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Q: What is road racing?
A: Road racing takes place on a closed road course, such as Laguna Seca and Road America, that features various types of turns (90-deg left/right, 180-deg hairpins, esses, etc.) and elevation changes (The Corkscrew at Laguna Seca).

Q: What organizations schedule road racing events?
A: SCCA and NASA are two of the most well known Motorsports clubs that offer events nation-wide. There are other regional and local clubs throughout the United States that offer classified racing series, time trials, and HPDEs. Check out our Road Racing Organizations thread for info on an org near you. If you know of something we don't have listed, tell a moderator!

Q: What is the difference between racing, time trials, and HPDE?
A: Racing events give drivers of highly modified and race-prepared cars the opportunity to race wheel to wheel against each other on the track. Usually, there are classes that divide cars into groups of equal performance which provides great competition within each class. Time trials are open to just about any car that can drive on the street. While multiple cars run on the track at the same time, there are usually no-passing rules in the corners and passing is limited to designated zones on the straights. Each lap of every car is timed, provided that you either own or rent a transponder. This way, you can still drive your street-legal car to its limits while retaining the edge of competition via timed laps. You can focus on beating your own best time or the times of your friends. HPDE is the acronym for High Performance Driving Event. This is similar to time trials except laps are not timed, unless done on your own. HPDEs are great ways to drive your car to its limits without worrying about lap times. Some people just want to drive fast without improving their times.

Q: How safe is road racing, time trials, and HPDEs?
A: All three of these event types are safe, however the risk of injury or death always exists when you sit behind the wheel of any car, whether on the street or track. Don’t let this scare you, but you should keep in mind that just because you’re driving on a race track doesn’t mean it’s any safer than on the street. Now, that said, all three types of events have historically had excellent safety records. In fact, in many events, if you cause an incident with another car, you will be suspended for a defined amount of time before being allowed to run with that group again. Safety is always the number one concern at all of these events. Race group cars are usually required to run a full FIA-approved roll cage, harness, seat, fire suppression system, and electrical system quick disconnect. Race group drivers are usually required to wear full fire retardant driving suits, gloves, shoes, and helmet. Time trialers are not required to run any sort of roll cage/roll bar, harness, or seat, but they often must wear full length top and bottom clothing made of 100% cotton, which will not melt to your skin in the event of a fire. It is highly recommended that you time trial with at least a roll bar, harness, and seat though to keep you as safe as possible. HPDEs do not require much at all for safety beside a thoroughly well inspected car prior to going out on the track. Your car must pass a tech inspection to make sure your brakes have plenty of stopping power, your wheel bearings are in top shape, your battery is well mounted, and several other safety items are in order.

Q: What modifications should I make to my car to increase my car’s ability to go fast at the track?
A: Your car is a system, made up of several sub-systems of hardware and software. To make it to the top of the timing sheet, you will need to upgrade at least part of every sub-system. These are: engine, transmission, suspension, brakes, and driver. Driver? Yes, driver. Improving the skill of the driver will often drop lap times more than modifying anything else on the car. One of the best and least expensive ways to improve driving skill is with a PC game, such as F1 2002 by EA Sports. Along with a nice Logitech force feedback driving wheel and pedal set, you will be able to drive some of the world’s most challenging tracks and feel feedback from the road as you race. With some transmission, suspension, or brake tweaking, you can literally feel the difference back out on the track. This is an excellent way to learn how to tune a car for optimum performance. This kind of time at the track would cost you tens of thousands of dollars.

The next most important modification is suspension. A great set of high performance coilovers will do wonders for your track experience. They will allow you to corner faster, get a better feel for the road beneath your car, brake later into a corner, and accelerate better out of turns. A set of max/high performance tires is also in order. The best bang for the buck is the Falken Azenis tire. For about half the price, it offers grip rivaling some of the most expensive maximun performance tires. Anyone can drive straight, but it’s in the corners that races are decided. Next on the mod list should be brakes. A typical 10 - 20 minutes session on a road course will heat up your brakes much more than driving on the street would do. This can lead to brake fade - the sensation that the brakes are not stopping as efficiently as they normally do. The reason is because they are not stopping as efficiently as they usually do! When brakes get too hot, the rotors can warp or crack, your pads can crystallize which lowers their braking ability, and your brake fluid may start to boil. Often times upgrading your pads alone can provide a significant increase in braking power. Porterfield R4S pads are well known for their rotor-friendly higher efficiency braking performance. Once you are sure that you can stop adequately enough, you can start to increase the power output of your engine. This includes intakes, header pipes, exhaust pipes, head porting, upgrading valve train, and rebuilding the bottom end. For track purposes, a steeper final drive ratio and limited slip differential are two of the best mods you can make, but their difficulty of installation will raise the cost of labor unless you do it yourself.

