Early March in the high desert can produce beautiful weather. Mild temperatures, and clear skies made for the perfect environment to shake down a recently purchased Porsche Boxster at Streets of Willow. Thanks to the SCCA, the opportunities are now relatively easy for anyone. For a number of interested would-be racers, Track Night in America may be the most convenient way onto a race track.
Many late afternoons and evenings, spanning the United States, the Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) has been eagerly working to generate interest in high-performance driving. In investigating ways to drive newfound interest in the club and its many ways to get involved, the SCCA developed a department called “Experimental Programs”. Three years ago with sponsor TireRack, and a grant from international racing sanctioning body, the FIA, this department began a series of events — SCCA Track Night in America. The program allows any type of interested driver, from novice to advanced, the opportunity drive their daily (or toy) street cars on a genuine road racing circuit — without stop signs and speed limits…
For just $150 (with many discount coupons available), the participant will enjoy three 20 minute sessions with instruction if desired, on a real road racing circuit. All vehicles are welcome, and vary from hi-performance Corvettes and Shelby Mustangs to the FIAT 500 that I brought two years ago, in hopes to develop speed techniques for the otherwise underpowered car.
According to Jim Llewellyn, SCCA, “Track Night in America is a non-competitive, no-stress, entertaining, easy and inexpensive way for nearly anyone who loves cars or motorsports to get on a real racecourse in their own vehicle during weeknights. All that is required is that participants be at least 18 years old with a valid driver’s license and have access to a helmet and street car in good working condition. No previous on-track experience or SCCA membership is required to join in the fun. Drivers participate in the Advanced, Intermediate or KONI Novice Experience group so on-track activities remain fun for all, and everyone gets three 20-minute sessions on course – as well as feedback from SCCA driver coaches on site. Admission is free for people who just want to stop by and watch the fun, and leisurely circuit parade laps are provided for all Track Night in America guests.”
Like any of us who consume car content on places like TURNology, we have been bitten, in one way or another, by performance driving. From the first time you turn a wheel in anger, so begins an addiction unlike any other. It is a different type of addiction though. While expensive and sometimes time consuming, unlike other vice-habits, performance driving and racing is satisfying and puts a smile on one’s face. That is unless you are amongst those who have found endless frustration from a case of “half-second-itis”. Fortunately during Track Night, this is just the “taste” that gets the blood pumping and the adrenaline flowing.
Two years ago, I had the opportunity to participate and brought a street FIAT 500 out to play. While not a fast car, I have a tendency to track it from time to time, working on ‘momentum.’ It is underpowered (120 HP — with its modifications) and has a relatively high center of gravity — much higher before installing Eibach Sportline Springs last year which lowered the car three inches and substantially improved handing. Having these forces work against you is not unlike practice swinging a weighted baseball bat prior to stepping up to the plate. By learning to be smooth, focusing on entrance, apex and exit of corners — and carrying as much speed as possible — when it is time to step into a more powerful, better handling car, the driving and technique comes much easier.
However, for this particular Track Night, I opted to drive up and run my 2002 Porsche Boxster. Having bought it just four weeks prior, I was anxious to “shake the car down” in a performance driving situation to assess the mechanical soundness of the car. In the past, I wanted to experience the entire event, and signed up as a novice to get driving tips and feedback. This time, having had several races and race car drives under my belt, I opted for the advanced run group that did not have to go through the classes. It was better as I was spending the time off the track looking over the car before and after each session.
The concept has been well received. According to Llewellyn, “In 2017, there are 25 circuits scheduled to host Track Night in America events. The SCCA’s innovative program will make first-ever visits in 2017 to Heartland Park Topeka in Kansas and Buttonwillow Raceway Park in Central California. Additionally, after a year’s hiatus, Track Night will return to Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park near Phoenix and Willow Springs International Raceway just outside of Los Angeles. We are also awaiting signed agreements to include two more tracks to the 2017 lineup.”
