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Colin Wood
Colin Wood Associate Editor
11/14/22 2:15 p.m.

I don't want to give too much away, but I'll be partaking in a comparison test of sorts at the FIRM this Friday.

It's an exciting chance to do something cool–and it'll be a great learning experience–but it is way out of my comfort zone.

I know I'm an associate editor here at GRM, but I've never had the opportunity to drive on track, so it'll be my first time ever. To make things even more complicated, I'm not very experienced with a manual transmission. I can do it in a pinch, but I've never really driven a car with a manual transmission for an extended period of time.

So, what should I expect/be prepared for during my first time on track?

Purple Frog (Forum Supporter)
Purple Frog (Forum Supporter) Dork
11/14/22 2:41 p.m.

Much teasing and laughter on pit lane.

Purple Frog (Forum Supporter)
Purple Frog (Forum Supporter) Dork
11/14/22 2:48 p.m.

Seriously,  Start out late apexing every turn, then move the apex back as you get comfortable.   Most beginners early apex way too much.... and spin a lot, or have to brake past the apex to save it.   Brake early, then move the braking point in as you get comfy.

If shifting rattles you, drive one gear higher until you get comfortable.   You probably would be surprised how fast you would go just driving the whole thing in 3rd.

Think smooth.

OH... and make sure Chris Tropea has a lot of storage space in his camera.

Colin Wood
Colin Wood Associate Editor
11/14/22 2:51 p.m.

In reply to Purple Frog (Forum Supporter) :

Thanks for the advice. I'm trying to tell myself that it's okay to start out slow. I don't need to be turning perfect laps out of the gate (and nobody is expecting me to, either).

Tom Suddard
Tom Suddard Director of Marketing & Digital Assets
11/14/22 2:59 p.m.

Here's one bit of advice since you're brand new to this:

Lose control in a safe spot early on. This can be some gentle understeer, a slow spin, or just kicking the tail way out under braking. You're new enough that you probably won't have control over which of these scenarios you use, but you should fail once early on.

Why? Because you're going to lose control of the car at some point no matter what, so get it over with early and start learning what it feels like right away. You'll be able to far better find the edge if you've already felt the transition past it. 

On a similar note, drive down the grass at 100 mph to break that mental instinct to jerk the wheel when you go off track. It's just grass, and if a lawnmower with no springs can drive across it your car will certainly be able to. 

Colin Wood
Colin Wood Associate Editor
11/14/22 3:02 p.m.

In reply to Tom Suddard :

Got it. Don't be afraid to make a mistake early on, and the grass won't hurt me.

nocones PowerDork
11/14/22 3:05 p.m.

The FIRM didn't require a lot of shifting.  And almost all of the shifting it required was in calm areas of the track.   Don't hesitate to basically run 1 gear up and just be slow out of the corners.   My car was between 3-4 but I could of ran the whole track other then the haripin in 4th without a huge laptime impact.   Also when you are in the higher gear the car will be more balanced because engine braking is less pronounced so it will help you focus on track layout, putting the car in the right spot, and approaching the limit.  

Which is a good point.  Approach the limit from inside it.   Pick a corner with good runoff and slowly work your way up to the limit over a series of laps.  At the FIRM 3/4 seemed like a good series for this.  You scrub a little speed into 3 but there doesn't seem to be anything there to hit if you get it wrong.  

eyes up.  Like way up.  Watch some in car to get the layout and get a feel for where people are on/off throttle but don't overdo it.  Your goal should be to generally understand the track layout not be ready to be Sena during session 1.

I will second the late apex.   

Also there is 0 shame in easing into it.  Drive within your comfort zone and try to listen to an instructor if they tell you to accelerate harder, brake later, whatever. Good instructors will only push you when they know there is substantial margin.  So If they say pin it after a few laps in a section try it.  But if you aren't comfortable discuss it with them after the session and work up to it.  

Error404 HalfDork
11/14/22 3:05 p.m.

The first place to plan to shift at The FIRM is the hairpin, you can probably do the rest of the track comfortably in 3rd but the hairpin could be a pain. Take the turn slow and if you don't quite get the shift done you can ride it around with the clutch in and take care of it on the nice, flat straight. It's a tight piece of track to shift in but it's slow enough that if you blow it, it's fine. Also, the guard rail is not as close as it feels on the banked turn. Also, the front straight is longer than it feels and the runoff isn't bad if you take 9 a wee bit fast. There's a lot more nuance to the track than this but those are a couple of the things that I found a little intimidating at first. 

In my experience, The FIRM comes at you fast so you may find yourself needing to come in, sit, and process a bit. I know I did. As fast as it is, though, it gets fun at the same rate. smiley

Edit: Outside of the esses, stay off the curbing. It runs on the high side there and I've seen it take out an oil pan in the past.

Colin Wood
Colin Wood Associate Editor
11/14/22 3:08 p.m.

