When I was involved in autocross years ago, I would drive from Los Angeles to San Diego to participate with the BMW CCA at Qualcomm Stadium. The events were a ton of fun, well-organized, and there were instructors there who could scare the bejesus out of me, even in a very, very slow car. My packing list was simple – usually a change of clothes, driving shoes, helmet, blue painter’s tape for numbering the car, and a tire gauge. I’d stay at a cheap hotel on Friday night so I could be at the lot first thing Saturday morning. Depending on the time of year, I’d throw in extra socks and a jacket in case it was the one day a year it rained in SoCal.
As far as set up knowledge was concerned, I was just learning about tire pressures — drop a pound in the front, this happens, drop a pound in the rear, this happens etc. Not really even good enough to feel minute differences in tire pressures, I still took pressures and tried to figure it out. A piece of blue tape over the wheel well, I’d write down tire pressure when cold, do my run, and then write down the hot pressure. This is important, and we’re going to talk more about tire pressure and what it can tell you about your driving and your car, in another article.
I quickly realized that without some proper equipment with me, driving a car to its limits might just leave me stranded in San Diego without a ride home. — Kasra Ajir
The other essentials I learned to bring after the first weekend were sunglasses, a hat, and the most important of all — sunblock. Who knew standing in an 85-degree parking lot would give me horrible, unendurable burns on my arms and back of my neck?!
Once I got a dedicated “track car” — i.e. an $1,800 salvage title jalopy with a strong motor, decent brakes, and a terrible transmission — I realized I might need to take more tools with me. I had always been handy with a wrench, though by no means a superstar mechanic. But, I quickly realized that without some proper equipment with me, driving a car to its limits might just leave me stranded in San Diego without a ride home.
First and foremost, I bought a good torque wrench. It seemed obvious, and I’d seen enough wheels come off cars on YouTube to know I needed to be sure my wheels were staying on. Like anyone, I get a little lazy about checking each session, but it is really something one should do before hitting the track and driving hard. And it’s worth keeping a reminder somewhere visible, as I once went out for qualifying with hand tightened lug nuts — d’oh!
Anyway, over the years the car got lighter and more naked. I drove it harder and harder, and more and more stuff started to break, leak, and give up the ghost. Now, as a racer, I have two full tool boxes, a big canvas bag with every type of plier and screw driver, and a pile of spares. But, maybe you’re not ready to pack all of that, or make the rather sizable investment in all those tools. So here’s a relatively abbreviated track pack of essentials that you can start with and add to from there.
1) Tire Pressure Gauge — Sounds ridiculous. Of course you’re going to take a tire gauge with you. You’ll want to know what kind of pressure you have in your tires before going out on track. Are they even front to back? Low? High? If you’re new to all of this, tire pressure gives you a lot of information and adjustment in the performance of the car. My advice is to spend the few extra dollars and get yourself a good gauge that will last you years. You will want to use the same one for consistency in data collection, and utilization of said data during subsequent events and seasons.
2) Torque Wrench — Get a good one that measures in ft-lbs and is of good quality with loud audible clicks. Or, if you’re feeling spendy, get yourself a really cool digital one. Over time they will require calibration to stay accurate.
3) Fluids — Always good to have an extra 2 quarts of motor oil. If you’re using an old jalopy track car, then I recommend having some power-steering fluid, brake fluid, and some proper transmission fluid. Spare belts (and tools to replace them) are always a good idea as well.
4) Papertowels and glass cleaner — have some paper towels that allow you to clean your windows and also check your oil level. I like to check my oil level in the morning, and again in the afternoon after lunch. Older engines with worn rings may eat more oil and the act of checking your fluid amounts will save you dollars and aggravation in rebuilding motors. I’ve seen more than a few engines grenade on track. It’s not pretty and the track personnel doesn’t appreciate having to clean up your spill when you blow a rod through the engine block. So keep the old girl topped up.
