• Randy Stagno Navarra

What’s it like to attend a track day?

Updated: Sep 3, 2020

It always starts with a car wash. I guess it’s just a “car guy” thing, but I always want my car to look its best. Even if it is going to a track day.

Unfortunately, I came to track days rather late in my life; in my mid-thirties. Until then I was busy following my other passion and love playing football (or soccer as you call it here).

The love of cars – especially fast cars – has always been there, though. Growing up with a father who competes in sprints and hill-climbs it was hard not being bitten by the bug.

Naturally, I have always been interested in great-handling cars with a decent turn of speed. My first track day proved why both these things are important.

That first track day was at Winton, Victoria. I attended the day with a couple of mates and like everyone, I thought I was a great driver. Boy, was I wrong!

Okay, so I was pretty competent. But seeing the pace of the other guys and girls showed I wasn’t that great, or even that fast. Everything was so new. Suddenly I was looking for braking markers, any reference point to get me around the track faster. I didn’t know what an apex was, and I didn’t really know how to spot one on a racetrack.

The other thing that grabbed me was the speed differential between the cars. It was staggering… and a little bit frightening to be perfectly honest. But by the same and equal measure I was absolutely hooked; and wondering why I’d waited so long to discover this adrenaline rush.

Fast forward a little way I joined a car club and got involved. Really involved. The bug had bitten again. I joined the MX-5 Club of Victoria & Tasmania and am still participating regularly 15 years later. It’s a terrific way to get involved, hone your skills and enjoy your car to the limits of what it’s capable of.

Besides washing the car there’s a slightly more serious routine to preparing for a track day. It’s a fun routine, kind of cathartic; and I reckon I’ve got it down to a fine art. I haven’t got a dedicated track car – I enjoy motorsport on a very lean budget – which means my road car gets a little extra love before each track day.

It’s a bit of a compromise when viewed against some of the cars that are trailered to each round, but the Mazda MX-5s I've owned have so far proven very reliable, and make the transition from road car to track car and back again with little fuss.

Before each track day the car is jacked up and a spanner is run over every nut and bolt to ensure nothing is loose. Brake pads are changed to a higher performing type and light-weight alloy wheels with R-spec tyres bolted on (the grip difference between even a good road tyre and a R-spec tyre is like night and day).

I also fit a racing seat to hold me tight through the corners, which helps with my confidence levels when pushing the car to its limit in the turns. All the car’s vital fluids are checked and topped up and the tyre pressures reset.

The drive to the track always builds my excitement, especially the closer you get. It is matched by the satisfaction you get when you are back in the pits after that first warm-up lap, and again at the end of the day when you realise that you have just recorded a personal-best lap time.

And that’s part of what makes track days so satisfying. The challenge you place on improving your skills and your lap times is one of the things I enjoy most. That, and sharing the experience with like-minded enthusiasts – we’ve all become great mates through our shared love of the sport.

For me, track days aren’t just about going fast, but also about the camaraderie that occurs off the track. Between sessions you get to spend time chatting to people I consider the best bunch of lads and gals out there.

An outsider listening in to some of our banter may think that we at times hate each other. They couldn’t be further from the truth. Giving someone grief over a spin they have just had is standard operating procedure (trust me, I have copped that a few times too).

The banter also includes a lot of advice. There are always discussions on how to set the car up, what brake pads to use, how to best take certain corners. You are always learning something new. As a club ‘veteran’ I may know fair bit, but I am always open to new techniques and ideas. I am always learning. That is how you better yourself.

It is incredible how immersed you get into the day. It doesn’t matter what else is going on in the world or in your own life, that is all left at the gates. You are there for motorsport with like-minded people, which for me is the highlight of every track day. These people are my family and we all look out for each other and help each other out.

I have seen groups of guys covered in grease and oil as they fix someone else’s car so that their day can continue. Parts swapped and lent out so that no one goes home early. I have seen trailers being loaned to people whose cars have been stricken by some issue and, most importantly, I have seen so many of us stand together and support each other when one of us crosses the finish line and heads to that race track in the sky.

These are the moments; these are the people that make what I do so special. Motorsport is not only about the cars, it is about the people and the raw emotions it gives you; the euphoria you feel after a good stoush out on the race track; that oneness with the machine and those moments you can enjoy that no one can take away from you; the sights and sounds that make you happy when you have driven your car the way it was meant to be driven.

Non-car people will never understand this, and that’s a bit of a pity. They think motorsport is all about cars going around a track and fail to see the interaction and passion behind the scenes.

The end of a track day always brings out a sense of accomplishment. Regardless of the result you have given it your best shot and most importantly the car and yourself are going home in one piece.

Motorsport has been good to me. I have been able to participate in events in Victoria, New South Wales (including twice at Bathurst), South Australia and Tasmania. It has thought me a lot about myself, especially to the fact that with experience and training you can achieve a fair bit. Most importantly I continue to have loads of fun. It always puts a smile on my face.

Oh, and in case you were wondering, a track day also finishes with a car wash.

#trackandtarmac will be offering track days to its members as soon as COVID-19 restrictions are eased. Watch this space for more!

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