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HPDE: Everything You Always Wanted to Know about Tracking Your Car (But Were Afraid to Ask)

Posted in Cars, Corvette, driving, General, M Series, Mazda, Mini, Subaru, Tips, Track Events by Leigh | November 8th, 2010 | 3 Responses |

HPDE Vettes

You mod your car for performance, but do you actually get to enjoy your improvements?   Have you ever just wanted to drive on a racetrack but didn’t know how to start?

We all have that lust for speed, but instead of satiating it on public roads in an unsafe and unfulfilling fashion, why not check out a high performance driving education (HPDE) event?

HPDEs give you the opportunity to drive your own car on a racetrack, thus providing an outlet for that troublesome desire to blast into warp speed just to hear your engine sing. As you can imagine, being able to track your own car will quench your speed thirst to the point you get tingles and find yourself silently praying for someone “up there” to bestow an extra day upon the weekend.

Numerous car clubs across the US offer HPDEs, which are designed to teach drivers not only how to drive a track efficiently, but also how to exert greater control over their cars.

The National Auto Sport Association (NASA) is one group that holds HPDEs.  To use NASA as an example, it has four levels of HPDE Groups. Group One is for novices – those who have either never been on a track before or who have limited track experience.  Group Two is for drivers with more track experience than Group One, and so on.

If it’s your first time, you’ll be starting out in Group One, which requires an instructor to ride shotgun while you’re on track.  Even if you’re a terrific driver with tons of experience, if you’ve never driven on a track before, you will need to start in Group One. Once your instructor believes you can progress, he or she will send you off to Group Two, and so on through Group Four.  Group Four drivers can apply for a competition license which allows them to drive in the numerous racing classes offered by NASA.

HPDEs typically take place over a weekend and offer several opportunities per day to go out onto the track with everyone else in your group (untimed, not racing), interspersed with time in the classroom where advice is provided and an instructor answers questions. There can be some downtime in between class and track time, but it’s just enough to watch the other groups on the track and to chat with your fellow classmates.

Driving on a track is serious fun. But you also need to take it seriously. No matter how good a driver you think you are, listen to your instructor. He will be advising you on many different areas of focus, such as when to give it gas, when and how hard to brake, where the apex of the turn is, when to shift, and what you should be doing if a flag is waved.  Your instructor will take great pains to make sure you can drive properly on the track, and will correct bad habits that appear during your run and teach you how to improve your control over your car.  This information is invaluable even for your drive to work every morning.

Your brain will be receiving an insane amount of information your first few times out so don’t worry, you won’t get it all at once – but you will have several other opportunities on the track over the weekend to start to process everything he’s saying, and you will improve, trust me.

Beforehand, even if your car hasn’t had any power mods, it’s best to do some upgrades to your brakes to cope with the extra heat caused by aggressive braking – for your sake, and the sake of others.  I added track pads, stainless steel brake lines and DOT 4 brake fluid. You may want to do more depending on your vehicle, your level of experience, and how serious you want to get.  If you’re at full throttle, approaching a 90 degree turn, you will appreciate not taking chances with your brakes.

Competition tires are advisable when you’re hauling ass on a track for the added grip. You will also need a helmet and, if it’s cold outside, racing gloves will provide some comfort (note, your front windows will be down the entire time you’re on the track, so dress accordingly). Finally, your car will need to be numbered. Painters tape is a cheap solution, or you can buy magnetic or vinyl decals for your car.

One of the reasons why I took the plunge is that I wanted to learn more about my car. Regular driving will not allow you to see your car’s true abilities.  HPDE pushes your driving beyond its limits, and you may be surprised to find that your limits are not your car’s limits.

I’ve seen holding their own with the M3s and Z06s, Miatas, S2000s, Minis, E30s, and WRXs.  There are obviously great differences in the purpose, power and handling between these cars, but it becomes apparent that in HPDE, it’s not necessarily what you drive, but how you drive.

NASA has regional groups all over the US that hold their own HPDEs, and other car clubs do the same as well.  If you see an HPDE taking place in the area, you should definitely check it out if you’re interested in affordably learning about your car and in taking your driving to the next level. I can guarantee that your experience on a track in your own car will be nothing short of exhilarating.

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3 Responses

  1. Shahroz says:

    thanks for the info !!!
    been looking into getting more involved in autosports and this has given me a lead
    thanks again !

  2. Leigh says:

    Glad you found it helpful. It’s truly a lot of fun and not that expensive – the NASA weekends cost around $350 which gets you two days of track and classroom instruction. HPDE is a terrific way for people with zero track experience to get started safely. And everyone is pretty cool and encouraging – the staff and the participants alike.

  3. RUTROAH says:

    “One of the reasons why I took the plunge is that I wanted to learn more about my car. Regular driving will not allow you to see your car’s true abilities. HPDE pushes your driving beyond its limits, and you may be surprised to find that your limits are not your car’s limits.”

    Very true! This was my reasoning exactly!