Q: What else can I do to get faster?
A: You can use a data acquisition system to take readings of several parameters as you make your laps around the course. Then, back in the pits, you can view the data in graphical format to see where you are losing and gaining time. These systems are rather expensive and require some familiarity in order to squeeze the most out of them, but they are your tools for dropping those last few tenths of a second off your lap times. This can often mean the difference between 5th place and 1st! Racing can get as competitive, complicated, and expensive as you want it to get. It’s just nice to know that if you want them, there are tools out there that let you understand exactly what your car is doing at every moment on the track.

Q: What about aerodynamics? Does my body kit help me go faster?
A: Aerodynamics are an important part of racing, but not necessary to look into until you have a great handle on driving and straining as much as possible out of the car. Body kits do nothing for your car but slow you down. In addition to their weight, they disrupt air flow around the car and increase drag without improving performance. The best air dams are made from flat pieces of fiber glass or carbon fiber that mount so they rest just off the gound perpendicular to the ground so they block air from flowing beneath the car and increasing speed-robbing drag down there. A good air dam up front and a mild spoiler (not the stock ones that come with street cars, the aluminum single stage ones) on the rear of the car will help you balance out the car through high speed turns. Aerodynamics do not take effect until the car is approaching approximately 60-65mph.

Q: How are my laps timed?
A: SCCA, NASA, and many other track event clubs use the AMB (http://www.amb-it.com/amb.asp) timing system, similarly used in F1, CART, and other professional race series. Two components are required: the receiver and transponder. Most track event organizations provide the receiving and timing equipment computers that pick up signals and record them as lap times as cars with transponders pass the start/finish line. Using the AMB TranX260 transponder, you will be able to run with 99% of the series out there, without having to modify it or buy a new one. Sometimes race organizations figure the cost of the timing service into the track event fee, but others keep that charge separate. Many also rent these transponders by the day for about $25. Transponders cost between $250-$300, depending on whether you buy the hard wired version (which runs off your car’s power) or the rechargeable/removable version.

Q: How much does it cost to run a day at the track?
A: Each organization charges different amounts, which is largely based upon the cost they incur at a particular track. Laguna Seca begins renting the track on weekdays at $10,000/day!! Obviously, the fees will be higher to cover that cost. A typical weekend at a world class track like Laguna runs anywhere from $300-600, just for the entry fee. Don’t let that scare you though. Smaller tracks, such as Willow Springs, Buttonwillow, and Thunderhill cost much less so a typical weekend will run only about $200. You may be able to choose to run only one day, which cuts your event fees nearly in half. Now, keep in mind that you have to find a place to stay over night if you run both days. Some sleep in their cars, some stay at camp grounds, and some rent motels/hotels. Your budget will determine where you stay. It’s always great to have friends running the same events as you so you can all share the rooming costs. Each track usually charges an entrance fee on top of your event fee. This is usually $5-$10 per person for the weekend. You need to keep your energy up, so a good supply of food and water will be required. Bring a cooler full of water and less filling foods to avoid paying race track prices for food. You will incur the normal costs of tire wear, brake wear, fuel, oil, and other maintenance related items. It’s best to budget your weekend and force yourself to stick to it so that racing is as affordable as it is fun and your enjoyment for the sport will last years.

