I took the Miata to a track day at Laguna Seca on September 27, 2017. Last year I decided to try a track day with Hooked On Driving (www.hookedondriving.com) and ended up doing two of them at Thunderhill Raceway in Willows, Ca. They were both a blast but I wanted to try Laguna Seca. I had raced there in vintage events many, many years ago and it was always my favorite track.
So I signed up for the event and headed to Monterey. The costs for a track day are moderate. The entry fee for a single day at Thunderhill is about $300 and at Laguna Seca it’s about $360. If it’s your first event there’s an additional $50 charge. A helmet is required. You can rent one there for $25 if you don’t have your own.
Hooked on Driving is a very safety conscious group. One of the instructors mentioned that over the last couple of years they’ve run a million miles of track events without a single car to car incident! All new comers are required to start in the A group and you get plenty of instruction. It starts with classroom discussions, progresses to auto cross style driving sessions allowing you to practice heavy braking and drive a figure eight course. The instructors watch you and provide constant feedback to help you improve. Then you get to go out on track. These sessions start slow with close supervision from your instructor. Passing is only allowed in certain safe sections of the track and only after you point a car by (watch your mirrors!). This makes it very safe with no surprises. As you improve and get more comfortable, your instructor may allow you to solo on the track. If that goes well, they will probably suggest that you enroll in the B group (the intermediate group) for your next event.
Track days are not competitive. There is no winner and no loser. There is no first, second and third place. They don’t keep lap times and they discourage you from keeping your own lap times as that can encourage the wrong behavior. Rather, the events are focused on learning how to drive better, faster and safer. You will come away from the event as an improved and safer driver.
For my Laguna Seca event I enrolled as an intermediate driver (B group). Safety is again the main concern and passing is by point by only. In the B group you get 5 on track sessions throughout the day, each one lasting about 20 minutes. After each of the sessions you are required to attend a “download session” in a classroom setting. Each of these sessions is slightly different. In one, the instructor shows a video of a car on track driving the fast line. They start and stop the video at each corner and discuss what you should, and shouldn’t, be doing there. Questions are encouraged. During some driving sessions the instructor is on track in their own car and they take video of most of the drivers while following them. The video is then played in the download session and the instructor points out what the driver is doing well and not so well – respectfully. Other download sessions are mainly questions and answers. I found these sessions to all be very helpful.
For each session you line up in a grid before going on track. There are five different lines in the grid with the fastest cars being in the first line and slower cars being in the other lines. As they feed the group onto the track, the fast line goes on track first, followed by the next fastest and so on. That way the “pack” is spread out on the track and you tend to go out with cars of a similar pace to your own. You get to choose which line you want to grid in and you can change throughout the day. If you find you are getting passed by a lot of people, move to a slower line. If you are passing a lot of people, move to a faster line.
I had a blast on track. I really like Laguna Seca. Most of the corners are very straightforward so they allow you to practice the basics. There are very visible braking markers at each corner (something that is missing at Thunderhill) and they really help a lot when you are new to a track or to driving fast. The flag stations are all very nicely placed and easy to spot from the car. The track is medium speed. The fastest speeds are obtained at the end of the front straight. In my car that was slightly over 100 mph. Most of the corner speeds are in the 60 to 70 mph range at entry and a bit faster at exit, though some corners are slower than this. I started slow trying to relearn the track. My speeds progressed throughout the day, my braking points steadily moved forward and I made adjustments to my line as I learned more and got more comfortable. I felt like I had improved nicely by the end of the day, yet felt there was still a ton of learning left!
If you’re interested in trying a track day in your car, I’d recommend Hooked On Driving. They put on a very well organized, very safe event. The staff is all very friendly, very accessible and very helpful. There are other organizations available, and I’m sure they do a fine job, too. My experiences have all been with HOD and have all been very positive.
If you decide to try a track day, you’ll need to have a roll bar in your car. Last year they would allow NC’s to go on track without a roll bar since they have (minimal) protection from the factory hoops. This year they changed that and now require all Miatas to have a real roll bar. Bolt in models are completely acceptable and are relatively inexpensive and easy to install for NA and NB models. They are a bit more expensive and more difficult to install on NC and ND models. I have the Harddog M3 Sport model in my car with the optional harness bar, dual diagonal supports and padding. Other than the roll bar, there isn’t really anything else that you are required to have on your car. Of course you’ll want to ensure that your tires and brakes are in good condition. You are also required to do your own vehicle inspection before the event. This is quite simple and you can do it yourself or have a mechanic do it for you. HOD provides a short check list to make it easier – it’s all basically common sense things to check.
If you’ve ever wanted to get your car out on track and see what it, and you, can do – try a track day. They’re fun, safe, relatively inexpensive and will make you a better and safer driver. There is generally a track photographer there and you can buy professionally taken hero shots of yourself, on track, for the scrapbook. As the photographer explained:
“It’s not how fast you are actually going, it’s how fast it looks like you’re going. So even if you are about to be overtaken, it still looks like you are winning.”
I noticed this time that there was also a professional videographer available. They will install a video camera in your car that also provides overlaid “telemetry data” on the video (speed, rpm, g forces, etc.).