Speed Secrets: Keeping Track Days Fun

By Ross Bentley

October 04, 2016

It's been said that to be a good teacher, you must first be a great learner. So, to me, a sign of a great driver coach is the willingness to learn. 

It came as no big surprise, then, that at a recent HPDE event, one of my "students" was a coach. Better yet, this coach had just sent me an article he thought might be interesting and educational for subscribers of Speed Secrets Weekly. 

This coach (with Hooked on Driving for the past year), John Connelly, has been doing HPDE and track days for three years in a Miata, but was a motocrosser for twenty-five years before that (he moved to cars because he was tired of all the injuries!). Having spent two days at Thunderhill with him, I know exactly what makes him a great coach: a passion for learning and improvement, and a focus on having fun.  Enjoy!  - Ross Bentley

Years ago, when I had my first few track days, I was totally excited and happy just to be on the track. What an experience! Driving my car on a real race track! I couldn’t stop smiling.  

As I progressed in HPDEs, working my way up through the different skill groups, I started to focus more on being fast and getting good lap times. I read lots of books, studied YouTube videos, made more and more changes to my car, and spent a lot of time on track, gaining experience.

What I noticed though, as I progressed and got more serious about lap times, is that I was having less fun. If I didn’t top my previous best lap time, I was bummed. I’d spent a lot of money on my car (stiff suspension, race seats and harnesses, race brakes, r-comp slicks, etc) and a lot of time in the seat but I’d reached plateaus in my lap times that became more and more frustrating. It was doubly frustrating to be having that “perfect lap,” then come up on a slower driver and have to back off. Not only was this frustrating, but it also made for unsafe driving on my part.

Recently I took a step back and took a deep long look at what got me into HPDEs. It was that fun, the exhilaration of being on a race track. It wasn’t the lap times. It was the whole experience. And since then I’ve consciously focused on having more fun on the track. Here’s a few things I’ve learned that help keep the fun in HPDEs. 

Turn off the lap timer! Just don’t even look at lap times. Some HPDE organizations do not want you using lap timers in your sessions, and now I understand why. 

Drive with friends. This one makes a huge difference. If you have some friends who are all around the same speed, stay with them. Practice passing and hand signal communication. Drive close (within safety limits, of course). One thing you’ll find is that you actually learn a lot of new things just watching your friends drive. 

Ride as a passenger. You can learn countless valuable tips just by riding with other drivers. And the perspective is very different, especially if they are driving a car with much different power or handling than your own. Most of the time, I walk away with a huge grin. 

Have passengers ride with you. I recently had a passenger who squealed with excitement at nearly every turn. She laughed and squealed and clapped her hands. By the time the session was over, I was laughing myself the whole time.- John Connelly​​​​