THE Complete Guide
to Track Days: HPDE 101

Our Complete Guide to Track Days is your go-to resource for understanding track day basics, preparing yourself and your car, and answering those questions we’re sure you have. Be sure to visit our resource section for track maps, checklists and more.

Guide to Track Days


Track Day / HPDE Terminology

  • What’s a sweeper?

    A "sweeper" is a long and sweeping corner on a racetrack. Sweeper corners are characterized by their gradual curvature and are often taken at high speeds, requiring a smooth and controlled driving technique to maintain balance and speed through the turn. 

  • What is trail braking?

    Trail braking is a technique whereby you gradually reduce brake pressure while turning into a corner. This technique shifts the weight of the car to the front tires, reducing understeer and enabling a more precise and responsive turn-in as you enter the corner. 

    This is a slightly more advanced technique. To begin with you want to finish your braking in a straight line before you turn into the corner.

  • What does seat time refer to?

    "Seat time" refers to the amount of time spent actively driving your car on the track. The more seat time you accumulate, the better you become as a driver, as it allows you to refine your skills, gain confidence, and improve your understanding of your car's behavior on the track. While vehicle modifications can enhance performance, nothing can replace spending quality time behind the wheel.

  • What’s a money shift?

    A "money shift" refers to an unintentional downshift of gears or 'missing' a gear. It occurs when you attempt to shift to a lower or higher gear but mistakenly engage a gear much lower than needed. This sudden and severe increase in engine RPMs can lead to engine damage and costly repairs, earning it the term "money shift" because it can cost you a significant amount of money to fix.

  • What is heel-toe downshifting?

    Heel-toe downshifting is a technique used in manual transmission cars during braking. To execute it, you use your toe to apply the brakes while simultaneously using your heel to blip the throttle. This skillful coordination allows you to downshift smoothly and ensure that the engine’s revs match the gear you’re shifting into.

    Do not practice this on track if you’ve never done it before. In this instance it’s actually better to practice this on public roads. Check out this how to video

  • What does unwind refer to?

    "Unwinding" in HPDE and racing refers to the action of gradually straightening the steering wheel as you exit a corner. Your instructor may often remind you to "unwind" the steering wheel during this phase, which means you should gradually reduce the steering input to align the car with the direction of the track. This technique allows for smoother and faster corner exits.

  • What’s threshold braking?

    Threshold braking is the art of applying just enough pressure on the brake pedal to maximize your tire's traction without triggering the Anti-lock Braking System (ABS) or causing your wheels to lock up. This technique allows you to achieve the shortest stopping distance possible and maintain control over your car during hard braking.

  • What are slicks?

    Slicks are a type of racing tire characterized by their smooth tread pattern. These tires are specifically designed for use in high-performance racing and track situations. The key advantage of slicks lies in their exceptional grip on dry, solid track surfaces. Unlike regular grooved tires that are effective on wet or loose ground, slicks maximize traction by providing a larger contact patch, which enhances the vehicle's handling and performance on the track. Slicks are no good in the wet!

  • What’s a passing zone?

    A passing zone on a track refers to a specific section where it's permitted to overtake another car (with a point-by of course!). These zones are chosen for their safety, and are typically on straightaways of varying lengths. When you're in the advanced or instructor groups, many clubs allow for passing in corners.

    In HPDE events, organizers typically designate passing zones by group and experience. This ensures that overtaking occurs under controlled and safe conditions in all run groups.

  • What’s a flat spot?

    A flat spot occurs on a tire occurs when it locks up under braking or during a skid. It causes a portion of the tire's tread to wear down unevenly, creating a flat spot or area. Flat spots not only reduce traction but also create noticeable vibrations inside the car.

  • What does an instructor mean by ‘breath’?

    When an instructor mentions "breath," they might be referring to two different aspects. 

    1) It can relate to how you manage the throttle. "Breathing the throttle" means gently easing off the accelerator rather than lifting it abruptly, allowing for subtle speed and weight transfer adjustments. 

    2) It could relate to you. Holding your breath while driving can lead to tension and reduce sensory feedback, especially in challenging track sections like fast corners or heavy braking zones. In such cases, instructors may remind you to breathe until it comes to you naturally.

  • What is brake bias?

    Brake bias is an adjustment setting that determines the distribution of braking power between the front and rear brakes of a car. When we talk about a brake bias of, let's say, 60%, it means that 60% of the total braking force is applied to the front brakes, while the remaining 40% is directed to the rear brakes. This adjustment is important in optimizing a car's handling characteristics, as it influences factors like stability during braking, traction, and preventing wheel lock-ups. 

