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Old 01-06-2014, 04:39 PM   #1
Cjymiller
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From Stoplights to Signal Flags: The First Track Day

Do you remember when you first bought your car? I took mine home on March 30, 2013 and if you were anything like me, it was 55 MPH on the freeway the whole way back home. Not accustomed to sitting so low in traffic (or a manual for that matter), the constant fear of getting taken out minutes after signing for my first new car kept my full, cautious, attention on the road and the drivers around me. Naturally this afforded me an astronomical 39 MPG by the time I arrived home.

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Fast forward to Dec 10, 2013 and I could not be in a more opposite mental state. Barreling down into turn one on the front straight of Thunderhill Raceway at 92 MPH, I edge by a slower car just shy of the end of the passing zone. Clutch in, accompanied by a quick heel-toe downshift, drops me into third gear smoothly. As I curb the apex and track out, my driving instructor gives me an enthusiastic “nice one!” and the grin on my face feels bigger than the width of the track.



Driving a thirty-two mile loop to and from work in dense San Francisco, Bay Area traffic doesn’t present many opportunities for me to tempt the fringes of my BRZ’s performance. Besides the enjoyment of a mediocre sound system accompanied by the occasional downshift, there isn’t much ‘pure handling delight’ to savor. Therefore, my driving pleasure takes the form of late Friday night stints up and through the Santa Cruz Mountains. Even though the traffic is non-existent at these hours, there are still other dangers that prevent me from fully attacking a corner. Deer, fallen trees, and inclement weather all justify keeping a large margin of control when driving in the mountains. With that being said, I’ve always known that there is only one place to really experience what my car can do; a race track.



I was fortunate enough to join some close BRZ friends at Thunderhill Raceway in Willows, CA. Home to the 25 Hours of Thunderhill, this track features flat out straights, blind over-crests, and sweeping off-camber corners. All of this set amongst the vast, golden hills of Northern California. There’s definitely a little something for everyone on this 2.86 mile track.



Since this was the first time I had ever been on a fully fledged race track, I opted for the beginner group. More importantly, this provided me with a capable driving instructor named Ryan. Although my instructor may or may not have been old enough to purchase alcohol in the United States, he had been racing for the better part of 14 years. Certainly nothing to sneeze at.



Despite the noise of open windows at speed, Ryan’s guiding tone reached my right ear via a two way mic setup which was an impressively effective way to maintain communication when your senses are being bombarded at every moment. With my instructor’s help, I was able to cut my teeth, cut my apexes, and most importantly, cut my time on my laps. It was incredible to see how small inputs before a corner would translate to an up-shift twenty or thirty meters earlier on the following straight.



By the end of the day, some drivers in the beginner group had either over extended themselves, or overheated their engines resulting in far less traffic on the circuit. Even though the old adage about skiers always injuring themselves on the last run of the day was running through my head, Ryan and I were able to time the traffic for one final flying lap. The car felt so capable at temperature. The gearbox provided confident shifts and grabbing any gear was effortless. The tires and brakes were all up to temperature, and I recall being surprised at the assurance warm rubber managed to convey upon me.



As the winter sun began to disappear behind the hills and the shadows grew tall before melting into one, the final lap of the final session began and I was practically the only car on the track. As we approached the final corner before the front straight Ryan’s voice cracked through the mic. “Are we going for it?” he asks excitedly. We had been making steady progress all day and he and I both knew that it would be gratifying to end on a stellar lap. I replied with a simple “yep” as my I buried my right foot and built up to the beginning of the lap on the front straight. Halfway to turn one, I glanced at the speedometer as the digital speedometer steadily ticked over; 92 – 93 – 94. Corner one came quickly as I scrubbed speed and found my turn in. The suspension settled and we shot down the short straight to a sweeping 180 degree corner. Nailing out a late apex left me center track, staring at a small overcrest which gently rolled into a long off-camber right hander. My hands let the wheel match the corner as I reminded myself to hold a gentle throttle as I tracked out.



