We all know that the 944 series is a great track day car, whether set up as ONLY a track day car or used during the week as a daily driver. Either way, making sure that your car is ready for the rigors of the track is a labor of love – and safety. Failure on the track has consequences.
A decade or so ago I drove my ’86 944 to the track, towing a tire trailer – from Daytona Beach to VIR and back. A breakdown on the track in Virginia would have been a difficult situation as I was depending on getting home in that same car. I had also done that closer to home, but going that far away for a track day without the car on a trailer was probably not a great decision. My car performed well and got me home, but…
Today I have a dedicated 924S race car with a full cage that I use for track days. It rides to the track on a trailer, so I don’t have to worry about whether I will actually make it home. But even though it is a race car with logbook, etc., preparation is still the key to a successful and trouble-free weekend. And when you think about it, an HPDE weekend usually provides about four hours or more of track time while a normal SCCA weekend may provide less actual on-track time. The HPDE weekend is more stressful on the car and its systems than a race weekend!
So how do you make sure that the HPDE weekend will be successful? First make sure that you do everything that the host requires in the way of pre-inspection essentials. These inspections are meant to put eyes and tools on things that are critical to safety. Leaks of fluids and exhaust comes to mind, as well as up-to-date safety equipment, secure suspension parts, working brakes and adequate steering are all inspected.
Keeping a maintenance log is also important, even for a car that is primarily used on the street. Knowing when things were done (by both time and mileage) is too important to just rely on your memory. Fluid changes, brake pads and rotors, filters and other wear items should be documented.
Tires are also important, including age. Look at the date of manufacture on the sidewall of the tire to determine how old it is…don’t think that you can track a tire that is ten or more years old. Even if they have never been mounted, the rubber deteriorates over time even when stored properly out of the sun. We put a lot of stress on the tires on the track, and stressing a tire will eventually make it fail. Old tires often do not live up to expectations – a set of old slicks can provide less traction than newer treaded tires. Don’t go to the track with bad tires.
Brakes and especially brake fluid can cause all kinds of problems. Brake fluid absorbs moisture from the air, and since brake fluid reservoirs are vented to the outside air, the fluid is susceptible to absorption of moisture. When brake fluid gets old and “wet”, the boiling point goes down. That means that the fluid at the caliper will get hot as the caliper does its job and the fluid will go past its boiling point. When things boil, bubbles form, and it’s these bubbles that make the pedal feel soft – brake fade – and eventually fail. So change your brake fluid at least annually, and even think about changing it after every third or fourth track weekend. The brakes are too important to ignore.
Of course safety equipment is important. Your helmet should fit perfectly. If you have a full face helmet with a visor, either put the visor down or, if you do not put it down, take it off. Even with a HANS device, your visor can catch the sun visor in your car and bend your head back. Try it. Also your restraints are important and must be up to date. Don’t skimp here.
Of course the car should be running well, keeping its cool and do what you ask – drive, turn, stop. A rule of thumb is that the car should be ready and on the trailer two days prior to the event – if not, don’t go. Your life could depend on it.
Do you have a checklist for track days? Other words of wisdom? Let us know in the comments.
Kevin Duffy is an Associate Professor of Criminal Justice at Daytona State College in Florida and a dedicated car guy. He divides his time between teaching criminal justice topics in the online environment and working on/driving cars, particularly Porsches. Kevin is one of the principals in InspiringLifeOver50.com.