  • What is alignment?

    Alignment in the context of HPDE and track driving refers to the precise positioning of a vehicle's wheels in relation to each other and the car's chassis. It involves adjustments to settings like camber, caster, and toe. Proper alignment is crucial as it significantly impacts performance, handling, and tire wear. It ensures that the tires make optimal contact with the road surface during high-speed maneuvers, allowing for better grip and control on the track.

  • What are waivers?

    Waivers are official documents that every participant must sign for both the HPDE Club you're running with and the track you're event is being held at. These documents contain legal language outlining the inherent risks associated with being at the track and typically require individuals to acknowledge their understanding and acceptance of these risks. You'll come across a mix of traditional paper and newer digital waivers such as SpeedWaiver.

  • How do you correct understeer?

    When you're dealing with understeer, it's important not to add more steering lock as it won't help you regain control. Instead, focus on slowing down. Start by reducing some of the steering lock (i.e. straightening your wheels a little) to allow your tires to regain traction. If you decelerate enough, you'll find you can then apply more steering lock to correct your course and take you through the corner. If this doesn't work, continue to slow down but avoid slamming on the brakes and repeat adding steering again. Throughout this process, don't forget to keep your eyes on the road ahead and choose a point you want to head for.

  • What is understeer?

    Understeer happens when you turn into a corner, but the car doesn't follow the corner but continues 'ploughing' ahead in more of a straight line. It feels like the car is resisting your steering input because the front tires can't grip the road enough to make the turn. It's like the car is politely suggesting you slow down a bit to get through the corner safely.

  • What is understeer?

    Understeer happens when you turn into a corner, but the car doesn't follow the corner but continues 'ploughing' ahead in more of a straight line. It feels like the car is resisting your steering input because the front tires can't grip the road enough to make the turn. It's like the car is politely suggesting you slow down a bit to get through the corner safely.

  • What does turn in mean?

    Turn-in refers to the point where you begin to steer your car into a corner, aiming for the apex of the turn. It's an important moment in any lap because a well-executed turn-in sets you up for a smooth and fast corner exit. Nailing the turn-in isn't just about that single corner; it also impacts your speed and balance for the next section of track.

  • What does track out mean?

    Tracking out refers to the phase in a turn where you steer your car from the inside of the curve back to the outside edge of the track. As you exit a turn, this technique allows you to utilize the entire width of the asphalt and curbing, with the target of getting back up to speed fast. 

  • What’s a straightaway?

    A straightaway is a section of a racetrack where you can get on the accelerator without worrying about navigating turns-until the end of the straightaway of couse!

  • What’s a Snell or “SA” rating?

    A Snell or "SA" rating is a certification from the Snell Memorial Foundation that signifies a helmet meets the required safety standards for motorsports. This independent organization conducts a battery of tests on helmets, from impact resistance to fire safety, to ensure they offer the best protection in high-speed scenarios like racing. When you're gearing up for a track day or a race, choosing a helmet with a Snell rating will almost always be required.

  • What does “smooth is fast” mean?

    "Smooth is fast" means that making steady, controlled movements with your steering, braking, and acceleration will typically result in faster lap times than jerky, abrupt inputs. The idea is that smoother actions maintain better contact between your tires and the road, offering more grip and stability. This allows you to carry more speed through corners and be more efficient on the straights. It may seem counterintuitive, but being smooth often helps you be faster by optimizing the car's balance and maximizing grip.

  • What’s a slip angle?

    A slip angle is the angle between the direction in which a tire is pointing and the direction in which it's actually moving. Imagine you're driving around a corner; your tires are pointed one way, but the car's momentum wants to keep going straight. That difference creates a slip angle. Too little slip angle and you're not utilizing the tire's full potential; too much and you risk losing control. 

  • What’s a run-off?

    A run-off area is a designated space next to the racetrack that gives drivers extra room to safely decelerate or regain control of their car in case they veer off course. These areas are specifically designed to minimize the risk of injury or damage by using various materials like gravel, grass, or sand, which can help slow down a car more effectively than the main track surface. Some tracks even use extended tarmac zones as run-offs.

  • What are reference points?

    Reference points are specific, unchanging objects or markers you use to guide your driving on track, such as when to start braking or when to initiate a turn. They might be anything from a tree to a billboard, a gate or drainage grate or even a painted line. These points help you maintain a consistent and fast line around the track. By focusing on these, you're not just reacting to the track—you're proactively driving it. It's a good habit to have a track map (printed or digital) of the circuit you're on and jot down notes.

