First Track Day at Thunderhill

This past Sunday, July 21st, I finally did it. All this talk about not finding the time, not having the money, all the excuses became moot because I finally took part in a track day.

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A bunch of track noobs

I decided to do my first event with HOD (Hooked on Driving) at Thunderhill. I had heard good things about the organization, that they put on a great event for first-timers, and I was pleasantly surprised that their handling of the track day surpassed my expectations. They provide everything you need for your first track experience and more, and there is plenty of seat time so you can improve session after session and feel like you learned a lot throughout the day.

My car is a 2013 Subaru BRZ, lowered on Swift springs, with Whiteline camber bolts, 17×9 Enkei RPF1s, Stoptech brake pads, and Motul RBF600 brake fluid. I put on a Nameless muffler delete for my track day.

Before I ever got to the track, I printed out a tech inspection sheet that HOD provides. All the standard stuff for any High Performance Driving Event… check your brakes, tire depth, wheel bearings, any leaks, coolant, oil level, etc. All the necessary things to make sure your car will not fall apart on track. On the Saturday before my track day, I topped off my coolant and oil levels, fixed a small oil leak, checked the torque levels on my camber bolts (definitely don’t want those slipping on track), took all the loose items out of my car, charged my GoPro, and installed (if you can call removing two bolts and 4 exhaust hangers an “install”) my track pipe. Cruising down the street with my blaring single-exit track pipe and stiff springs, I kept repeating to myself “because racecar”. When I went to fill up on gas, a guy came up to me and suggested I put a fake exhaust tip to fill out the empty exhaust hole on the other side of my track pipe. I don’t think he understood when I said it was for a track day.

Saturday morning, at 4:30am, I set off for Willows, California, home of Thunderhill Raceway. The gates opened at 6:45am, and it’s about a 2 hour drive for me. I wanted to make sure I got there early enough to get a spot under the shaded paddock, since I knew it was going to be a very hot and sunny day. Once I thought I had found a spot, I went inside the clubhouse to pick up a packet with a logbook, schedule for the day, track map, meal ticket, and class sticker to put on my car. I also got my helmet approved (they put a little sticker on it to indicate it’s passed inspection) and picked up some number stickers for the photographers to identify my car by. This is when I came outside to find that I had accidentally parked in someone else’s spot. There was hardly an indication that the spot was taken, but I was rudely told to move my car anyway. Luckily I found a spot close by that was still shaded. This was the most unhelpful and rude person I encountered all day. Every single other person I met was very friendly, willing to share tips, and was there to have a good time.

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Under the shaded paddock

After this unpleasant encounter, Group A (the n00bs) had our first meeting of the day. We met on the 2nd floor of the clubhouse, with a full track view (which was distracting at times), and went over some general specifics for the day. We got coaches assigned, learned the flags and passing zones, and then we were ready to hit the track.

The first three laps, your coach drives your car, which is entirely optional. This lets you get acclimated to the track, learn where the flag stations are, and also ensures that you won’t be surprised by the two blind turns and go off track on your first lap. It was a good way to get comfortable with the situation and calm down the nerves a bit. After the first 3 laps, you pull into the hot pits and take over the driver’s seat. Somehow I ended up being the first one out on track, so it was nice to have a clear path ahead of me and get to know the track at my own pace. I was communicating with my coach via in-helmet radio the whole time, so he was giving me tips on when I should to be at track edge, what lines I’m messing up, where I can go flat out and not worry about it, etc. The hardest thing to get used to is how far to the edge of the track you need to push your car to achieve the correct line through a corner. The correct line through every turn is on the painted kerbs, and being that close to the edge of a race track at 90 MPH is hard to get used to.

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Chasing my friends’ s2k

After our first session, they had us do three driving exercises off track. First one was braking; accelerate quickly and slam the brakes to feel what activating ABS is like. Second was a small slalom through cones, which I was familiar with because of my autox experience. Third was a figure eight around some cones, where you had to make sure to hit the apex.

After every track session, except for our last, we went up to the 2nd floor of the clubhouse again and had another classroom session where they went over driving lines, what to do in the event of a spin, showed us videos of a perfect driving line, explained off and on-camber turns, as well as various other aspects of driving a track.

After two track sessions and a ride in my coaches’ race-spec Miata, I was beat, and unsure of whether I could push on. The heat didn’t help, with it being 90+ degrees. But lunch definitely got me back on track, and HOD provided a salad bar for lunch, which was perfect. Not too heavy, but just enough food to get you the energy you needed for the rest of the day. They also provided a cooler full of cold bottled waters so I was able to keep hydrated throughout the day.

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Being coached to attack the kerbs

After lunch, we had two sessions with two classroom sessions following, and then our last session, which finished off the day. I was surprised by how little down time there was. Between being on track and in the classroom, I had about 15 minutes of down time between each session. Seems like not enough to wind down, but I think that’s the point; it keeps you on your toes. I think I also got lucky that there was a small turnout at this event, so they combined some groups.

Overall, I had an absolute blast. I felt like I really got my money’s worth with this event, ending up at 100 minutes of time on track, with lots of classroom learning and other exercises to help me learn how to drive on a track. I’m glad I brought my GoPro, because I can just re-watch my last session over and over again and go over what I did wrong and see what I can work on next time. They also have pro-photographers there, so I got a CD full of pictures of my car on track, which I can look at anytime I want to feel cool.

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Everyone is behind me! I win!

Two tips to leave you with:
– Put an extra coat of wax on your car beforehand, as it (hopefully) makes it easier to get tire marks off, cause there are tire chunks bouncing on the track at certain points and you will run into/get hit by them. There are also TONS of bugs on your way up to Willows (especially in the summertime), as you can see in the pics below
– Don’t mount your GoPro on a tinted window if it’s a really hot day. Mine fell off at a certain point and I later realized it’s because it pulled part of the tint off. Ouch.

Video of my final session:

Pictures of my poor car after the track day and drive up there and back:

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Bug guts covering the front of my car – really shows up on white

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Marks from tire chunks on track, difficult to get off

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My wheel covered in brake dust and there are some tire chunks stuck on there as well

If you have any questions about my experience, or would like me to expand on anything in particular, don’t hesitate to comment here or ask me on FT86Club.

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