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Trackside Preparation

When you arrive at the track, you'll need to prepare your car (even a totally stock one), and be equipped for both variety of mechanical mishaps, and your own comfort.

You'll encounter more situations each time you go, but this list should help prepare you for your first time or two until you get the feel for what you want to bring with you, and what you'll need to do to your vehicle.

Tools -- the amount and type of tools you take with you to the track will depend on how much adjusting or repairing of the vehicle you expect to perform, and how much adjustable race hardware your vehicle has. However, you should have a minimum set of tools with you. Race driving pushes your car much harder than street driving, and you may end up having to repair failing hardware. At a minimum, you should have the following items with you:

  • a basic set of hand tools (wrenches, screwdrivers, pliers, hammer, etc.) to perform the tightening or replacing of minor service items
  • tools to change a tire, including a tire repair kit, and an adequate jack
  • air pressure gauge with a bleeder valve (preferably an oil-filled one reading no more than 50-60 psig)
  • a small 12-volt air pump with a tire adaptor, this is needed to adjust tire pressures up
  • a wooden block or other item to stop the car from rolling when parked (do not use the hand brake after driving on the track, it will warp the rear brake rotors)
  • a spare set of brake pads, and the tools required to change them (know how to do this before you go!)
  • spare fluids including enough oil to refill the pan, coolant, and brake fluid
  • items that will be handy for emergency repairs such as duct tape, electrical tape, large tie wraps, and bailing wire
  • buy a box of rubber gloves from the drug store -- they're a few dollars for 40 or 50 gloves and they save a lot of time and hassle in cleaning up between sessions

There are dozens of other specialty tools or tools of convenience that you may begin to collect as you discover new needs at each event.

Comfort -- chances are you'll run with an organization that will rotate several groups on the track. You'll have plenty of time between sessions to fill in. You'll want the typical items you'd take for a day in the park: chairs, drink coolers, snacks (healthy, energy building ones!), etc. You'll likely spend most of the time socializing between sessions, but just remember you'll be at the track for a full day or more--take the things you need to be comfortable and enjoy it. A good idea is to take some of the printed pages from this site or the race books you've been reading. You may encounter something on the track that you want to refresh what you've read before.

Vehicle -- any club worth running with will insist on a general safety inspection of the vehicle. Additionally, you'll want to be sure the vehicle has been properly serviced. For your own safety, and those around you, do not ignore the importance of maintaining your car's mechanical well being. Find out what the safety inspection will be, and make sure your car will pass ahead of time.

Most safety inspections, at a minimum, include checking the condition of the brakes, tires, and wheel bearings, making sure there's no fluid leaks, that the battery has a tie-down clamp, that there are no loose body parts, and that all brake lights function properly.

In addition to this, you will want to be sure that your car has been properly maintained. A half-hour of race driving on a track will stress your car far more than any hot rodding around town you've ever put your car through. Be sure it's in good condition. Fresh oil, all fluids in good condition and at the proper levels, lots of brake pad, lug nuts checked, filters all clean, and spark plugs in good condition are all items you need to check before leaving home.

Before going onto the track itself, be sure to remove everything that is not a permanent fixture in the car. Take out all loose items you keep on or in the dash, under the seats, in the trunk, and even in the glove box. Remove the spare tire and tools, and remove the floor mats. If your car's wheels have hub caps, even the small center bolt cover plates, remove those too. Absolutely everything should be out of the car. This is a safety issue. If you end up off the track, in a spin, or if you are hit or roll, loose items that normally seem harmless can cause significant injury.

The other thing most tracks and organizations will ask you to do is tape up the lenses of all lights or other plastic trim items like that. Loose stones, tire chunks, or other track debris can get tossed up and break light lenses which just adds more debris to the track. You'll want to use a tape that has enough stick to do the job, but not one that will gum up your car, so don't use common duct tape, masking tape, or electrical tape. From your car's perspective, the more you cover, the less will get scratched or cracked.

Tires -- one of the common "mysteries" and subjects of paddock chatter in club time trialing is tire pressure. There's two parts to the "what pressure to use" question. First, racing will dramatically heat up your tires--much more than driving on the street. The starting pressure of the tires when they're cold is going to be several pounds lower than you're used to using. Second, tire pressure is often one of the very few things you'll have available to tune your car's handling, and you may need to fine tune the pressure of each tire for the best performance. Read the Tire Notes article in the Practice Sessions tab for a lot more detail about this subject.

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Even at the hobbysist level, it will be critical that you prepare your car before each event, and go over some simple checklists between each track session. Arrive early to get the car ready, and go through inspection.

Put the kids to work! Changing wheels, brake pads, tire pressures, taking times, and many other tasks are easy enough, and gets them involved.

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