fresh fluid. The heat that your brakes and brake fluid endure at the track is extreme. Brake fluid is measured by itís boiling point. Once brake fluid boils it stops doing itís job. Since brake fluid absorbs water over time the effective boiling point approaches that of water, 212 degrees. Thatís not good. New brake fluid is clear. As brake fluid degrades and absorbs water, it changes to a darker color. If your brake and clutch fluid is dark, it needs to be changed. Most likely your car uses DOT3 or DOT4 fluid. Replace your fluid with the same designation. I use Wilwood 570 Ė which is a DOT3 or 4 with a rated boiling point of 570 degrees. Basically, if the brake fluid you are considering for you car only costs $3 per can Ė donít buy it. Step up to some decent fluid. You car is fast, but you need your brakes to work under extreme conditions. Spend some money on decent brake fluid.

    First, have AND use an air pressure gauge. Check your tire pressures before and after each session. Your tires will heat up while on the track and the pressure will increase. Consult with others that use a similar tire as yours. Typically, you will have your tire pressure a little lower than normal to start a session. After your session, your tire pressures will be higher. There has been much written about tire pressure and tire temperature analysis, and youíll learn about that eventually. For now, just lower your pressure a little. For example, on my street tires I normally run about 22 lbs. At the track I would lower them to about 19 or 20 lbs. During the session, they heat up and the pressure increases to about 26 lbs. Thatís all fine. Like I said, consult with a few others. Everyone is there to help.

    Make sure your car has a good and proper alignment. For more performance, you may want to consider a more aggressive track alignment. Much has been discussed about this as well. As a novice though, at this point just make sure itís good. If you have access to 4-corner scales (we do in this club) have your car weighed. The purpose of this is to make sure that your car has equal weight on each corner (tire). By adjusting your springs/shocks and ride height you should be able to achieve a well-balanced vehicle. Again, much has been written about this. For now, your purpose is to make sure that something is not completely out of whack.

    Just like in our driving season article, you should perform a complete under car and engine compartment nut and bolt check, wire and connector check, and all fittings checked before every track outing. Every bolt. Everywhere. You may think this is un-necessary. But, like I have said before Ė every time I do this check Ė I always find a few loose bolts. So, get this done.

    Alright, your car is basically ready to go. Now, how about you. Hereís a couple of things you need to bring to the track. You may be able to coordinate with your friends who are also going to the track to accumulate these items. But basically you want to have whatever you may need to generally service your car during the weekend. Also, no track allows drugs or alcohol to be consumed while the track is in operation.

    Tools Ė as many as you can
    Jack and Jack stands
    Tire Gauge
    Air compressor if possible
    Extra oil
    Any spare parts you may have available
    Duct tape
    Plenty of water, Gatorade, and soda
    Towels and shop towels
    Extra clothes, shirts, etc.
    Anything else that you think may be necessary.

    The schedule for track days usually begins at 8am with a mandatory driver's meeting. During this meeting the event officials will discuss the various track rules, the meaning of various flags and hand signals, placement of corner workers, pit lanes, entering and exiting the circuit, and all of the other rules for the facility. They will also discuss passing zones, driving lines of the circuit, and various rules for the different run groups. As a novice driver you may be required to receive additional instruction and preparation. This is a very important meeting.

    Once your car has been teched by event officials and all of your paperwork has been turned in and checked, you are ready for your sessions. Typically, the group of drivers are divided into 3 groups - Advanced or Pro Group, Intermediate Group, and Novice Group. Run sessions are generally 20 minutes in length and are for individuals in a particular group. Usually the Advanced Group goes out for the first session, followed by the Intermediate Group, and then the Novice Group. As a novice driver, your first session will likely be a lead/follow session in which you will closely follow and mimic a more advanced driver to learn the driving line, braking points, etc. Instructors may be available for ride alongs in your vehicle, or for post-session critiques. Take advantage of the very valuable service

    Typically, you will get 5 or 6 sessions each day. That doesn't sound like much, but I guarantee that you will be exhausted. There will be breaks for lunch, and an additional afternoon break for corner workers. Also, during lunch there may be an opportunity for "parade laps" in which you may be allowed to take a passenger around the circuit at a greatly reduced speed. Between sessions, check your car from stem to stern, check your tires, gas, and oil. Talk with other about your session and get some information. It's a busy day, but it's a lot of fun.

    Finally, one last tip. Clear you mind. You really need to concentrate to have fun this weekend. Leave your work problems behind. Turn your phone off (if you can). Listen to the advice of others, and your instructors. Pay attention to everything around you. Learn.

    In summary, this is a very basic novice level introduction to track events. Itís the kind of information that I wish I had before I went to my first track weekend. If you catch the track bug, and wish to make track events part youíre your yearly Cobra outings you will learn much more than the information in this essay. For now, this is just some good information to get you started.

    Remember this: This is not a race. You are not Mario Andretti. There are other drivers and cars in attendance that are much faster than you. There are no crystal trophies or big paychecks at the end of the weekend. You have a very fast car that will kill you in an instant if you are not very careful. Concentrate completely on the task at hand. Learn the limits of your equipment, and yourself. This will take some time Ė probably years. But, boy oh boy Ė this stuff is fun.

    See you at the track.