Getting On Track: Sports Cars, Track Days & Road Racing
For sports car owners and enthusiasts, driving on a road course used to be very simple. There was one organization with one program and all you needed was a car that fit into one of their classes. It was a racing program, but at a time when most cars were driven to the track and long before the days of R Compound tires and toter-homes.
Today there are a dizzying number of organizations offering different types of track access depending on your vehicle and level of commitment. It can be confusing, so we’ll investigate the most common on track programs available.
There are many driving schools that teach everything from accident avoidance to data driven one-on-one advanced race driver coaching. Traveling schools can be found at most road racing tracks around the country, and most will require you to provide your own car. There are some destination schools like Radford (formerly Bondurant) that have a dedicated campus of racetracks and they will most often provide the vehicle from street cars to open wheel formula cars.
Car clubs like Porsche Club of America (PCA), BMW Car Club of America (BMWCCA), Shelby Owners Club and endless others offer multiple levels of on track experiences. Most of them allow any type of car, not just the marque (brand) that the club supports. Marque club programs are varied with some just offering lapping days to more structured programs that have driver coaching for newer drivers and even true racing programs.
Track day is a blanket term that covers most of what is discussed here, but in this detailed context the Track Day program is a little unique. There are companies like Chin Motorsports and Speed Ventures that provide “track day” events for street cars. Some have started adding competitions like fastest lap challenges, but their focus is primarily on providing track time. Cars are divided into multiple groups from Novice to Advanced based on driver experience.
If you’re watching the British Grand Prix thinking that it doesn’t look too hard, then perhaps a racing program is for you. In most cases, drivers start off in what’s called Club Racing. The largest national racing organizations are the Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) and the National Auto Sport Association (NASA). While both offer schools and track days, what differentiates them is their true “wheel-to-wheel” racing programs.
In recent years, there has been an explosion of new club racing programs. Some are specifically designed to be more accessible with an emphasis on lowering the cost like ChampCar and LeMons while American Endurance Racing (AER) and World Racing League host serious minded endurance races. Porsche Club and BMW Club also offer Club Racing for true race cars.
There is more to consider in club racing than the other on track options, specifically the type of car you want to race, the class it fits in to, the number of races near you, and the cost to run the car. The financial commitment can be significant, so do your homework. We will cover these considerations in upcoming articles.
The last consideration is safety equipment. Each organization will publish their requirements for safety equipment, but everything we have discussed so far will require at least a helmet.
Every helmet will have a Snell (or possibly FIA) certification sticker that will read something like “SA15” or “M10.” The Snell Foundation updates its testing standard ever 5 years, so the number refers to the standard that the helmet was designed and tested to meet. The letters designate if the helmet was tested to an automotive (SA) or motorcycle (M) standard. A Snell SA20 helmet is an automotive helmet tested to the 2020 standard. The Snell sticker is usually inside the helmet, under the pads in the back.
It seems obvious but buy the VERY BEST HELMET YOU CAN AFFORD. Safety testing standards improve with time, so a newer helmet will offer more protection than the old one you found on Facebook Marketplace for $50. Many track day organizations will allow motorcycle helmets, which are often much cheaper. However, motorcycle accidents are different than car accidents and the helmets are designed to protect against different types of impacts and prevent different injuries.
Getting On track
Driving on track is a dream for many people, but it’s easier to do now than it ever has been. Cars and tires are far more capable today than they were even 20 years ago, and the new track driver has more options than ever to get on track. Every road racing track in the United States has numerous options every season. Go out and watch a couple of them and get to know the people. Each will have its own distinct feel, even off track. Cars are meant to be used and enjoyed, so it’s time to get on track with yours.
About the Author: Chris Bovis is a three-time SCCA National Road Racing Champion with nearly 30 years of racing experience. A member of the Road Racing Driver’s Club (RRDC), he has established himself in US road racing as an accomplished driver, coach, and team owner. The second-generation racer holds lap records at a dozen racetracks including the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.