For those of us with high performance cars, being able to use all of it safely is quite difficult on a public road. With other road users, traffic and those drivers who are less attentive, it frankly is a death wish if you put your foot down for long periods of time. However, one avenue that is available can alleviate this need for speed – track days.
The premise of a track day (or weekend) is very simple – take your own car onto road courses that many of today’s professional drivers have driven and go as fast as you possibly can. It is not racing in the traditional sense; in fact, it is STRONGLY discouraged and frowned upon. It is an exercise to push the limits of your car and, more importantly, your own driving skills, in a controlled environment.
One event that has been hosted, now, for the past four years has been Dub Deliverance. Organized by TrackDaze and sponsored by Volkswagen of America (VWoA), APR and New German Performance, it allows Volkswagen and Audi vehicles to participate in a track day event for DIRT CHEAP prices. Normally, most track days/weekends are between $200-400 JUST TO ENTER.
This does not include ancillaries like hotels, fuel, tires, brakes, and, unfortunately, the occasional broken part(s). Because VWoA heavily subsidizes the event to get the brand out to its target audience – enthusiasts, the price for the day is in the double digits. In 2014, the entry fee was $55. THAT’S IT. For that sort of money, who wouldn’t take advantage of the opportunity?
In August 2013, I first heard of the event, and decided, without hesitation, to bring my Mk5 GTI. Heavily turbocharged and modified with all sorts of upgrades, it was made for the track. And, frankly, I wanted to wring its neck out. Unfortunately, the car did not make it through the event, because a fuel injector became stuck open during the 3rd track session. The end result was that NGP Racing had to tow the car back to Maryland, I had to hitch a ride to get back home, and replace all the fuel injectors out-of-pocket. It was not a good day.
This year, I decided to bring my Scirocco to the 2014 event, held on August 16th. Like 2013, we would be driving at Summit Point Motorsports Park. Leading up to this, I had SERIOUS reservations about bringing the Scirocco. First, it was down OVER 200hp compared to my Mk5 GTI. While it was nimble in corners, it basically had no hope keeping up on straightaways. I thought my saving grace was that, a few days before the event, the road course changed from what would have been a fast and flowing one to one more technical. This gave me hope that the Scirocco would be able to keep up with the faster cars. So, I decided to drive it down to West Virginia.
On arriving at the track Saturday morning, I was surprised at the amount of comments and questions I received about the car. I can say without hesitation that all of them were positive. I sort of expected this, given that a majority of the cars in the event were new (late 90s to this model year) and I was only one of a handful that drove an older car. But, I didn’t expect so much positive reaction to the car. Maybe it’s because it looks different, or is just “cool.” Whatever the reason, seeing this reaction validated my reason for driving it.
We were on the Shenandoah Circuit, 2.2 miles in length. It is one of the most technical road courses I’ve driven, with decent elevation changes, slow to fast corners and a perfect replica of the Karussell corner from the Nurburgring. Most importantly, the straightaways, I felt, were short enough that I would be able to keep up with everyone else for a good portion. WRONG.
During a track day, unless you’re an Advanced/Expert driver, passing is only permitted on specific areas and with a point by, to the left or right. I spent a good bit of my track time pointing people by because I was, frankly, holding them up. I guess light and nimble is not enough on a majority of North American road courses – you need power as well. With a car that probably has, at best, 130hp, I felt like I was a rolling chicane on the straightaways, even as “short” as they were. In the corners, I could keep up with most cars, but even I started to wonder, “did I make the right decision?”
Hell yes. For someone like me who appreciates and embraces not only high performance driving but also improving driving skill, the day was worth the frustration and slight embarrassment. It has spurred me on to improve some of my driving habits. For example, this was the first time I’d driven a car of my own that had a manual gearbox. My Mk5 GTI has a DSG/double-clutch automated gearbox, where manual shifting is done by paddles. Transitioning to a true manual with a clutch pedal was an adventure. Granted, I’d driven a manual car in real race conditions (24 Hours of LeMons) but still had bad habits. The one I really hate and want to work on is heel-toe downshifting. This was on display for sure here. My poor clutch must hate me for shifting from 4th to 3rd without rev-matching.
For those of you looking to improve your driving and go fast in a controlled environment, a track day/weekend is the best place to do it. Instructors are available to provide you with driving tips and pointers as well as give you the encouragement to push yourself and your car farther than you thought possible. But, the camaraderie and shared enthusiasm for high performance driving is what keeps drawing me back to these types of events. It’s cool when you can meet people who share your passion, share knowledge and stories and just have fun with like-minded individuals.
Here is a video of one of the sessions from the weekend: