The alarm went off at 5:30am, far too early for any reasonable person to wake up on a weekend. Fumbling around in the dark, I throw on the clothes I had set out the night before, trying not to wake my wife or the dogs sleeping peacefully. Picking up the GoPro case and water bottle, I head out to the car which was already packed and ready to make the short 45-minute trip up 95 to Dominion Raceway, AKA the “Thornburgring”.

Arriving at the track just as the sun was peaking over the horizon, I passed through registration and tech with no problems and ventured out to the paddock to stake out a spot to set up. The first order of business was to remove everything from the car so the track wheels can be swapped on. The other wheels act as anchors for the pop-up canopy, as it is always very breezy here.

After getting set up, everyone attended the mandatory driver’s meeting. Afterwords we had about two hours of down time before the first “green” session at 10:30. The car got a good once-over, checking lug nut torque, fluid levels, and tire pressures, making sure there are no loose items inside, setting up the GoPro, and making sure my helmet, neck brace, and gloves are in the car.

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One of the best things about track events is hanging out with the other drivers. Adam had brought out his awesome Honda CRV “RaceUV”. If there’s ever a car event going on around central VA, odds are you can see this crazy thing out there.

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My good friend Micki was gracious enough to come out to take pictures. Every shot in this post was taken by her!

The first session is always taken a little easy, as the car is getting warmed up and the drivers are getting to know the instructors.

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Adam and I were both in the “green” group for newbies with fewer than 5 track days under our belts.

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By the second session, most people are getting more comfortable on track. Temperatures are coming up, and people really start to push.

My instructor for this event, Emil, pushed me really hard - which is just what I needed. I think I’ll be hearing him say “brake harder!” and “open the wheel!” in the back of my head for a long time.

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Over the course of the day, Emil had me braking so much later than before. I had no idea how well this car responded to trail braking, which I need to practice a lot more!

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This front drive platform requires completely different driving style than the MR2 I’ve been driving for so long. Trying to break those habits is extremely difficult, but I slowly started to get the hang of it, if only a little.

By the last session, I was keeping pace with a Subaru which I was told was making over 400 horsepower. That’s four times the power my little quarter-million-mile 4A-GE puts down.

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The trusty Corolla made it through the whole day without any mechanical problems. When swapping the street wheels back on I did notice that only roughly 25% of the brake pads remain up front, so perhaps getting a spare set of pads and rotors would be a good idea to have on hand next time.

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I can’t wait to get strapped back in for the next event and apply what I’ve learned. Hopefully they announce the next HPDE date soon!