Sure, we love the look of our Corvettes. Who among us hasn't glanced at the reflection of his or her car in a store window while driving by? Yet what really gets the heart pumping is the car's performance--specifically, the acceleration and handling. Add the sound as the throttle plates open and the revs explode on a lusty V-8, and a grin inevitably forms on your face.
Enjoying all that performance can be difficult on the street, however. There are financial considerations, like the aftershock of a radar-gun encounter. And, perhaps more important, there are safety considerations to keep in mind: Sand, leaves, or black ice on corners; vehicles crossing the centerline; or a tractor pulling out with a load of hay on a seemingly deserted rural road can all put an end to your performance driving session in a hurry.
The solution to all of these problems is track time. There's no radar, everyone goes in the same direction, and you won't ever have to worry about unpleasant surprises from sandy corners, farm animals, drunk drivers, or pedestrians. Best of all, you'll spend the day (or more) going as fast as you want in the company of like-minded people. It's as much fun as a married person can have (only kidding, honey).
If you're among the millions of people who watch auto racing and are thinking about getting out on a racetrack to have some fun, read on. There are plenty of options, each with its own set of risks and advantages. We'll start with the Sports Car Driving Association (SCDA) because it's a good example of exactly what we're talking about.
The SCDA lets you take your own car out on exciting racetracks at a low price. And it's safe. This track time is non-competitive, so there is no racing per se, and novices must ride with an instructor. But there are plenty of opportunities for high-performance driving, with 300 events per year at a number of famous racetracks.
The track I drove on was Lime Rock Park. Nestled in the rolling, wooded hills of northwestern Connecticut, Lime Rock is about as scenic as a motoring venue can be. And for those who don't wish to be on track, the venue provides many opportunities for spectators. The historic-car races are a favorite of mine. Seeing and hearing race cars from every decade roar out from the pits and around the track is a visceral treat. You can even head into the pits for up-close inspections of everything from air-cooled three-wheelers to Aston Martins, famous racing Corvettes, and former Trans-Am cars.
The area around Lime Rock Park is picturesque New England, with plenty of B&Bs, antique stores, and non-chain restaurants to choose from. In addition to Lime Rock, SCDA offers track-time events at other desirable destinations such as Watkins Glen and Monticello Motor Club (New York), Thunderbolt and Lightning (New Jersey), and New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
The requirements are minimal. Drivers must be 18 and have a valid license. Participants must wear a Snell SA2000 (or newer) helmet, along with long-sleeved shirts and pants. The car can be any make, modified or not, but be aware that there are noise limits at several tracks. Convertibles must have a factory hardtop or a rollbar, and all cars need to pass a tech inspection before going on the track. SCDA even offers race-prepped Spec Miatas to rent for track days.
The day starts with registration, after which each student is assigned to a specific group. A driver with limited or no track driving experience goes in the novice group. There are also two intermediate groups and an advanced group for seasoned track drivers. All drivers gather in a morning meeting to learn the day's events. Then the various groups rotate on and off the track throughout the day.
Total track time is usually about two hours, interspersed with "chalk talks" and classroom sessions. Classroom instruction covers such topics as vehicle dynamics, threshold braking, and line theory. Although guests can't ride as passengers on the track, they can attend the classroom sessions. The instructors include professional race drivers, regional and national champions, and even specialists in specific marques.