Category Archives: Getting on track

What is so great about driving anyway?

Petrol heads. Gear heads. Racers, drifters, and monster truck drivers. Wrench monkeys, cruisers, and sim-racers. Motoring enthusiasts. We all come together for one simple act: Driving. So what is it about driving that excites us? That makes us prefer one style of driving over the other? Why is it that some people get it and some don’t? 

When I was too young to drive, it seemed I had an eternity to wait. I spent much of my time playing with toy cars, and had it in my mind that when I turned 16 I would buy my first car – a Dodge Viper. Of course, this was completely unrealistic, but to a 9-year-old who grew up favoring his 1:64 scale Ferrari Testarossa, Dodge Viper and Porsche Carrera with no real concept of value, the Viper was the cheapest and most common in America and therefore, the most easily obtainable upon getting my license. Long before I ever got behind the wheel of a real car, driving was all I cared about.

As I’m sure you guessed, I never got the Viper. However, I did get a ten year old Chevy S10 pickup. For reasons which no longer make sense to me, I had this grand idea that it would be perfect with All-Wheel-Drive and a Subaru boxer engine swap – that never happened either. What did happen was a massive amount of sad, one wheeled burnouts, wet-road powerslides, off-roading and even a few jumps (my apologies to the person who ended up with that truck when I sold it). The point is, I had the bug. So, I traded the truck for something a bit more racey – a Chevrolet Cavalier Z24. For those on the other side of the pond who may have no idea what that car is, it’s appalling. It was a plastic mass of a throwaway car with a slightly more powerful engine than the base model – quoted at 150 horsepower, and around the same figure for torque (155 lb/ft). For a teenager at the time, where the best competition was an early 90’s Camaro or perhaps a Honda Civic, it seemed like a great sleeper.  In the grand scheme of things, I know now it was not a very good car. However, when taken to a certain one-way gravel road that snaked through miles of woods and hills, the recyclable death trap became my rally car. Before I got my driver’s license I spent years playing hardcore rally games like “Richard Burns Rally” trying to learn the basics, and it paid off. If I had the bug before, it had at that point become a full on terminal illness.

So what makes the difference between myself and the kids who were more concerned with things like sports, arts or music? Why do cars stir such emotions in some people? After all, what I say is an amazing noise (perhaps a Maserati V8) other unintelligent, horrid, unconscionable, unapproachable, silly people might say is an awful racket that sounds like a broken car. Is this a learned behavior or something more inherent? Let’s take a look at the evidence at hand.

First off, let’s think about why we like the sound certain cars make. Everyone loves the sound of a good V8, or a Ferrari V12, or a classic Jag straight-six, but do you know anyone who loves the sound of a Peugeot 3-cylinder? We love the sound cars make because we understand what creates that sound (power), thus indicating it is a learned behavior. There may indeed be strange creatures who do find joy in the sound of a 3-cylinder’s cough of an exhaust note, they would probably tell you it is because it represents fuel efficiency or eco-bla, bla, bla.

Next we consider the looks. Many of us would agree that the Alfa Romeo 8C is an especially beautiful car. Or perhaps you prefer the sleek lines of the McLaren 650S, or the widebody of the Skyline R34. These cars are all things people who love cars may see as art. Sleek lines communicate speed and aerodynamics. Sharp edges and bulging corners communicate technology and power. Meanwhile, there’s the PT Cruiser wedding chapel which has been discussed on Jeremy Clarkson’s Tribe. Believe it or not, someone built that thing. It wasn’t a cyst or a deformity, a real human being thought, “Yes, that will look good.” So again, I have to lean toward the visual appeal of cars being a learned trait dependent on our learned expectations of beauty.

So now we come to the meat and potatoes: Driving. We all know some of us – yes even we petrol heads and the like – can find daily driving on public roads to be boring. We need a bit more excitement, a bit more thrill. And that’s where driving can become the real draw. Driving can be exciting, however what that takes is dependent upon your experience.  For some, driving through a canyon road in a hot-hatch at 45 mph is thrill enough. For others, it takes a lap of the Nordschleife in an M3 to do the trick, or an all out drift session in an 800 bhp Supra. Some might even find driving a Peugeot 203 to the grocery store to be a terrifying ordeal.

