Improvisationally branded with three fours in green painter’s tape, Blackzilla and I ventured to Castrol Raceway’s 14-turn, 2-mile circuit for the Holiday Monday Track Junkies Open Lapping event. Shod with four (lightly used) Bridgestone RE070R tires on newly acquired Premium rims, surely I would have hands full at my / our first track day, no ?
Oh yes! As the above from-the-bleacher-shot makes abundantly clear, not only were the skies ghastly and ungarish but they bore far more pavement engreasers than a noob like me quite knew what to make of. After the 8am orientation laps in a yellow school bus driven on its fucking doorhandles by one of the instructors, the 9am warm-up laps felt plenty zippy in a track I knew not at all in a car I’m just barely scratching the surface of… and that was without ever cresting 100kph on the speedo. Hmm. Maybe I’d bitten off more than I could chew ?
After the warm-up laps came the first of four classroom instruction sessions, all of which essentially followed the Ross Bentley “Speed Secrets” methodology word-for-word, a school of knowledge I had some preliminary familiarity with on account of Jack Baruth‘s recommendation of the beginner’s manual a few months back. The lessons being somewhat muffled by the screams of someone’s goddam infant in the classroom trailer – because maybe a trailer is a trailer and one at a track is as good as one anywhere and why not make them all into daycares – we set out in the 15-car Novice groupi for our first 20-minute hot lapping session. On account of a ChumpCar race at the track a few days earlier, not to mention the intermittent showers, the track conditions were far from the 20C and sunny that might be considered ideal. Thankfully, I had Instructor Brent in the passenger seat to give me some guidance ; a requirement for all new drivers that I was all too happy to pony up an extra $100 for. Brent wasn’t the most talkative of chaps – apparently either apathetic, unimpressed, or just the strong silent type – which made my job that much more difficult as I tried to navigate the new layout in a new environment in a new car with inclement weather and this godforsaken safety dome strapped to by chin all while trying to remember what the instructors had mentioned in the classroom regarding one particularly disciplined corner turn-in into a decreasing radius bend that sets up the entire second half of the track. In addition to the intense focus required, it was my eyes that took the biggest beating in muscling the 600hp samorai sensation around the Roger Peart-designed circuit. When Brent did say something it was along the lines of eyes up, watch the cone, eyes up, stay on the throttle, eyes up, smooth inputs, eyes up, wider entry, eyes up, wave this guy through,ii eyes up, carry more speed through the bank, eyes up… it was all I could do to, as they say, “keep the shiny side up” while hustling my way through fourteen turns in an animalistic machine more than capable of squirreling away into a concrete barrier if only I just blinked at the wrong time.
The cold hard reality of the concrete barriers was made all too apparent as the skies opened up in earnest and not one but two of the Intermediate group cars skipped off puddles and/or each other and into the wall during their second session. The longest straight on the track, as seen above, was the site of the incident. A 370Z hit the wall after hydroplaning, bounced off, starting spinning, hit a Mazdaspeed3 coming hot on its heels, and ultimately kept sliding into the turf on the opposite side of the straight, popping the side and front airbags, quite likely totalling the daily driven Nissan, and leaving the driver with at least a deeply wounded ego if not a few broken bones for his troubles. It was… a track rat’s worst nightmare. Given the frankly exorbitant cost of track day insurance,iii an already spendthriftiv habit was made painfully moreso on this sadly soggy day. And not just for the guys who crashed.
As the on-site paramedics attended to the scene, the track was closed first for a half-hour, then an hour, then for however long until the tow truck arrived. By that point it was almost 1:00pm and the prospect of even one more hot lapping session was as clear as the skies and the track conditions even then were dubious at best. Solution ? Leave and live to fight another day. I made the call to save my eyes and still shiny Blackzilla for the figurative tomorrow. I’d already determined that a COBB Stage 2 GT-R is a hell of a lot more car than my abilities can yet maximise, and I had nothing left to prove and a whole lot to lose. I’d registered in my first track day to scratch the surface of the learning curve in a new sport and to test the depth of the waters therein, which I’d accomplished, and that was more than a “pass” in my books. So with one of my similarly-minded and more experienced track buddies, to the private indoor tennis courts we went rather than wallow in idleness under our umbrellas in a countryside parking lot in the faint hope that we might have a crack at duplicating the mistakes of Mr. 370. The sunk costs sunk, there was no value in putting our safety equipment to the test so brashly.
Some precious cargo can’t be replaced.
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- Track Junkies events have up 4 x 15-car groups for registrants : Novice, Intermediate, Advanced, and Time Attack. Each group is given 4 x 20-minute hot lapping sessions over the course of the day. Breaks are only taken for a quick lunch in the 8am – 5pm schedule and events are held approximately ten times per summer. [↩]
- Demonstrating that I was fairly well placed in the Novice category was that I was passed by approximately the number of cars that I in turn passed. The tally was two against (Camaro ZL1 and… VW Beetle) and five for (none of which were in the same performance bracket as the GT-R). The Beetle could handle! Something something slow car fast better than fast car slow something something. [↩]
- How does $500 for the day with a $12k deductible strike you ? A bit rich ? I thought so. Not that $12k of damage is that hard to rack up on a GT-R ; that’d be barely a nick on one corner if a new rim, tire, brake, control arm, ball joint were needed, but was I really going to be driving that hard my first day out ? Not bloody likely. Discretion being the better part of valour. I mean what am I, some kinda overconfident, egotistical, testosteronic, macho man with a chip on my shoulder and something to prove ?! [↩]
- Let’s add up a few costs for this first track day, shall we ?
Helmet : $200 (very cheap, spending $1200 isn’t hard)
Wheels and tires : $1000 (also very cheap, spending $7000 isn’t hard)
Tire swap and mechanical inspection : $125
Brake fluid flush : $150
Fuel : $30
Track time : $295
Instructor : $100
Misc wear and tear on vehicle : $250 (brake and tire wear, estimate)
Total : $2150
So… over $2k for less than an hour on track and only twenty minutes at speed! Still, the start-up costs are high and future track days should cost closer to $1k and should yield closer to 100 minutes on track, but this still makes my other sporting endeavours (all involving various country clubs) seem as affordable as basketball. Other than yacht racing and horse racing, it looks for all the world that racing cars is just about the fastest way to set fire to your chequing account. I mean, 0.22 BTC per day at current rates ? That’s a lotta lives if you’re into such cold calculations. [↩]