Marc UrbanoCar and Driver
- If you're homebound due to the current need for social distancing and tired of taking long walks, a track day can provide a low-risk, high-psychic-reward diversion.
- Track days are opportunities to drive your street car on a real racetrack for minimal cost. All that's needed is a car in good condition, a valid driver's license, and an approved racing helmet.
- Track days are conducted on racetracks across the country by the Sports Car Club of America, car clubs, racing schools, and individual racetracks, and you should check in with them to see what activities are still on.
In these perilous times, when you're marooned at home and keeping your distance from others, it's easy to feel trapped, worried, restless, and bored. The antidote to your dread, however, might just be sitting in your garage. How about taking your car to a track day, where you can engage in a solitary, anxiety-reducing driving experience that will bring you into contact with hardly anyone else? If you can still find one, a track day could be the release you're looking for.
We talked to a spokesman for the Sports Car Club of America (SCCA), and he told us that, while many group activities have been called off because of the coronavirus pandemic, tracks are independent businesses, and you should check in with them directly to see what activities are still possible.
In case you haven't been to a track day, it's a low-key driving event held at many of the country's road-racing facilities during the good-weather months. You get to drive on a real racetrack, and you don't need a racing license, let alone a race car, to participate—just a valid driver's license, your personal car, and an approved racing helmet. Most tracks will allow cars with even the remotest sporting capability—in other words, decent tires with some tread on them and solid brakes—out onto the circuit for an afternoon of 20-minute lapping sessions. You will, however, be under the watchful eyes of track officials who will pull you off the circuit if you drive like a maniac, endanger other drivers, or simply break the track rules.
The social-distancing part integral to this activity is that you can potentially get through a track day with only a few interactions with other people. The day goes like this: You pull up to the front office and pay for the day's sessions (often between $100 and $250 depending on the track), if you haven't already paid online. A track official will give your car a quick once-over. If it looks like it won't expire within the first couple of laps and you've got good rubber on it, it's likely cleared for takeoff. You are not, however.
Track officials often first convene a short classroom session to familiarize new drivers with the course and assess everyone's experience level. Participants are then typically divided into beginner, intermediate, and advanced driving groups, which run in succession for several hours and sometimes full days. And if you pick the right track on the right day, you'll have hardly any company. We've been to track days where there were no more than five or six participants on a weekday afternoon. Fewer people, less risk.
Once belted into your car, you're once again isolated from the outside world's health threats. Moreover, you'll quickly forget about coronavirus as well as every other of life's distractions. Your focus will inevitably shift to the here and now. It must. Whether you're a beginner or a pro racer, driving on a track at speed requires total, Zen-like concentration.
And that's where the anxiety relief happens. Track driving is a form of meditation, of blocking out what's around you and bringing your focus in tight, to the next braking point, the upcoming corner, the proper line through it and on to the next straightaway. Just you, the car, and the track. It's exciting and peaceful and physically demanding all at the same time. You'll be relaxed when you stop.
Let your mind drift even for a second, however, and you'll likely go sliding off the pavement in a cloud of dust. Or worse. Which brings up the prospect of on-track damage to your vehicle. Of course, you don't want that to happen—and doubly so because virtually no insurance company covers track damage to a street machine. (You can buy track-day insurance, but it's not cheap.) This is why you want your car to be in good shape; you don't want a mechanical failure to end your track adventure sadly.
Numerous organizations facilitate track days, including the Sports Car Club of America, independent racing organizations, car clubs, driving schools, and the tracks themselves. Finding one near you would normally be as easy as Googling "Track Day." Of course, the current environment is anything but normal. But we assure you that the psychic rewards of finding a track that's still holding its previously scheduled track-day events is well worth the effort. And besides, you've got plenty of time now to search, right?