To me it would seem the love of cars and driving is very much a learned behavior. This might initially seem like a bad thing to those of us prone to react with statements like, “NO WAY DUDE! MY CAR IS AN ABSOLUTE GOOD AND YOU F#@&*!G KNOW IT!” Fear not, however, for this means we can teach our children the way. We can breed petrol heads through learning, rather than genetics. Petrol heads need not die out with evolution, ergo we may rejoice.

How much $$ does it take to get on track?


So you finally got the car you have been lusting after, and because it has taken 20 years to afford it, you have reached a level of maturity in which you realize if you want to really use that car, you will need to take it to the track. The question is, now that you have the car and have given it a proper going over to ensure it is in peak performing condition, can you afford to use it?

To answer the question, I’ll take a look at the costs associated with attending a track day in the 2011 Subaru WRX STI I had the pleasure of spending the day with not too long ago.

First, you need to find a track day to attend. Odds are, you will be looking at a track near you, so start by looking at the calendar posted on the track’s website. There are typically three options for track days: open lapping days, private track days and club track days. Private track days may be an option under certain circumstances, but renting a track for yourself for the day isn’t exactly the most cost effective option. Safe to say, a private day will likely cost well over $10,000 – without any accidents. Open lapping days (or open track days) are days the track has designated to be open to the public. These can be few and far between – if the track holds any at all. Often, the most cost effective and popular option is club track days. Many club track days are open to the public, so check with the club to see if you can get signed up.

Open lapping days and club track days will typically cost you between $200 and $300 dollars for registration. So, 200 bucks and you’re good to go then, eh? Sadly, not even close. The first thing to consider is the track’s rules – which may require safety gear from a helmet to a full race suit, along with requirements your car will need to meet. Assuming your car already meets all requirements, you will likely need to get a helmet, if not more. A bare bones helmet that will meet most track’s requirements will cost you around $200, but prices can increase dramatically when looking for something with specific features. For example, a carbon fiber helmet will likely cost at least $500. You may also be required to get gloves, fire-retardant shoes, and possibly even a full race suit. Gloves can be found for $30 to $70 (keep in mind, you may be wearing them under rigorous use for several hours, so comfort is important). Fire-retardant shoes will cost you around $70 or more. If fire-retardant shoes are not required, make sure you have comfortable shoes, which are narrow enough for you to work the pedals as needed for your car (Are you able to heel-and-toe?). Race suits can be found for around $200, though again, the price can increase quickly with options or brands. One more thing you may want to consider regardless of the track’s requirements: if you are wearing a helmet you may want a neck collar to support your head. You can find a neck collar for about $35 and while that may be the price of a visit to the chiropractor, it may save you from a great many visits to the chiropractor.

Next, you need to consider the fact that things go wrong and you may, indeed, have an accident. If that happens, not only will your normal insurance be void, but you will likely be held responsible to any damages to the track and/or barriers. In some cases, you may also be charged for the downtime to the track, which can add up quite quickly. To minimize your liability, you may want to consider track insurance. For my previously mentioned theoretical WRX STI, track insurance for a day at Road America will cost me $198, with a 10% deductible.

You will also want to consider your tire needs. Unless you are content carefully conserving your tires, you may want to think about getting a fresh set just for the track day. If you plan to engage in a bit of hooliganism, you may want to consider an extra set – which will likely mean wheels as well. For the STI, a set of Michelin Pilot Super Sport tires will cost around $800, with shipping.

Last but not least, make sure you will have food and water. Do not assume there will be a concession stand at the track, there probably won’t be. Unless you are entirely certain food and drinks will be provided or available, pack as many meals as necessary, along with some snacks and plenty of water. Driving at pace for a sustained amount of time is hard work, don’t underestimate that. Be prepared to get a workout, and make sure you can maintain your energy and hydration.

So to sum up, track days are expensive. If you need to buy a helmet and plan to get insurance, you will need at least $600 to cover your track day’s initial expenses, assuming you don’t have an accident and you bring food from home. If you plan to get tires, and prefer to buy better safety equipment, you can see your initial costs soar over the $1,000 mark quickly. Fortunately, you won’t need to buy safety equipment every time you go out, so those costs do not recur with each outing.

Okay, so track days aren’t exactly a cheap hobby. However, since you are here, that probably won’t stop you. After all, what good is all that performance if you can’t use it? Maybe you should have just listened to your wife and bought the Prius. On the other hand, maybe she will change her mind after a few passenger laps… which reminds me, passengers often require an extra fee… and don’t forget to get petrol.

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