A Day in the Life of a Trackhead

If you've been following our shop, you know you can find us at any of the Bay Area racetracks. While this activity fits into our business brand (perfectly), we're mostly out here for fun. Whether you're out here with your daily driver or your fully built street-illegal racecar, you're here to have a good time. There's something about that adrenaline rush you get seconds before you're on the track; something about that feeling of control you have of your car; getting to know your car and its limits, getting to know your own skill level and areas for improvement, knowing when to back down and let others pass you by, and just being around other people who share that same passion for cars.

Well, for those of you who don't know what it's like, we thought we'd share what a typical day at the track is for us. Yesterday, February 7, (yes Superbowl Sunday), we were at Laguna Seca with SpeedSF. 

Photo of our customer, Jorge. PC: Bill Wang

Register for the Event

Registration fees vary depending on which organization is hosting the event and which race track you're going to. The more popular tracks like Laguna Seca and Sonoma Raceway are going to be much more expensive than Thunderhill and Buttonwillow. Here are a couple organizations that you can register with:

  • OnGrid: Formerly known as Speed-Dynamics, Sina and Marios throw great well-organized events at the local Bay Area tracks from $120-200.
  • SpeedSF: From $175-275, depending on the racetrack. This organization also has a SpeedSF Challenge where you can win credit at the end of the year and also offers instructors available for beginners or advanced drivers that want to improve.
  • GGLC: Golden Gate Lotus Club hosts trackdays as well, for all makes and models (not just Lotus!), from about $175-220. Beginners are required to drive with a coach. This group's trackdays are usually during the week, which is great because it tends to be less crowded on the track. Also known to have a lot of track time...so much that you may be too tired to do all sessions....a great problem to have!
  • NCRC: Northern California Racing Club hosts great track events as well. Prices start $143 to $220. They also have a Track Addict Challenge where you can win some $$$.
  • Hooked on Driving: Fees starting at $300 and going up to $409 (depending on the track) make this organization desirable to some for one reason: the price tends to attract the "really serious drivers." 

Everyone has different preferences for which organization they like to go with, depending on how much it costs, the dates of the events, good and bad experiences in the past, the amount of people that go, the type of people that go...you'd have to just get a feel for each one and make that decision on your own. 

The Week Before

Track Prep

For many track junkies, going to the track means having to prep your car beforehand. This means checking your brakes, tires, fluids, etc.  For track junkies who also own an auto shop *cough* Jon Vo *cough*, it means prepping your car AND EVERYONE ELSE'S. Lol. (See here for the checklist that all drivers have to get checked out in order to participate in SpeedSF's track events).

The famous Laguna Seca racetrack that we went to this past weekend unfortunately has strict sound restrictions due to residential areas built nearby. The limit is usually 90-92dB. Depending on the setup, some cars can pass this restriction easily, and others can't. Organizations that rent the track can pay more to raise the restriction to higher decibels, but most never do. How is it measured? There is a sound booth on the right side between Turn 5 and Turn 6. See the bright green dot below.

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Sound Limits

To avoid being 'blackflagged' (corner workers can flag you to get off the track.sometimes, 2 strikes and you're done for the day) for having too loud of a car, people usually have a "Laguna Pipe" installed. We recently installed a BOE Rev400TVS Super Charger on this yellow Lotus Elise and our customer wanted to try it out at Laguna Seca this past Sunday. With the newly added power to his car, he also wanted us to install a "Laguna Pipe" just to be safe. Every car is different, which means Laguna Pipes don't necessarily conform to one look. All it has to do, really, is direct sound away from the sound booth (and residents).

Packing & Charging

We have a track list of things we have to pack. We currently don't have a trailer but thankfully, Jon's Golf R is like a minivan. If you're curious what's on our tracklist: 

  1. Water (bottled water at the track is usually expensive, also important for drivers to stay hydrated)
  2. Snacks (most tracks have cafes with food)
  3. Canopy, chairs, and table
  4. Sunblock
  5. Scooter with basket (perfect if you're parked far from the bathrooms or cafe)
  6. Basic tools and fluids
  7. Helmet
  8. Gadgets: camera, GoPros, charging packs
  9. Walkie Talkies (if we're going to a far track and driving with a large group)

Most racetracks let you rent out their garages for something like $100/day. Whether it's worth it is something for you to decide. We don't normally rent them because we have a huge canopy that works just fine as shade and shelter. The only downfall is that there are no outlets. So we charge all of our electronics and charging packs the night before. 

