Takin’ It To The Track

Making the jump to safely enjoying performance driving

Andy Bolig - March 28, 2013 10:00 AM


1 Check all fluid levels before hitting the track. It’s safe for you, those around you, and your engine/transmission.


2 You don’t have to have the newest car to have the most fun. The owner of this Corvette drove to the event and had a great time.


3 Safety is key to having a good time. Check with the requirements of the sanctioning body before getting to the track. Many times, their website will have most of this information or a contact so you can find it out.


4 Upgrades can help make you faster, if they are really improvements. A systematic approach to adding them is financially wise.


5 Many factory suspensions allow for adjustments to some extent. If more is needed, there are kits available that allow for more settings like this aftermarket bushing kit. Take your time and find out what works and why.


6 Stiffer springs, sway bars and shocks combine with body bushings to eliminate as much undesired movement as possible. Having all this hardware installed could push you up into a higher skill-level classification. Not a good place to start.


7 Many beginner classes require DOT-approved tires. Racing slicks can actually put the driver (and the car) into situations over their head if they’re not equipped to use them.


8 There are many DOT-approved tires that are quite adept in the midst of competition. Just remember that all that “stickiness” comes at a cost of tread life, a major concern if the car is to be your daily driver/weekend warrior.


Performance Progression

Having a plan for increased performance is the most economical way to see results. Doing things in the right order will allow you to build on previous mods, but also let you utilize more serious performance parts. A typical progression of performance parts for a track-style car or an autocross performer might look something like this:

1. Brakes

2. Shocks

3. Springs

4. Tires

5. Sway bars

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There’s something about the seat-of-the pants feel when you open up the throttle on your beloved ride.

Many times, it’s simply a quick blip of the throttle and we’re chugging along happily, until the next red light.

If you’re like most enthusiasts, you’ve wondered, at least once, what it would be like to REALLY wind out that engine and feel each and every one of those horses under the hood. But the street is NO place to be doing something like that.

We’ve all heard the songs glamorizing the red-light to red-light antics from the muscle car era or heard stories about “a buddy’s wild ride through the canyon”. Truth of the matter is, it can actually be more enjoyable to do it on a closed course because you don’t have to worry about creatures (both two and four-legged ones), road-hazards or, the LAW! You will most likely drive better, because you can focus on your driving and what the car is doing, rather than a variation of a law-usurping, weave-and-dodge through traffic.

No matter what type or level of performance driving you are interested in, there’s a track or a sanctioning body catering specifically to that style of driving. The Internet is chock full of organizations that are ready to introduce performance driving to willing enthusiasts. Whether drag racing, road racing or simply carving up cones in a parking lot on any given weekend, a quick search of your corner of the Internet will surely put you in contact with someone willing to bring you under their wing and get you started. There truly is no better time to make that leap from solely-street driving to dual-purpose performance fun.

 Nuts and Bolts of Performance Driving

Having a safe car to enjoy is MUCH more important than the make or model that you choose. Any car can be considered an entry-level E-ticket ride so long as you do your homework beforehand and ensure that it will be safe and pass the tech inspection requirements once you arrive.

One of the biggest mistakes that many enthusiasts make when they decide to get into some form of driving is to jump in with both feet. They don’t realize how deep the water is until they’re having a hard time breathing financially. Seeing a fully track-prepared car wearing racing slicks in the beginner class can strike fear into even the most courageous instructor.

If you are just entering into one form of performance driving or the other, you need to first make sure that all of the equipment on your vehicle is operating properly. A two-barreled, straight-six can be a lot more fun on track than a fuel-injected small-block sitting in the pits because a brake line or transmission cooler line is leaking. Getting out there and learning more about your car will not only make you quicker through the turns or down the ¼-mile, it’ll also help you to make the most of any modifications that you decide to do later on.

It also gives you a chance to baseline your car so that you can make a more educated decision as to what modifications you want to do next. For example, adding more power to a car that is already traction-limited might get you style points, but it won’t have the same benefits as putting all the currently-available performance to good use. Again, it doesn’t matter whether going in a straight line or turning, a gradual increase in performance is always better — and safer — than simply shopping the accessories aisle and trying to dial it all in. That might get you going quicker if you’re a seasoned veteran, but then, you don’t need us to tell you how much fun performance driving your car can be.

Understand that adding parts to a car is usually for the purpose of CORRECTING or changing a specific attribute of the car, not simply to pump up your ego. Know what area your car falls short in and work on that area. Don’t take the easy way out and say that the number one pitfall of your car is a lack of horsepower. Tracks are full of lower horsepowered cars that run faster or more consistently than those bellowing smoke and fury out their tailpipes.

Once you start finding areas that can use attention, make a plan on how to implement those changes. Sometimes, improvements can be had through simply making adjustments to the chassis. Other times, it takes parts and cash. There are times when redoing an entire assembly is prudent, but most times, improvements can be made in steps, allowing you to build on past mods to get the most out of your car.

Make sure you do them in the right order. A set of racing slicks might be stickier than the street treads that you’re currently running, but it’ll wreak havoc on your rubber suspension joints and can easily overpower your stock braking to the point you could lose them when you need them most. Sway bars can also keep your car’s body super-level as the rear of your car passes you due to severe oversteer and lack of traction. Taking a systematic approach to add-ons will allow you to identify the areas that are in need, and then you can decide what action, and to what extent, you might want to change things.

The goal of performance driving on-track is to see how fast you can get somewhere, but that is NOT the mentality to have when getting your car ready for some wide-open fun. Take your time and do your research. There’s a saying in road racing that “If you feel like you’re going slow, you’re probably going faster!” The same holds true when considering the options list and your wallet.

A Simple Pre-Track Check List:

Here’s a quick checklist of items that you would want to check BEFORE heading out to the track. Various sanctioning bodies may have their own lists to be filled out and brought to the track. This will be far from comprehensive, but it will give you a good starting point.

 Safety Equipment:

•Approved helmet (check with sanctioning body for rating)

•Long pants/sleeves

•Closed-toe shoes

•Seatbelts (typically three-point required)

•No loose items in interior

•Mirrors (not cracked/loose)

•Glass (no cracks/separation)

•Fire extinguisher


Mechanical Checklist:

•Lights/indicators working

•Battery secure

•Fuel lines (no leaks)

•Brake lines (no leaks)

•All engine fluid levels full (coolant/oil/transmission)

•Coolant (clean/no leaks)

•Coolant overflow container

•Brake fluid (full and clean)

•Belts (no cracks/tight)

•Tires (sufficient tread/no cracks)

•Exhaust in good working order

•Lug nuts (torqued to proper spec)

•Sufficient brake lining

•Steering (no excessive play)

•Tie rods/ball joints (no excessive play)

•Throttle linkage (no sticking)

•Wheel bearings (not loose/noisy)