After a couple years of autocross I was totally consumed with racing fever. Autocross was fun, but I was wanting more. I did my research and found that the next step up from autocross would be Road Racing.
Road Racing and Track Days
Wikipedia has a good description of road racing:
Road racing is a general term for most forms of motor racing held on paved, purpose-built race tracks (i.e. “road courses”), as opposed to oval tracks and off-road racing. Temporary facilities built on paved airport runways and closed-off public roads (such as street circuits) usually are included in the definition also.
So what is the difference between autocross and road racing? Well for starters, the speed. In a typical autocross track you will rarely even reach highway speeds, however in road racing speeds well above 100mph are not uncommon. The speed increase is not only more demanding on the driver, but also mcuh more demanding on the car. Then there is the amount of time spent racing. In autocross most tracks take less than a minute to complete and you only get half a dozen runs at most. In road racing and track days you are often driving for 20-30 minutes at a time with 5 runs in the day.
The closest road racing track to Columbia where we live was Gateway International Raceway, located across the river from St. Louis in Collinsville, IL. I was intimidated, but after doing my research, I took a deep breath and signed up for an event!
Gateway International Raceway (GIR) – Road course is in bold.
The particular program at GIR I signed up for was called the “Performance Driving Experience” (PDX). The event is classified as a performance driving education more so than a competitive event. The PDX program focuses on preparing novices as well as allowing experienced drivers to practice in a safe environment. What does that mean? Well, new drivers get a professional instructor that rides along with them. The instructor can communicate to the driver via a small headset in the helmet. Professional instruction is great, and it really allows you to learn the proper driving lines, breaking, and throttle techniques. It also means that there is no lap timing, as well as no competitive passing of other vehicles on the track (much to Jessica’s relief!). All passing is done in the designated passing zones, and only allowed when the driver in front of you gives you the “point by” to pass. Typically this is where many drivers that want to eventually participate in competitive racing start.
So wait, isn’t this really dangerous?
Some may think that road racing is quite dangerous, however I think it is quite the contrary. Imagine a controlled environment where everyone is focused and aware of both safety and what is going on around them, versus driving on the street with teenagers texting, people driving+eating, moms disciplining kids, and people possibly driving intoxicated. I personally feel much safer on a track going 125mph down the back straight than I am on the public roads.
Needless to say after my first session at GIR I was wide-eyed, and all smiles. I thought I knew everything about my car and how to drive it, but road racing made me realize I had a ton to learn and there were a lot of new skills I would need to practice that I had never needed in autocross. The speed, the amount of time on the track and adrenaline really wear you out, and by the end of the day all I knew is that I wanted more seat time and more racing time, but wow was I was beat. The two hour drive home from St. Louis after a track day is certainly one that requires some coffee!
I could ramble on all day about what it is like experiencing the track and racing, but here are a few videos that will probably put it in a better perspective. You know what they say, a picture (movie) is worth a thousand words. Below are some videos of my driving my car around GIR.
You can also check out some of my thoughts from an event at GIR here.
Safety and precaution
After 3 years of doing track days on the road course I began to get faster, and faster. Of course when you begin pushing the limits of your ability and of the car, the margin for error gets smaller and smaller. I felt that I owed it to myself, Jessica, and my family to begin the process of installing the proper safety equipment in the car in the case that worse did happen.
The Z makes its transformation from weekend racer and street car, to full out racecar!