TRACK DAY AT THUNDERHILL

July 3, 2015

 

 

 

A few months ago I decided that I wanted to try getting the Miata out on the track. I have had a little bit of track experience many years ago (hint: I had no gray hair then) but hadn't done anything "sporty" in a long time. I looked into several of the excellent organizations that provide High Performance Driving Experience events (HPDE). I finally decided to try out Hooked on Driving (www.hookedondriving.com). I signed up for a one day event at Thunderhill Raceway on the original 3 mile track. With Hooked on Driving (HOD) they start everyone out in the A group and match you up with an in car instructor. Often times the instructor is shared between two cars but they use radio and other means to give both drivers good coaching. They start the day with a good dose of classroom discussions and then you go out for a couple of AutoX style sessions - you get to practice driving through a slalom at speed, doing full force braking (either threshold or ABS limited) and a figure 8. All the time you get feedback from the coaches to help you improve and correct the things you may be missing. After that, more classroom and then you're on the track with your instructor. You start slow and sometimes the instructor will drive your car with you as a passenger (with your permission). They point out the fast line to follow on the track and they have laid out cones at each corner showing you where you should turn in, where the apex of the corner is and where you should end up when exiting the corner.

 

The on track sessions are 20 minutes each and you get 4 of them in the A group. When you graduate to the B group, you'll get 5 sessions per day. Each track session is followed by more class room time to discuss how things went, any problems that might have come up, answer questions and provide a little more "theory" for the next session. During each session the instructor watches you and makes suggestions, sometimes during the session, but mostly afterward. I found these discussions to be very helpful and found that with them and with the ample "seat time" my confidence and speeds increased throughout the day. If you make a mistake their emphasis is on making sure that you first understand what you did wrong and then how to not do it again. The overall environment is  very supportive and friendly. Safety is the highest priority throughout the day and learning to drive fast and safe is what they teach. You only go as fast as you feel comfortable doing.

 

In the A group you are only allowed to pass in certain areas of the track and then only when the person you want to pass points you by. This greatly increases the safety factor as you are assured that no one will be crowding you in a corner - you always have it to yourself.

 

All in all, it was a fabulous day and a ton of fun. So much so that I'm signed up for another one. HOD is a great organization and I was impressed with how well they have organized this sort of event. Everything was scheduled, documented and on time. And if I had any questions there was always someone close by in a yellow jacket to answer them.

 

Just before lunch all of the instructors line up in their personal cars and will take you for a ride around the track at pretty decent speeds. It's a great way to get a feel for different cars, different setups, different driving styles and lines, etc. It's also an excellent way to get a better idea of what your "goal" might be.

 

Signup and preparation are both quite easy. HOD uses a "self tech" process. They give you a checklist of things to check on your car and you are required to either check them yourself or get a qualified person to check them. The items are very easy and it takes about a half hour. They rent helmets at the event if you don't have one. There is one possible hitch - the roll bar. If you have an NC, HOD will let you drive in the A or B groups with just that - no additional roll over protection is required. However, to advance beyond the B group you'll need more substantial protection, which is very hard to do in a soft top NC. If you have an NA or NB, you will need to add an aftermarket roll bar before you can go on track (but you should have one anyway). These are relatively cheap and plentiful. The advantage is that if you choose a good one, you'll then be allowed to advance through all the groups.

 

If you've ever wanted to take your car (and yourself) out on the track and see what it's like and what you can do, I'd really recommend that you consider doing a track day. They are very easy to do, very safe, very reasonably priced and more fun than (almost) anything. HOD is one possibility but there are many others, too. You can find events at almost any track - most notably, Thunderhill, (what used to be called) Sears Point and Laguna Seca.

 

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