In reply to nocones :

I like the idea of working to improve a single corner first (I think we covered that in a recent issue, if I remember correctly).

And yeah, I'll definitely be driving within my comfort zone.

Olemiss540 HalfDork
11/14/22 3:08 p.m.

Have you ever done an autocross? Its very similar to that except its actually fun and you dont have to dick with cones when you are not running. 

Colin Wood
Colin Wood Associate Editor
11/14/22 3:10 p.m.

In reply to Olemiss540 :

Haven't participated in autocross, either (I know, I know).

Colin Wood
Colin Wood Associate Editor
11/14/22 3:11 p.m.

What imagine my first lap out will look like:


dean1484 MegaDork
11/14/22 3:13 p.m.

Have fun!!!!   

Colin Wood
Colin Wood Associate Editor
11/14/22 3:15 p.m.

In reply to dean1484 :

For sure. Easy to forget that one with everything else on the mind.

nocones PowerDork
11/14/22 3:30 p.m.

Ultimately its just driving a car except on track.  For your first time,  don't make it more complicated then that.  Looking at my speed traces from the LMP360 unless you are driving something stupid fast you won't even exceed typical interstate speeds much.  All corners where 48-55 mph with the exception of 1 at 70 and the hairpin at 30. 

If your on track with other cars get in the habit of checking your mirrors often.  Not all the time, there is no reason to look in your mirrors during corners. But look at them as you unwind the wheel on corner exit entering long straights to give the point by or to move offline to let people by.    And don't worry about cars behind you.  They won't hit you, you just need to stay on the racing line and be predictable.  

adam525i Dork
11/14/22 3:39 p.m.

Just drive within your comfort zone (which hopefully expands as the day goes on). Keep your eyes up looking ahead to where you want to go. Leave it in one gear as much as possible, this will help you focus on driving and not pushing that stick around a lot. If you can get someone more experienced in the car with you to give you some pointers or instruction this will help a lot, they can also help you deal with traffic if there is a lot of that. Go for rides with other more experienced drivers, you'll get to see where they are shifting, braking and the lines they take and the capabilities of the car.

Have fun! Do it again so you can build the skills.

wvumtnbkr PowerDork
11/14/22 3:47 p.m.

What I like to do at a new track...

1) learn where all the corner workers are and wave to them

2) learn the track.  Late apex everything.  This helps you NOT run out of track on corner exit.

3) learn the line around the track (refining of the learning the track)

4) try to hit the same marks over and over.  For like 2 entire sessions.

5) work on figuring out where you can pass and be passed.  Try different lines through different corners.  Try breaking "on the inside".  Etc.

6) work on going faster.  Do this in the corners you are in for the longest amount of time until you have them perfect.


Have fun!

Colin Wood
Colin Wood Associate Editor
11/14/22 3:52 p.m.
nocones said:

And don't worry about cars behind you.  They won't hit you, you just need to stay on the racing line and be predictable.  

That takes a bit of the load off, thank you.

APEowner UltraDork
11/14/22 4:05 p.m.

Here's some random bullet points from an experienced instructor.

  • There's a lot of stuff coming at you in a big hurry when you first get on track.  It's normal to be overwhelmed. If you feel yourself getting tense or making mistakes slow down, take a breath and refocus or, even pull off and take a break.
  • Practice deliberately.  Pick no more than two things to work on per session.  For your first session it's going to be which way does the track go and how few shifts can you make and still get around the track.  Yes, you'll ultimately want to be shifting to maximize speed but initially see if you can just run the whole track in one or two gears.  If you hit the rev limiter on the longer straights that's OK.  You can focus on shift points in a later session.
  • Work on optimizing breaking points last.  There's no point in hammering the brakes at the last second if you don't know what the mid corner speed needs to be or even which way the next corner goes.
  • Stay hydrated and nourished.  Don't forget to eat, drink and pee as needed.
  • Bring a car that doesn't need any attention and if you can bring someone to pay attention to it.
  • Focus on technique not speed.  Speed happens all by itself when you get the technique right. 
  • When you analyze a corner work your analysis from corner exit backwards. Where do you want to be on corner exit?  Where do you need to apex to be able to start feeding power early and have the car end up in the right spot on corner exit?  Where do you need to turn in and how much do you need to slow the car to hit the apex?  Where do you need to start braking to get the car slowed enough to get the right turn in speed/
  • Safe, fun, fast should be your priorities and they should be in that order
Tom1200 UberDork
11/14/22 4:14 p.m.

In reply to Colin Wood :

This is what I posted  for Chris:

Make sure you make everything as comfortable as possible for the car you will be driving; spend a good 15 minutes adjusting everything. 

Next take your time. I always preach the fundamentals; you need to do them at a reduced pace so that you are able to drive and also think about what you are doing at the same time. It takes brain capacity to think about what you are doing and it also takes brain capacity to drive at speed so something has to give. The easiest thing to do is to drive a little bit slower so you have some capacity left for self analyzing.

