When you realize how expensive driving cars on track can be, you’ll likely be forced to start compromising on some things. However, don't be the guy that spends all his money on a titanium exhaust but shows up to the track with a dirt bike helmet from the Reagan administration! Today, we'll be going over three essential items every track driver needs and are worth investing in.
Yes, modern cars are safer than they’ve ever been but it's still possible to suffer extreme injuries in an accident. I have more than one colleague who sustained major brain trauma even with top of the line equipment, roll cages and the best helmets money can buy. Don’t cut corners on your helmet purchase just to save a few hundred dollars!
I’ll also discuss the importance of having a quality tire gauge and torque wrench. These two simple items are critical for taking care of the only things keeping your car connected to the track. Again spending a little extra for tools that remain consistent and accurate will keep you safer in the long run.
Track Day Essential #1: Helmet
Here's what to look for when buying a helmet. Start by deciding if you ever plan to compete wheel to wheel. If you think racing is in your future then you’ll need to filter your search, for the most part, to carbon fibre and full face helmets. But, if you have no intention of racing and simply want to enjoy track day events this will open up more options for you. For this article, I’ll focus more on the track day options and we’ll save the racing stuff for another time.
Helmet Safety: Snell Rating & Snell Expiration Date(s)
Look for the Snell rating. All helmets that are deemed suitable for autosports will have one. The most current Snell rating for autosport helmets is SA-2020, but most track day groups will also allow the older SA-2015 and possibly even SA-2010 rated helmets. Be sure to check with your specific track day group for their specific helmet requirements before you show up to the next event.
Finally, be wary of a good deal. Helmets that are on sale are usually getting close to their Snell rating expiration date. This may not matter much if you have zero interest in wheel to wheel racing, since most HPDE organizations are relatively lax when it comes to Snell ratings, but if you want to race someday be sure to buy a helmet with the most current Snell rating.
Helmet Type: Motorcycle vs. Karting
Yes, you can save a boatload of money by purchasing a motorcycle helmet but they do not meet the same standards. For instance, auto racing helmets are specifically tested against head-to-roll bar impacts. The safer way to save a little money is to buy a kart racing helmet. These are easy to identify because there will usually be a “K” somewhere in the name of the helmet. Karting helmets meet the same impact test requirements as auto racing helmets but do not require fire retardant materials so they run a few hundred bucks cheaper than their auto racing counterparts.
Helmet Style: Open Face vs. Full Face
Next you’ll need to decide between open or full face. On a few rare occasions, I’ve coached someone who was either claustrophobic or had trouble breathing in a full face helmet. In these instances finding an open face helmet may be your only choice. However, outside of those extreme situations I’d always recommend a full face helmet for the additional safety.
Helmet Material: Carbon Fibre vs. Composite
Eventually you’ll need to choose between carbon fibre or composite. The weight difference between the two is less than you think so I wouldn’t spend the money for the weight savings. However, if you want the safest helmet money can buy, carbon helmets offer substantially better impact strength and penetration resistance should something start flying around the cabin of your car during an accident.
Track Day Essential #2: Torque Wrench
Your vehicles hubs, brake components and wheels can be made from different types of materials. Each of these materials heat up and cool down at very different rates. This constant expansion and contraction can cause wheels to come loose. I’ve personally experienced this most often with wheels that have been painted and cars that have single lug wheels, but it can happen to any type of vehicle. To protect yourself from this situation pick up a quality torque wrench. For those of you who own a car with single lug wheels you may need to special order a wrench from the dealer or a race shop.
Lug Nut Torque Specs
Once you have the wrench, look up your vehicle's lug nut torque specifications. Print out a small label with the specs and tape it to your torque wrench. It's a good idea to torque your lug nuts before every session. It doesn't take long and can give you some peace of mind before you drive onto the track. DO NOT OVER TORQUE! Over-tightening can cause a wheel studs to fail.
Track Day Essential #3: Tire Pressure Gauge
Setting your tire pressures is critical for tire life, performance, and safety so having a quality tire gauge is a must. All tire manufacturers have a recommended hot pressure that will help the tire perform at its best.
PSI for Optimal Tire Performance
For the sake of conversation, let's say tire brand X wants you to run the tire at 35psi hot. If I was unfamiliar with the tire, I’d set them to 32psi when the tires are cold or ambient temp. I'd then go out and drive my first session. Once the session ends, I drive back to pit lane or my paddock space and check the pressures immediately! Let's say the pressures read 40psi at the end of the session; while the tires are still hot I’d take my gauge and let them back down to the recommended 35psi. While you're waiting for your next session the tires will cool down and settle. Once they are fully cooled to ambient temperature they might read 30psi. This number now becomes your cold pressure and should insure the tires grow to 35 psi when they're hot. When you attend your next event, assuming ambient temperatures are similar, you would be safe to start your first session at 30psi. Make sure to check your pressures after every session and make adjustments when necessary.
As long as you have these 3 items at your next event you’ll be safe and ready to hit the track!
How do you prepare for a track day? We’d love to get your feedback and hear what items you consider essential for your track days in the comments below!