“Take it to the track.” Internet comment sections brim with the admonishment whenever a video is posted starring tire smoke or exhaust backfire on a stage of public asphalt. And the crowd is correct, of course. Street racing is dangerous, stupid, and defamatory toward the greater enthusiast community. We all wish we had racetracks out front, but we don’t, so don’t do it. Yet if there’s performance in the garage, shouldn’t we be able to perform with it? Drag strips are fairly accessible, but if you would rather score yourself for apex marksmanship than staging and pedal mashing, your options are limited to road courses, which deign to offer you a sliver of time here and there, provided you’ve memorized a ream of rules and sold one of your more important organs to pay for it. But thanks to the SCCA, that’s about to change. Because it’s Track night in America.
Racing, because it is unquestionably the greatest thrill in sport, is also the most expensive sport. Tires, safety mods, nomex suits, helmets, gloves, shoes, and driving schools all wring you dry before you even get to the track. And then the man at the entry booth wants another couple of Benjamins for six minutes on the tarmac.
There are alternatives, of course. Karting is probably your cheapest option, but you will be able to count your horsepower without taking off your shoes. You’ll need a kart, and a place to keep it, and a way to get it to and from the track, unless you want to drive it home and high-center on a feather before being laughed at, arrested, and laughed at, in that order.
Cheap endurance series like the World Racing League are an excellent option as well, but unless you’re already surrounded by a team of other gearheads, it means entering into a business venture with some folks you don’t know and being stranded in the bathroom of an abandoned gas station in Jawbone, Oklahoma.
Autocross is always an option, but for all its community and training, you’ll still spend most of your Sunday making eyes at an orange hat while your shoes are slowly welded to the asphalt.
There’s a definite measure of commitment involved. But what if you just want to give track driving a try? What if you could penetrate the frumpy, closed-door, club mentality road courses secrete around themselves?
The Sports Car Club of America, who sanction races from 800 hp Trans Am cars all the way down to your local cone-clipping autocross, have put together a program they call Track Night in America, which combines all the accessible thrill of Amateur Night at your local drag strip with, you know, turns. The idea is to keep it cheap, keep it non-threatening, and make it happen wherever a road course can be found.
The Deal: $150 gets you three separate 20 minute sessions on a real track. No speed limits, no crossing pedestrians, no cops. Helmets are required, but since this is the SCCA, the champion of the people, they’ve cooked up a deal with Bell helmets so you can get an open racing helmet for $125 tacked onto the cost of your first Track Night. And if you’ve ever priced one of those plastic bowls lined with styrofoam, that’s cheap.
The Program: There are six options here. Paced parade laps are free, if you just want to check out the track. The Starting Line track school is for the most green of all beginners. You’re paired up with an instructor who will walk you through everything. Novice, intermediate, and advanced sessions follow, and they’re separated into their own track times, so you’ll be out there with people of your own experience level. The sixth is the Run/Work option, in which you get a 20 minute session for $35 if you volunteer for part of the evening. The SCCA snatched this idea from their staff-heavy autocross days.
The Location: Everywhere. Currently, the SCCA has made arrangements with 20 tracks in 17 states. Across those 20 tracks there are 81 events planned before the end of this summer. And there are more SCCA chapters than Chick-Fil-As, so if this catches on, it could show up at a track near you.
The Evening: Since most weekends are filled with actual racing, TNIA events take place on weeknights. Like your bowling club. They start letting people in at 3pm, there’s a required drivers meeting and some parade laps, and then you’re off.
The Cars: Since you won’t be racing (the SCCA won’t even be timing you), there are no race cars allowed on track. Organizers didn’t want to stifle enthusiasm with the idea that to go fast you would need an $80,000 fiberglass-over-tube-frame beast. So every car on track must be road legal. No roll cages are needed (save for on some inadequately protected convertibles). You don’t need track slicks or expensive brake pads or skinny little fireproof shoes. Just your road car and your helmet.
This is a gateway drug, really, a ploy by the tire-squeak dealers at the SCCA to get you into the heavier stuff. But who can blame them? Racing is a brilliant way to sharpen your reflexes, meet new friends, and have some good clean fun. And if you can’t quite afford all that yet, there’s Track Night in America.
Someday we’ll tell our kids and grandkids that this was how we a got started. Get more info at the TNIA website.
One thing we love about Track Night in America is that they have no problem with power mods. If you want to give your beast a little more juice for your next track night, check out some of these great spark upgrades from MSD. And free up some extra horsepower under the hood with one of these unrestrictive exhaust systems from Flowmaster.
Andy Sheehan is a blogger, aspiring novelist, and relentless hoon. He plans to will his 2002 Subaru WRX Wagon to his firstborn, plans his daily commute around the swoop of its roads, and doesn’t plan to ever buy an automatic. A cool-car omnipath, he loves the common Mustang or Chevelle, but hunts for the weird and wonderful Velorexes and Cosmos of the autoverse. And when he can afford a garage, he’s going to turn an MX-5 into a race car.