Q: “I have been told at the speeds I am going I should either be adding significant safety equipment (seats, harnesses, roll bar) or simply pick up a used race car like a 996 spec racer that has already been prepped and sorted. I have a good idea of what happens when a street car hits a tire wall at 130 – and the same thought has been on my mind for some time. My question: at what point do you recommend HPDE drivers make this transition to a more purpose-built car, and how to approach making a choice? Obviously, budget is a big factor, and I suspect many drivers with an expensive and relatively new street car are reluctant to pull out the seats, etc., and add a roll cage.”
A: That’s a tough question. The simple answer would be to only ever drive a car that was prepped for the track when driving on the track – and that would mean a seat, harnesses and roll bar (or cage) at a minimum (and head and neck support is high on my list of priorities, so a halo seat and use of a Hybrid-S or HANS). We’re driving on a track, so why not have your car prepared for track driving, right?
But I understand the reluctance to modify one’s nice street car. Which suggests having a track-specific car…. And that’s a matter of budget versus risk versus the amount of use. If you’re going to track a car once a year, I understand that the exposure to risk is lower simply due to the number of opportunities for something to go wrong. At the same time, one could argue that the less you drive, the higher the risk, as the main thing that experience brings us is how to deal with mistakes and problems. That’s something to consider.
Since you’ve asked for my opinion… to me, all cars are meant to be driven. And if their purpose is to be driven on a track – even part-time – then they should be prepared to be driven on the track. That means protecting the driver as much as possible – that’s part of their job. I know for a fact that drivers drive better when they feel safe. It helps with confidence. And even though many drivers ignore the realities of what could happen (hey, I did that for most of my driving career), when they do feel the car around them is better prepared, they drive better.
As more than one person has said, “We don’t choose the days that we’re going to crash, so we can’t choose when we should be prepared, and when we don’t need to be.”
It probably also doesn’t come as a shock to you that I suggest driving a lower-priced, lower-performance, track-specific, safety equipment-equipped car. It’s safer, costs less (initial purchase, possibly to maintain), and I believe (based on my experience) that the driver learns more and has more fun. The more at-risk – meaning the higher cost of repairing a car after a crash, and more importantly, the less protection for the driver – often (usually?) results in less fun because the driver is more worried about what could go wrong. I’ve often talked about how fun and cost of the car are inversely proportional – the cheaper the car, the more fun because you just toss it around and play with it. Of course, that doesn’t apply to everyone, but to many drivers – even some who have let their passion for a specific type of car (i.e., BMW, Porsche) skew their view of a cheaper car (i.e., Miata, E30/36) – it does.
Well, that’s my opinion, for what it’s worth. I’m not sure if it’s what you wanted to hear or not!