As far as clean glass goes, generally you’ll be driving with the front windows down (if you have them at all) and the inside of the glass will get coated with dust and dirt throughout the day. As the sun sets, glare and reflections from a dirty windshield make it hard to see where you’re going. Equally important, a dirty rear window will make it difficult to see who is coming up behind you. You don’t want to turn in on a faster car coming by because you couldn’t see through your glaring rear windshield. I know from experience; I once removed tint from the rear window on my race car but didn’t remove the adhesive that stayed on the inside of the glass. After one event the entire rear windshield was basically impossible to see through and I had to scrape that stuff off with Goo Gone and a razor. It was otherwise impossible to see anyone behind me.
5) Sunblock — So turns out skin cancer is a thing. Get the kind that doesn’t run during athletics and keep applying throughout the day. Track days in SoCal mean 100-plus degree temps all day long, so we go through sunblock (and ice and water) pretty quickly. Tracks generally are missing shade and cover, so you can’t go wrong with some high-number SPF.
6) Gloves —This one, again seems simple, but in the event of a wreck, you will want to have hand protection on to keep you safe from sharp glass. It’s a bare-minimum safety measure and also helps people see you give hand signals, which is essential for on track cooperation between drivers and flaggers / safety personnel.
7) Journal – This will be a longer conversation in a separate article, but if you are interested in improving your performance from event to event and season to season, you should collect data as well as driving thoughts and pointers. In my journal, I write down key data throughout the day such as ambient temp, time of day each session I’m going out, track conditions, and tire pressures (before and after each session). I also write down suspension settings and changes, and I reflect on each change after each session. In addition to set up, I make copious track notes (which also go into an individual binder I have for each track) that I review before the next time I visit the same track. Visual references for brake points, turn in, surface issues, etc.
Finally, after every track/race weekend, I write down my thoughts. What did I learn from my mistakes? From others’ mistakes? From tire pressure and set up changes? Then, before each new track weekend, I go over my journal and am reminded of things I would not have otherwise kept in mind. Heck, I even had some notes to myself in there: “Have more faith that you know what you’re doing,” “Just because someone else does it that way, doesn’t mean it works for you”. Things like that affect my confidence and reaffirm my belief system that I’m on the right path. It can pay long-term dividends, especially if you’re not able to go to the track on a regular basis.
8) Easy Up canopy — There is nothing worse than having to wrench on a car while the sun cooks you from above and below. Years ago, I had a black race suit and would leave my car uncovered between sessions. With the interior temps into the 110s, and a black suit absorbing all the sunlight that reached it, I was dehydrating at a furious pace. I’d be sweating from early morning session, and from there on my remaining sessions were about fighting heat exhaustion and dehydration. Keep the car, and yourself cool throughout the day with some shade to maximize performance and durability. (This pic was taken on a particularly windy day in SoCal with sustained 20mph + winds, so pardon that the cover is a little screwed up.)
9) Medical kit – I keep a bunch of different meds with me. My kit includes things like Salt Pills and Pedialyte to combat dehydration, ibuprofen, antacids (soooo much BBQ!), band-aids and wraps, and talcum powder to keep things dry down there. Nobody wants to limp around the office from chafing on Monday. These were all items I realized I needed to keep in stock from needing them and not having them on me. I find it’s better to be over prepared with these items than lack them when you need them most.
10) Jack and jack stands – People, seriously! Cars are heavy, sharp, and do not discriminate what they crush. Buy some good jack stands and USE THEM. Too often, I see people under their cars working on them with nothing but the regular pump jack holding the car up. “Bro, I don’t need that jack stand, I’m good”. No, you’re being silly. Why mess with something that simple? Not sure where the jack stand goes? If you’re going to the track, and don’t know where the jack point on your car is, then you need to learn. And learn where to jack up your car and where a jack stand would go underneath it. It’s sort of part and parcel with the experience, unless you can afford a pit crew. You can buy decent jacks and stands from a variety of manufacturers and they don’t cost much to ensure you stay…unsquished.
There are many other items, and I think other drivers or enthusiast might have differing opinions than what I’ve listed here. I can see a good argument for zip ties and duct tape, a sport thermos, fold out chairs. But for me, these 10 are things I won’t leave home without!