The participants are divided into three groups: Novice, Intermediate, and Advanced. Incorporating the instruction, participants learn the aspects of cornering and even etiquette. The most important aspect to remember, for this or any track day event is sage from the lead instructor in the safety meeting:
“You are not racing for a championship out there. If a fast car comes up on you, point them by.” None of the laps are timed, so the “red mist” that so many drivers experience when the visor goes down, is limited to your own laps on the track. Your fellow drivers are more “teammates” and adds another dimension of safety—making sure that the “run what you brung” car can bring you back home at the end of the event.
Overall, this is a really fun event and exposes enthusiasts to the viral-bug of high performance driving — a chance to really stretch the legs of your car. All the participants were cool to be around and a few friendships were even forged between sessions. The best part is that anyone can do it. For those not wanting to compete, there is spectating (including lead-follow street speed parade laps), photography opportunities, and the kinship of car culture in a low pressure situation. If it’s any indication of the program’s popularity, multiple 2017 Track Night in America events have already sold out.
Participants have been inspired to join the club and SCCA is hopeful that the new members will look to participate at greater levels. “We’ve seen a lot of Track Night in America participants join the SCCA,” said Llewellyn. “Over the last two years, nearly 2,000 people have either joined the Club through Track Night in America or registered for Track Night and then gone on to become an SCCA member. As far as advancing into other SCCA activities, it’s probably too early to gauge that impact. Moving from a Track Night in America event to, say, the Hoosier Racing Tire SCCA Super Tour is a tall commitment with time and fiscal implications. What we have seen are many, MANY Track Night participants chomping at the bit to get back on racetracks through Track Night. Back in January and February, before the 2017 Track Night schedule was even announced, the SCCA email inbox was flooded with folks asking for Track Night in America Driven by Tire Rack dates and locations.”
“Track Night in America Driven by Tire Rack is an SCCA activity unto itself. If people who like having fun with cars spend the rest of their days having fun at Track Night in America, then the Track Night program is serving its purpose. If Track Night participants have further aspirations, then Track Night is the place to ask questions of SCCA folks who have real answers and can provide real guidance to next steps.”
The SCCA does face challenges in putting on the events. “The biggest hurdle is track rental fees. To keep the $150 cap for participants, we need help and understanding from venues. We get a lot of requests via email to visit certain tracks, but the cost is just too high. With wonderful help from track management, Track Night in America only needs one last element: participants who ‘get it,'” observes Llewellyn. “Track Night is not about lap times, the perfect apex, or how many cars someone passes. Track Night is just about running laps on a real racetrack, having some fun, and being safe so everyone drives out the main gate at evening’s end with their cars in one piece after meeting some new friends and having a lot of fun.”
“Of course, one other hurdle is spreading the word that people can get out on real race circuits in their daily cars through SCCA Track Night in America. That is still considered a somewhat far-fetched concept to many. Creating awareness that such a program exists remains an ongoing effort.”
On future plans, Llewellyn is bullish. “Heck, we just got started with the 2017 season!! But in 2017 we’ve added a new instructional option for some events, The Track Night in America Driven by Tire Rack Starting Line. For only $325 per participant, Track Night Starting Line students get coaching, SCCA membership, subscriptions to SportsCar and Grassroots Motorsports Magazines, and entry to an SCCA Track Night in America Driven by Tire Rack. Additionally, Track Night in America is playing a role in other initiatives being developed by the SCCA. The new Targa and TrackFest programs include a Track Night element and give enthusiasts a means for exploring other ways to have fun with cars through the Sports Car Club of America.”
The SCCA has really pushed hard to gain new interest in racing and performance driving and have been at it for nearly three quarters of a century. Both the SCCA and new enthusiasts can hope that this program continues to have long legs—and provides an opportunity for the modern day dreamers to “turn a wheel in anger.” Check out SCCA’s site tracknightinamerica.com to find an event near you!
Special thanks to Jonathan Sieger at Z911partsstore.com for the photos, as we couldn’t pull double duty this day!