We quickly approached the famous blind overcrest of turn five. Dropping into second, I turned left, aiming for an imaginary point which placed the car perfectly along the curbing I could not see. I love that corner. What followed was a combination of easy lefts, capped by a thrilling no-lift left, leading to another fantastic blind overcrest. Going full speed toward a point that you can’t see is a feeling that I will not quickly forget and it is the best feeling in the world when your car hangs on and you get a perfect line at speed. Finishing off strong on the last several corners the BRZ felt fantastic and I was fortunate enough to end the day with a fantastic flying lap.



The daily commute driving that we all despise can sometimes make us, and others forget the joy that cars can bring. Things that I previously associated with annoying commuters who don't know how to operate their appliances (cars), I now link to fond memories of my first time at the track. The smell of hot brakes and the scrub of tires are now embedded in my head with track days and the pursuit of the fastest line. I can now sit in bumper-to-bumper traffic, content with the fact that I will certainly be going back to the track; without a single doubt in my mind.



Words: Chris Miller
Photography: Dito Milan http://gotbluemilk.com/
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Last edited by Cjymiller; 01-09-2014 at 02:26 PM. Reason: Words
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Old 01-06-2014, 10:31 PM   #2
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Sounds like a good time!
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Old 01-07-2014, 12:24 AM   #3
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I am definitely going to have to save up for some track time for my BRZ. I am glad you got to really let loose and enjoy your car, I hope to do that soon with mine.
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Old 01-07-2014, 08:23 AM   #4
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<3 track days! And yeah these cars really do feel at home out there. Nice write-up.
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Old 01-07-2014, 11:10 AM   #5
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I could feel the energy draining out of me just like a long day on the track. I need to go back, but man it sucks getting older. I used to run the track day and then drive straight back to the south bay, now I stay two nights.

Who did you run with?
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Old 01-07-2014, 04:25 PM   #6
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These are my favorite types of posts to read. Thanks for sharing!
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Old 01-07-2014, 08:51 PM   #7
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What is the usual cost for a track day? I'm a beginner as well and would love to try my car on the track with an instructor with me. 5 minutes away from me there is a place that seems great but wants $2,500 membership fee + $180 a month. That seems a bit extreme to me, but I don't really know. Is that what something like this actually costs??
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Old 01-08-2014, 12:36 AM   #8
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Great write up! I will definitely have to hit some track days up at Watkins Glen this year!!

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Old 01-08-2014, 01:03 AM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ericmpena View Post
What is the usual cost for a track day?
It can vary quite a bit. Since this was my first time, I can only really tell you about my experience. The event was put on by a company called Hooked On Driving and was basically $295 for the day. You identified your own class, which was "A" or beginner for my friends and I. From the other car guys that I talk to, ~$300 is on the more expensive side but the reason for this is that they keep the group sizes on the track to a reasonable level so traffic is mitigated.

Over the course of the day, I ended up burning about 2/3 of a tank on a stock power. My friends on the other hand had to fill up once before the last two sessions. Also, we decided to replace fluid, lines, and pads before the track day since I didn't want my day to be cut short by boiled fluid or overheated pads. Depending on your driving, you may or may not consider this upgrade before you participate in a track day.

Also, since the track was a few hours away, and the driver meetings are early, we all went in on a hotel room the night before.

TL;DR
-$295 for the event cost
-$40 in gas on the track
-$300 for Fluid, pads, & lines
Fast Cars, Freedom, and Friends? - Priceless
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Old 01-08-2014, 01:49 AM   #10
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Thanks for the info!
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Old 01-08-2014, 05:05 AM   #11
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Excellent read! Loved it!
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Old 01-08-2014, 05:37 AM   #12
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Nice writeup, nice photos!
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Old 01-08-2014, 06:12 AM   #13
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Nice write up. Careful, you've now come to the dark side and it's more addictive than crack.
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Old 01-08-2014, 09:04 AM   #14
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Still a better love story than Twilight.



I wish I could experience a day at a track!
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