This is part 1 of a multi-part series (or at least that’s the plan).
Step zero is finding a local track; hopefully, there’s a track withing an hour or two’s drive from where you live (200mi is probably about the farthest you’d want to go for your first trackday, nearby tracks not only reduce travel time but also make other logistics like getting your car towed home if anything happens). If not, you will need to do a little more planning and I’d highly recommend getting a group together to defer travel costs and give you some support.
Once you’ve found a track, you’ll need to find a group that hosts trackdays. The type you’re looking for as a novice/first timer is a DE (driver education) or HPDE (high performance driver education) or instructed trackday/PDX (performance driving experience). There are lots of names but these are all the same type of events, namely a trackday with instruction (usually both in-car and a classroom portion). Take all the instruction and help you can get, especially when it’s free (the best way to have a good time, get faster, and be safe is to utilize all the help that’s offered).
Be friendly, enthusiastic, and humble. A good attitude is hugely important to having fun and getting better. As a novice, there’s not much car prep you need to do. Before the event you’ll need to do a technical inspection of your car, some organizations require you to get this done with a mechanic while others will let you do it yourself, the main purpose is to make sure that your car is safe and won’t leak. Make sure your fluids are fresh and topped off, you’ll probably want to upgrade to a higher temperature brake fluid and to more aggressive track brake pads (most novices don’t go fast enough to have to worry about overheating their pads but depending on the track, your car, and driving technique you could easily out drive street pad, which is both dangerous and will end your day). Anything that can be removed from your car should be, including floor mats. Most organizations have loaner helmets, inquire ahead of time. Motorcycle helmets aren’t usually fireproof and aren’t acceptable on the track.
Some groups require numbers, the easiest solution is some painter’s tape (make sure the color contrasts your car). Painter’s tape won’t leave any marks on your car and is a cheap and easy solution. Your numbers should be on the sides of your car (you might also need to put them on the front and rear, but that’s up to your organizer) and should be big. Remember, the numbers are so the corner workers can identify your car and they’re a couple of hundred feet away and you’re moving pretty fast, so bigger is better. The tape can have a tough time sticking if you just waxed your car or if your car is coated in dust.
Arrive early and take care of all the registration paperwork as early as possible, that’ll allow you the most time to meet your instructor/coach and to mingle and meet the other drivers (most track people are very friendly and helpful, your best bet is to find people with similar cars). Track days are social events, you’ll have more fun if you keep that in mind and try to make friends. DON’T WORRY ABOUT BEING SLOW.
You are at the track to have fun and learn, no one gets upset about slow drivers. People get upset when you don’t give point-bys (passing signals) or if your driving is unpredictable (unsafe). If it’s your first time, you’ll be group with other novices and you all will be learning huge amounts each session. Listen to your coach and focus on techniques, speed is a byproduct of good technique.
For more on technique, stay tuned for part II...