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Track Day at Road America Part 1 – A Distinctive and Exhilarating Experience

Heading into Turn One during a Track Day session at Road America. [John Wiedemann Photo]

Heading into Turn One during a Track Day session at Road America. [John Wiedemann Photo]

Turk’s Tracks
A Few Loose Lug Nuts from Pit Row

by Gene Turk

It is Monday in late September and I am awake at the crack of dawn. A quick look outside and I see the day has dawned clear and bright. Today I am excited because I am heading to Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin for track day. I have got the Corvette all gassed up, a fresh coat of wax on my crash helmet and I’m out the door and east bound. So, just what is track day?

At selected dates during the summer, Road America allows any street legal high performance car or sports car to drive on one of the premier race tracks in the country. The fee for this is what I believe to be a reasonable $295. This is not a race. No trophies are given out, no points awarded. The main goal is to have fun, learn, and to insure that your car leaves in the same condition that it arrived in. This day is not for SUV’s, trucks, or mini- vans, only for street legal high performance cars.

After a pleasant 25 minute drive from my home, I roll up to gate 6 on the east side of the track. Upon entering the track, I stop at the first booth where I am greeted by a staff member of the track. I tell him my intentions. He informs me where I need to be, what concession stands are open and that the gift shop is open today. I then am required to sign a waiver. Basically the waiver states that if I do something really stupid and end up off into a section of the Kettle Moraine forest, it’s not Road America’s fault.

It is now 6 a.m. and it is time for car registration. All cars must have a number assigned to them. The good news is that Road America provides the self-adhesive numbers. The number must be applied to both sides of the car. The most common place is the side of the door, however, the rear fender or a side window is acceptable. You will then be assigned into a group based on your level of experience as follows:

Novice – 0 to 5 times on a track
Intermediate – 6 to 10 times on a track
Advanced – greater than 10 times on a track

So far, things are moving along nicely. One important thing to note, before you can get on the track, your car needs to pass inspection. At this time, I am not going to go through every single item, but I do want to hit on some areas that you may not be aware of. Let’s start with the interior. All loose items are to be removed, meaning no junk in the car. This includes floor mats, radar detectors, maps in the door pockets, etc. and you must empty the glove box and console. This is not the place for a loose soda can to get wedged under the brake pedal.

Second, clean out the trunk. Only the spare tire is allowed, but it must be bolted down. Then, on to the car itself- no fluid leaks-oil coolant, brake fluid, rear end grease, windshield washer. Belts and hoses should be in good condition and all wires secured. Tires and brakes should have sufficient tread and pad thickness. Now here is one more item to be checked that you may not be aware of – a staff member will use a torque wrench to insure your lug nuts are properly secured. You also need to clean your windshield and make sure the wipers are working. Lastly, you need to lower your tire pressure by 3 to 4 PSI. This is because the tires will heat up and pressure will increase on the track. Too much pressure and you could lose tire grip. This is important today because the air temp is be 90 along with a clear sky, which means high track temps today. I use a digital tire pressure gauge that measures to .5 PSI. It might also be a good idea to have a tire pump along in case you need to add air before you go home or want to change your tire pressure during the course of the day.

The other area for inspection involves you. You need a Snell 2005 or newer helmet. It can be open face or full face if you do not have a helmet or it is not up to spec, you can rent a helmet from Road America. Secondly, no open toe shoes. Manly footwear is the style here. No shorts, full length pants. Normally, you would be required to wear a long sleeve shirt, but that was waived today because of the 90 degree temps. Another important fact is how to properly adjust your seat belt. It is recommended to move your seat fully back. Put on your seat belt and then move the seat up to your normal driving position. It may seem too tight at first, but it will feel better on the track and will help keep you firmly into the proper driving position. It is now 7:30 AM and all groups need to report for a meeting.

Here you will learn about any safety procedures, the flags that will be used and the rules. This meeting will last roughly 45 minutes. At this time, I just want to touch on some of the rules. A complete list of rules can be found on the race track’s website. First of all, there is no passing in turns. All passing must be done before the brake marker signs. Only pass if the car ahead of you points to the left. No passing under a yellow flag. No burnouts anywhere. If you need to leave the track and go into the pit, signal this by extending your left hand out the window and make a fist. You will be monitored while on the track. If you break a rule, you be given a warning the first time. If you do it a second time, you be asked to leave the grounds. One more thing, if you spin out, but your tires remain on the racing surface, no harm, no foul. But, if all 4 tires are off the race track, you must return to the pits to have both you and the car inspected.

It is now 8:30 AM and the novice group will now have class time. Meanwhile, the intermediate group and advanced group are taking turns on the track for 25 minute segments each. On the track are many Corvettes, a 370Z , Camaros, a BMW, and Miatas. OK, class is over and the novice group will be moved to the go cart track located on the west aside of the grounds. There will be forty minutes on the go cart track under the watchful eye of an instructor. Again, you are here to learn. Baby steps! After the time on the go cart track, you head back to the pits. Here is a chance to relax, talk to your fellow drivers, get a bite to eat.

The next thing that happens is the loud speaker announces for novice group one to report to your cars. You will form up single file and be lead out to the track by one of Road America’s C7 Corvettes. Road America uses the lead/follow training method and you will spend the next 25 minutes following the lead Corvette. He will set the pace, no passing allowed. Finally, we are about to get on the track.

The anticipation is finally over for me, as I will now be on the track with my fellow classmates. What will I see, feel, and experience? Waiting is always the hardest part, and regretfully you will have to wait just a bit longer as part two of this journey will describe what it is like to go full throttle at Road America! Look for part two to be posted on RacingNation.com the week of October 9th! Stay tuned for Part 2 – Driving Road America

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Gene Turk was born with racing in his blood. At age 8 he started racing Quarter Midgets as member of the Great Milwaukee Quarter Midget club. For five years he raced the #7 car that his father built. He then graduated from the Milwaukee School of Engineering (MSOE) with a degree in Industrial Engineering and Internal Combustion Engineering.

While in college he obtained his Private Pilot’s License.

Along the way he has attended numerous Indy car and stock car races at the Milwaukee Mile during the 60s, 70sand 80s along with area Midget car races. He would also frequently fly to the Brickyard to watch the Indy 500 time trials in the 60s and 70s and more recently attended the 2014 Indy 500.

He has also attended numerous sports car and NASCAR races at Elkhart Lake Road America. Finally, Gene has owned many classic cars including his present 1990 Corvette and is a self-described “Gear Head.”