Modifying your car for a track day
There seems to be some confusion and myths behind what type of modifications you should have for first track day. Plain and simple, all you need is a heavily modified, big horse power car with huge aero and racing slicks. Oh wait, no, never mind. My bad. That is all wrong.
Although heavily modified, big horsepower cars with lots of aero and racing slicks are generally what attracts people to track driving, cars like that are rarely beneficial for a beginner. Other than a few small tweaks, modifying a car can actually be counterproductive to your track driving experience. Modifications often distract you from concentrating on the things that should be on your mind and could even end up costing you track time. Hear me out. My friend and Spec13 team member Mike Smith started his track driving with a built SR20DET powered, big turbo S13 240sx. Despite his engineering skills, testing, and relatively large monetary investment, the car was rarely reliable enough to make it a full HPDE weekend without an issue. Not to mention increased cost of fuel and consumables (tires,brakes, ect.) By modifying the car to produce 3 times the power output over stock, he cost himself valuable and expensive track time. Every member of Spec13 Motorsports has learned this lesson in one way or another. Mike Filosi originally built a 400hp FC RX7 for the track before realizing that it can be easier. Alec Fitzgerald built a 2015 WRX before replacing it with a humble Miata. I had dreams of a forced induction FRS and Chris Graham was tracking a hard to maintain Mini Cooper. With enough money and time we could have definitely made those cars work (and many people do) but when we considered our budgets, we decided we would rather spend our money on track time.
So you want to spend money on cool track day things? That’s cool. But start with what is most important. Your safety. I realize I sound like your mom but, to be honest, it’s 100% true. If you're planning on doing more than a few track days a year purchase a helmet. Most track day organizations have rentals but owning your own helmet is a great first step. Check and understand the required helmet rating system with the track day organization before you buy. When you're ready, purchase a good quality, SNELL rated helmet and BAM, you have wisely spent money on cool track day things.
But you really want to modify your car? OK. I can relate. I love the feeling of ordering car parts. I love the rush of hitting refresh on the UPS tracking website to see if a package has been delivered. I even love the installation process most of the time. But be smart about what you buy in preparation for a track day. Check out the "Tracking/autocross" thread on your car's online forum. See what other people are doing to make the car track reliable. Some cars only need a little something. For example, the FRS/BRZ should have an oil cooler before seeing the track. That isn't needed, but it keeps the car reliable through hard driving conditions. And if you must modify your car further, start with stopping. The brake system. Yep. The boring, under appreciated brake system. The first few purchases you make upgrading your brake system may not be so exciting, but I promise, the more track days you attend, the more money you will want to spend on braking. Start by flushing the brake fluid with a fluid that has a higher boiling temperature like Motul 600 or Castrol SRF. This will prevent your fluid from boiling due to high temperatures created under heavy braking. Most cars are designed for one application of heavy braking for accident avoidance. After that, they usually have a chance to cool. At most tracks you should be heavy braking multiple times per lap.
Remember, I told you that you don't need to modify your car for a track day and leaving the car stock to concentrate on your driving is a wise move. I am throwing you a bone here with flushing your brake fluid because you seem ambitious. An important service like a brake flush should only be done by someone who knows what they are doing. And whatever you do, don't save this type of modification (or any modification) for the night before the event. It really sucks to be broken down at a track event because of something you did to try to make the car better.
Another smart place to drop some coin would be on track insurance. If the worst happens and you introduce yourself to a barrier, you want to be covered. Regular car insurance will not cover any track related incidents. However, there are separate insurance companies that handle track event insurance. You set how much insurance you want on the days you will be at the track and you can be covered just like you are on the street.
When the day finally comes that you car get out on the track remember this. Your first track day is your chance to leave your ego at home and learn. Track day addicts and racers are an accepting group of people and many are there to coach you. This isn’t a car show where respect is earned by building an amazing car. Respect is earned through the learning process and how you conduct yourself while on the track. If that means letting a Miata pass your GT350 Mustang on the straight because they keep catching you in the corners, so be it. Good track educate goes a long way.
At the end of the day, the way you justify modifying your car is up to you. If you would like more information regarding track modifications or track time in general feel free to contact me.