  • What’s the racing line?

    The racing line is the optimal path you take through a corner to achieve the fastest path around the track. It's the sweet spot where your car can maintain higher speeds while using less tire and brake energy. Do keep in mind that the 'perfect' racing line can differ and depends on things like your car's handling characteristics, track conditions, and even weather. So while the basic idea stays the same, finding the perfect racing line is an ongoing process.

  • What’s a point-by?

    A point-by is a hand gesture or turn signal used by a driver to signal to another driver behind them which side they should pass on, essentially giving them the "all-clear" to overtake. This keeps on-track interactions predictable and safe, especially in high-speed environments. Typically, the driver will put their arm out the window, pointing in the direction they're wanting the following car to pass—either left or right. Turn signals or indicators are used by some clubs with the same effect-left turn signal means pass on the left, right means right.

    You should also not be moving off your line. You stay where you are, it's the overtaking car who goes off-line.

  • What’s the pit lane?

    At HPDE events the pit lane is a designated area adjacent to the racetrack which allows for drivers to get out on track or come off track. In race scenarios teams can use it to perform "pit stops", vehicle maintenance and driver swaps for example. The pit lane is often used when there's a "train" of cars on track and you want to put some space between you and them. Come into the pits, wait for 30 secs and then go out again.

    Remember, it's a part of the "hot track", so you need permission to be there if you're walking around.

  • What’s the paddock?

    The paddock is the area next to the track where drivers park their cars, trucks and trailers. Think of it as a staging area, where all the pre-track prep happens. You'll find people tinkering with their cars, changing wheels, and doing last-minute checks.

    It's also a social hub where you get to chat with other enthusiasts- take the opportunity to learn from more experienced drivers!

  • How do you correct oversteer?

    To correct oversteer, steer in the direction of the skid while avoiding sudden braking. In the heat of the moment, it's natural to want to slam on the brakes, but that will most likely make the situation worse. Instead, ease off the gas and gently steer where you want the car to go. A tap on the throttle can help stabilize the rear end, making it easier to regain control. Keep your eyes focused on where you want to go, not where the car is currently headed, to help guide your steering.

  • What’s oversteer?

    Oversteer occurs when the rear tires lose grip during a turn, causing the back of the car to swing out or "come round". It can be triggered by different factors like pushing the throttle too hard or abrupt steering inputs. 

  • What does off track mean?

    Going off track means your car's wheels have left the track surface and touched something other than the pavement while the track is "hot" or active. Whether it's grass, gravel, or even a barrier, you'll need to immediately regain control and safely re-enter the track if possible. If you do go "off" you'll typically need to go to the pits and have your car checked, as well as have a chat with the Pit Marshall about what happened.

  • What’s “Off-camber”?

    Off-camber refers to a turn where the road surface slopes away from the inside of the corner, making it trickier to maintain grip. The car will want to go to the outside of the corner more so than on a positive camber corner. Off-camber turns challenge you to manage your speed and steering to avoid losing traction, while trying to get through the corner as fast as possible. 

  • What is a lock up?

    A lock-up happens when you apply the brakes so hard that the wheels stop rotating, making the car skid along the road surface and "flat spotting" your tires. Modern cars usually have Anti-lock Braking Systems (ABS) to prevent this by modulating brake pressure (think brakes on/off, on/off, on/off really really fast). If you're in an older car without ABS you'll need to gradually work up to identifying what the maximum pressure you can use is conjunction with the track conditions.

  • What does lift refer to?

    Lift in motorsports can mean two things: easing off the accelerator or the aerodynamic effect that causes a car to rise. 

    When a driver "lifts," they're gently taking their foot off the gas, to adjust their speed or transfer weight to the front of the car prepare for a turn. You need to be careful where you lift though. Don't lift going through high speed corners, keep a little throttle on and certainly don't lift going over a crest. The car will become light and if you're not on the throttle the car has no traction or grip on the surface and will likely put you into a spin.

    In aerodynamics, lift occurs when the air pressure beneath the car is greater than the air pressure above, pushing the car upward.

  • What’s a late apex?

    A late apex is a technique where you hit the innermost point of the turn later than the geometric center, helping you exit the corner with higher speed. In a late apex, you'll aim to turn into the corner a bit later than usual, which shifts the "peak" or innermost part of your turn toward the exit. This technique allows you to straighten the wheel earlier, get on the throttle sooner, and carry more speed onto the following straightaway. 

