After much prodding from my friends I finally committed to going
to my first HPDE at Thunderhill. Not only was this my first HPDE,
it was my first time ever on a road course. Ive been to a
couple autocrosses but thats it. Other than that, Ive
had no real racing experience. So, this being my first time, I was
To prepare for the track I went to several websites and message
boards and asked others of their experiences and what they did to
prepare. Basically, for the car, I was told to change the oil, make
sure the brakes had at least 50% of the pads left, bleed the brakes
and clutch, check all fluid levels and anything else that could
potentially be a problem later at the track. So I also lubed my
sway bar bushings, double-checked bolts and nuts and stuff like
that. Also get the correct Snell rated helmet allowed for the track.
It is best to do this stuff a few days prior to the event so you
are not rushing around the night before getting things ready.
For myself, I, again, used the net to find out how to prepare
myself for the track. At the top of the list was: "Have lots
of fun!" But stay within your means. Dont go overboard
on your first time out. I had the urge to go fast but since I didnt
know the track I didnt want to wreck my car! Plus Id
end up in the wrong lines to take the correct apex. (Bad thing!)
Just take your time and go at your own pace. Remember that you are
still learning so you have to take it one step at a time. Speed
will come later when you learn how to drive. Believe me, there are
so many things to be aware of on the track that speed will take
a backseat! Dont forget to get a good nights rest the night
before. I made the mistake of getting only three and a half hours
of sleep the night before and I missed one session because I fell
asleep waiting for the next run. Oops! Better to fall asleep in
the pits then in your car!
However, the best thing you can do to learn how to drive is through
the Mentor Program, which is free through the NASA website. A friend
recommended it to me. Through this program, you will get personalized
help before, during and after the event. I was lucky enough to get
two people to help me, Dev and Barry! Barry is my mentor and Dev
was my instructor for the day since Barry couldnt make it.
Before the event, I e-mailed Dev and Barry back and forth asking
them numerous questions, like how to prepare and so on. Their help
proved to be invaluable. It was because of them I felt I was thoroughly
prepared for what to expect.
Once at the track, be prepared for sensory overload. Throw out
everything you think you know from driving on the streets and open
up your brain to learn how to race for real. Since I was new I was
in Group 1, so an instructor is required or if you have a Mentor,
you will meet up with him/her. Before my run group I got to ride
with Dev in his Pro 7 RX7 racecar. To be honest with you, I was
getting motion sickness from, Im assuming, all the g-forces
going around the track. But it gave me a change to see the layout
of the course before going out myself, which was also invaluable
to learning the track. It also gave me a chance to see what a real
racecar can do. Lots of fun, even after getting sick!
While on the track you need to be aware of so many things all at
once. I found this hard to do! You need to be aware of all the cars
around you, what lines to take, the apex, flag stations, color of
the flags, shifting, steering, braking, throttle, etc., just to
name a few! Looking far ahead is also very important! That way you
can see where you need to set yourself up to hit the right racing
line and apex. Or, if you need to avoid an accident ahead of you
or watch for flags. But dont be intimidated by this. Remember
that everyone on the track has gone through the same thing you and
I are. Its a learned skill and you will get better as the
day goes on. Ill be the first one to tell you that I still
dont have that down. But as Dev and Barry told me, that stuff
will become second nature with more track time.
After each run it is also good to go over with your instructor
how you think the run was. From there, your instructor can critique
your driving and tell you where you need to improve. This is very
helpful since the instructors know the track inside and out. If
you really want to get better, youll listen to them.
At days end, you will have bettered yourself as a driver both on
the course and on the streets. A lot of what you learned can be
taken back to everyday driving, like looking at whats ahead
and being aware of your surroundings! You will also have an idea
of just what your car can do when pushed to the limits. In other
words, you will learn just what your car was made of and where you
may need to improve the car to handle the track and street better.
Although I cant go all the time, I am definitely going to
go again! It was just so much fun! Autocrossing was fun too but
there is nothing like driving on a real road course and learning
about you as a driver! Consider me addicted!
- Gary Lee