Q: What should I bring with me to the track?
A: The list is long:
  • A clean car - everything must be removed from the car prior to passing tech inspection, this includes spare tire and tools.
  • 2nd set of brake pads.
  • Helmet, gloves, driving shoes, long sleeve cotton shirt, long leg cotton pants.
  • Hat, raingear, trash bags, umbrella.
  • 2 quarts of oil per day at the track minimum.
  • 1 gallon of coolant.
  • Folding chair (and canopy if possible).
  • 1 gallon of water per day, food, cooler.
  • Tools: torque wrench, sockets (metric), socket wrench, screwdrivers, duct tape/racers tape, knife, gloves, etc.
  • Service manual.
  • Rags.
  • Window cleaner and cotton towel.
  • Tire pressure gauge.
  • Tire inflator - Sears has a great one.
Q: What is a typical weekend at the track like?
A: In short, you will have your car tech inspected, prepare your car (tires, brakes, fluids, etc.), pre-grid, grid, one warm-up lap, hot laps, one cool down lap, and recover from your session. Typically, you will drive 3-5 sessions per day, depending on which event, group, and organization you run with. Those are the basics, now for a few details:

Pre-tech if possible the week or weekend before the event. This will save you time at the track so you don’t have to rush around before you go out.

Clean out car in advance. Bring only things on your list to the track. As soon as you arrive, start taking everything out of your car that isn’t bolted or welded in place.

Register early. Get your numbers on your car. You may not be allowed to run without numbers on one or both sides of your car. Make sure you have your registration sticker on your windshield also, if required. You paid a lot of money to run, so don’t waste time by having to go back to the pit to get these things on your car when you should be out on the track.

Attend the drivers meeting - provides info on flags, passing zones, etc. - you could be booted from the event and in the future if you do not follow the rules! This is serious business. You must know all of the rules for your run group and abide by them to keep yourself and others safe.

Set up your car. Check tire pressures. Start at 32 lbs. on all four corners, then adjust as necessary after each session. Top off oil and coolant.

Study the track if other run groups go out before yours. Talk to drivers coming off the track to find out where it might be slippery that day.

When your run group is called, don’t be the first to grid. Let others out ahead of you so you can see their line….you don’t necessarily want to follow their line because they may be poor drivers, but you will not be holding up experienced traffic if you let them go out in front of you. Study the track a week in advance if possible. Mentally picture yourself driving the track…know where all of the corners and elevation changes are.

After coming in from your session, park your car - do not use the parking brake or you risk warping or cracking your rotors - use a block to keep the car from rolling. Pop your hood to allow the engine to cool down. After a few minutes of cooling, check the oil while temp is still warm. Add oil if necessary but be careful not to overfill…adding cold oil to hot oil will result in a lower reading just after adding the oil than when it has all had a chance to warm up to running temp. Check your coolant again.

Talk to others with similar cars to yours. See if they have tips…then use them only if the drivers seem to be driving well. You don’t need any bad tips from bad drivers to start your racing career. You may be able to find an instructor willing to ride with you and give you tips. Most organizations offer schools so most of them have instructors at most track events. If you tell them you’re new or having trouble nailing one section of the track, most likely they will be more than happy to ride along with you.

Q: Where do I buy my safety equipment and what do I really need?
A: I buy my equipment from Sube Sports (www.subesports.com) in Huntington Beach, CA. I go see Andreas in person and he’s always very helpful. Sube Sports is the sole importer of Cobra seats, which offer more value for your money. For the same amount you would spend on a fiberglass Sparco or Bride seat, Cobra offers very lightweight Kevlar construction and top notch comfort. For the budget racer, I recommend the following equipment in the following order:

Stage I:
  • Bell Sport 3 helmet - $350
  • Sparco helmet bag - $40
  • OMP gloves (Check out the clearance section at www.ompusa.com for unbelievable deals on FIA approved gloves, shoes, and suits! This is the same stuff F1 and CART drivers wear for dirt cheap!) - $50+/-
Stage II:
  • Cobra Imola or Suzuka seat* - $500+/-
  • Schroth Profi III 5-point harness - $240
  • Autopower 4-point roll bar with harness bar** - $325
* using a racing seat without a roll bar/cage is not recommended due to the fact that in the event of a roll over accident the seat will not deform and could cause serious injury or worse; ** always use roll bar approved padding when installing a roll bar/cage to prevent your head from coming into direct contact with the bar while driving on the street without a helmet

Stage III:
  • OMP Trend driving suit - $475
  • Piloti Monaco driving shoes - $90+/-
Q: Where can I get more info?
A: Right here. The Road Racing forum will be adding more stickies full of useful info for all levels of drivers. In the meantime, check out www.turnfast.com for all around basics on car control.
 
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Racing Flags and Definitions

Commonly used road racing flags:
 

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