What to work on first; start but just making sure to hit you marks. If you've watched JG's videos enough you know where the line is and a rough idea of braking points.

On the subject of braking points; set those early. The toughest things for track newbies is learning to get an ultra smooth brake pedal release. If you rush the brake zone you will likely be abrupt with the pedal release. The abrupt release unloads the front end which causes the car to run wide on entrance, which then leads to winding on more steering lock, which then scrubs even more speed and also leads to being on the gas much later.................if you learn one thing all day make it a smooth brake pedal release.

Next steering wheel hand position; everything the car does comes back through the wheel. If the car is pushing the steering wheel will get light and drop in (more lock). If the car starts to oversteer the wheel will try to unwind. This is why a light grip is so important; you want to be able to feel the changes in the car instantaneously.  Oh and no shuffle steering (unless the car has 9 turns lock to lock), the constant grip, ungrip and regrip doesn't make for good feed back through the wheel.

Finally and most importantly have fun; don't get so caught up in trying to do more or do better that you stop having fun. Driving a car at speed is great fun, make sure to relax and enjoy the experience.

AnthonyGS (Forum Supporter)
AnthonyGS (Forum Supporter) UberDork
11/14/22 11:10 p.m.

Relax, have fun, and if possible bring along JG and put him the passenger seat.  Really someone that is familiar with the venue will help more than just about anything else.  If you can't get JG to go, find someone else with laps at the venue.  If you can't do that, ride with someone that is familiar and good first.  If they are really, really fast, ask them to slow down and teach you the course.  With your new found information, get in your vehicle and get after it within your ability and reason. 

Racing isn't nearly as hard as anyone says it is.  My dad used to drive, crew chief, etc., and teach others.  One of the guys on the crew built a really nice car, and then asked my dad to drive it.  My dad's advice, go drive it yourself because building a winning car is harder than driving it (this will probably send people over the edge here, but look at the challenge as a great example).  What happened?  Larry ended up winning his Nascar local region several years in a row.  Guess who wins that region now?  His son wins it now. 

You can learn to drive fast too, the key is being open minded, critical, and learning from others.  Overthinking things is just as bad as overdriving!  Overdriving leads to slower times, off course excursions and broken hardware.  I overdrive on dirt and that just leads to going slow.  Driving 95% will be faster than 101%.  The best drivers can get 100% out of their combination almost all of the time.  I'm really good at getting 90% or 101% and going slower.  Contrary to what most say or think you can drive over the limits and not lose control; you just go slower especially on dirt.  The problem with dry pavement is that overdriving and losing control are much closer than they are on dirt or in the wet. 

jgrewe Dork
11/14/22 11:32 p.m.

Don't be a squirrel. Find the line and stay on it. Faster people and cars will get around you.

You will either like it or love it. My first time on track was an SCCA school at Nelsons Ledges and I came off the track questioning my choice of getting into racing. I was later told it was the fastest track in the Eastern US. The next school at Mid Ohio was much better and I had a blast.

I'm not sure how you've been an associate editor and not ended up on track sooner but I predict you will have a great time. There will be a lot of things that have passed under your nose in print that will make a lot more sense, it's going to be awesome to hear about it.

RacerBoy75 New Reader
11/15/22 12:54 a.m.

Lots of good advice here. Here's mine -

Keep your eyes up, look down the track. You shouldn't be looking down enough to really see the hood of your car, except maybe in a really slow corner. Don't forget to look in your mirror to see what's coming up on you. If you feel pressured by the car behind you, let them by. No one is judging you or keeping score.

Try to stay relaxed. On the straights move your head side-to-side and move your shoulders in circles. If your shoulders are tight, you will have a hard time feeling what the car is doing, and you'll have less fun.

If the car starts to slide, don't panic. It doesn't mean you are going to crash, there should be plenty of track and time to correct the car to get things back to what you want it to do.

Have fun!



dean1484 MegaDork
11/15/22 8:08 a.m.

Bring a friend?  Someone to help with things. Then return the favor by helping them get on track or pass it forward and help someone else at there first track day.  

As questions. Ask the same question to a couple people as you will get different answers then see what works for you and your car.  

My have fun comment above is because it gets lost by many people and it is the whole reason you are doing this as well. 

One last thing you will get tired. You will discover muscles you did not know you had. Be mindful of this towards the end of the day. There is no shame in skipping the last session. If you are feeling worn out. 

Adrenalin can mask being physically worn out be mindful of this. 

Error404 HalfDork
11/15/22 9:15 a.m.

In reply to dean1484 :

Piggybacking off of the mention of adrenaline, I recommend going light on the coffee. Particularly at this venue where the facilities are a little light. There will be plenty of excitement to wake you up and a bunch of coffee on a nervous stomach isn't likely to end well. 

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