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Race Day

Since Laguna Seca is only a little over an hour away, we drive there in the morning and just drive back home afterwards. We usually meet friends and customers that live in the East Bay around 5:30am. The below photos didn't come out that great and I was WAY too sleepy and groggy to notice. 

Stopped for gas near the track. We always fill up before. Gas at the track runs from $9-10 per gallon. 

Getting to the Track

We usually get to the track at the butt crack of dawn. Laguna Seca is in Monterey, CA, so it's usually really chilly in the morning. Once you get to the track, there is a worker standing near the entrance with a clipboard. Everyone going in, drivers, passengers, and just people hanging out, must first sign the racetrack waivers.

Parking & Setting Up

You can park pretty much anywhere in the paddock. If you're still waiting for friends, you can reserve their spot with a chair. Parking is never really a problem, however, it can be a little crowded if the organization also hosts an AutoX nearby---which takes up a huge chunk of Laguna's paddock. We make it work. 

Registration 

After everything is all set up, you have to register, sign another waiver (this time with the organization that's throwing the event), pickup your wristband (colors depending on which group you're in), and if you're at a SpeedSF event, pick up your transponder if you signed up for their Challenge. If you are not driving but want to ride along with people, you must sign a passenger waiver.

Drivers' Meeting

Next is the mandatory drivers' meeting. Here, they go over the rules and then hand out the mandatory sticker. On top of having to show your wristband to the workers before you start at the track, your car must also have a sticker that shows you registered and attended the drivers' meeting.

Then you track...

Here's a video of Jon getting his personal best (1:43.8) in his Golf R. It's fun when people underestimate Jon when they see his car, but he is an amazing driver. Just wait until he gets a real racecar....lol.

I look like I'm sleeping but I'm really trying to think happy thoughts. PC: Bill Wang

One of our customers also got his personal best of 1:46 in his Audi S4. He's definitely come a long way and has not stopped improving. It's amazing to see his progress.

Photo of our customer, Sam. PC: Bill Wang

He was also enjoying the new Laguna Pipe we installed. Last time he was at Laguna, his day ended early when his car was measured at 98dB for sound. But with this pipe, he was able to enjoy the entire day, and measured only 88dB!! It was definitely a good day!

Lunch Time

Most racetracks have great cafes. For vegetarians and vegans, they usually have veggie burgers! (although the one at Buttonwillow was terrrrrrible). I didn't take a photo of my beautiful veggie burger and fries. I guess I was too hungry and forgot. 

Some people bring their own food. While that usually means packing a sandwich and chips, our friends brought hotpot. Lol. 

The Downtime

Each trackday is separated into sessions according to the group you're in. When you sign up for these events, most organizations let you pick which group to be in according to your level of experience. Obviously, they rely on you to use your best judgment and don't usually require proof to show amount of experience you have. Most organizations require beginners to drive with an instructor in your car, which may or may not cost more than a normal registration.

Anyways, there are usually 4 to 5 groups that take turns on the track....which means there is some downtime. What do people do during this time? You can ride along with others, take a nap, make new friends, chat with old friends, scoot/walk around, take photos, watch a movie on your tablet, fix whatever broke on your car from last session, etc. If you've entered a time challenge, you can use this time to check where you stand for the day. 

Awards Ceremony

Some organizations have time challenges and SpeedSF has a SpeedSF Challenge. You can read more details about it on our other blog post. Basically, you pay a little extra to enter and you get a transponder in the beginning of the trackday. Your best time of the day counts towards it. During lunch, you also get a bonus round where participants line up on the grid according to fastest times so that, in theory, you never encounter traffic and get a chance to get the best time.

At the end of the day, they give out certificates to 2nd and 3rd place drivers for each class and a cool trophy for 1st place drivers. Our customer, Jeff, got 3rd place in his class with a time of 1:46 in his storm titanium Lotus Elise. Jon also won and got 1st place in his class. At the end of the year, you can win more awards, better trophies, and track credit! 

Packing up

Some trackdays are better than others. This day was GREAT. People improved their times, not many accidents and hiccups, and the weather was amazing.

More Photos by Bill Wang

Here are more photos of our customers, courtesy of Bill Wang and SpeedSF.