  • What’s an increasing radius turn?

    An increasing radius turn is a curve on the racetrack that gradually opens up, becoming less sharp as you approach the exit. Unlike a constant or decreasing radius turn, you'll find that you can start to apply more throttle earlier in an increasing radius turn.

  • What does “Eyes up” mean?

    "Eyes up" means focusing your vision further down the track rather than just the area immediately in front of your car. Think of it like reading; your eyes naturally want to jump ahead to take in more information, and the same principle applies to driving on a track. Looking further ahead allows you to anticipate what's coming, whether that's a turn, a change in track conditions, or even another car. Remember, you will drive where you look! If you're a skier and ever skied in wooded areas, the trick is to look at the gaps between the trees and not the trees themselves. Look at a tree, you'll likely hit it- sample principle applies on track, so look where you want to go.

  • What’s a hot track?

    A hot track is a race track where cars are actively driving at speed, and all track personnel are in position to manage the event safely; no pedestrians or unauthorized vehicles are allowed on the track.

  • What’s a hot lap?

    A hot lap is a full-speed lap around the track where you aim to clock your fastest time or personal best. Unlike warm-up or cooldown laps, the throttle is open and you're pushing both the car and your skills to the limit. You will be sharings the track with other drivers, so be careful and remember, you're not racing them; it's about achieving your personal best. The hot lap is your chance to integrate everything you've learned, from braking points to apexes, and see just how fast you can go while being safe and smooth.

  • What are instructor hand signals?

    Instructor hand signals are gestures used by an instructor to communicate key things like braking, turning, and accelerating to the driver. They're an important tool if there's no in-car communication, especially in a noisy car or at high speeds on the track. For example, a closing fist might indicate to start "braking," while a flat open hand guesturing back and forth might mean " get on the accelerator". Check with your instructor what hand signals they might use in the event your helmet comms. fail.

  • What’s a hairpin?

    A hairpin is a corner on the track that requires a tight, 180-degree turn, forcing drivers to slow down significantly to take it successfully.

  • What are G-Forces?

    G-forces are the gravitational forces you feel when you accelerate, decelerate, or turn in a car, measured in "Gs," which stands for multiples of the force of gravity. For example, when you're speeding down the straightaway and hit the brakes to make a turn, you'll feel like you're being thrown forward. In high-speed corners you'll feel yourself being pushed to the outside of the corner. HPDE drivers typically experience 1 to 2 Gs on track, whereas an F1 driver will be more in the 5 to 6 Gs range!

  • What’s fishtailing?

    Fishtailing occurs when the rear end of your car sways from side to side, usually because you've lost traction. It's called 'fishtailing' because the motion is similar to the way a fish flips its tail when swimming. The key it is not to panic; ease off the throttle and steer in the direction you want to go. Remember, abrupt movements can make the fishtailing worse, so smoothness is crucial. 

  • What are Esses?

    Esses are a sequence of S-shaped turns on a track that challenge you to maintain balance and speed through quick directional changes. Navigating esses smoothly requires a blend of steering input, throttle control, and an understanding of your car's aerodynamics and balance. Watkins Glen International has a set of fast Esses from turn 2 to the back straight.

  • What’s entry or exit speed?

    Entry speed is the pace at which you approach a turn, while exit speed is how quickly you're moving as you leave it. 

    Entry speed sets you up for the turn, you need to gauge how much to brake and when to begin your turn-in. Too fast, and you'll overshoot; too slow, and you won't carry enough speed into the turn slowwing your lap time.

    Exit speed is all about acceleration out of the turn. A higher exit speed usually translates to a quicker straight-line speed allowing you to shave time of your lap.

  • What’s downshifting?

    Downshifting is the act of changing your car's transmission from a higher to a lower gear, often done before or during braking to prepare for a turn. This helps you maintain better control over your vehicle and allows for quicker acceleration out of the turn. Whether you're using a manual or automatic transmission, downshifting serves the same purpose: to keep your engine's RPMs in the optimal range for power and control.

  • What’s downforce?

    Downforce is the aerodynamic force that pushes your car down onto the track, improving traction and allowing for faster cornering. Think of it like an invisible hand pressing your car into the asphalt: the faster you go, the heavier the hand. This is why race cars have 'big wings' or spoilers and front splitters. These parts are designed to manage airflow around the car, increasing downforce and ultimately helping your car grip the track better, particularly in high-speed corners.

  • What’s a double apex?

    A double apex is a corner on a racetrack that consists of two distinct apexes, but you treat it as one continuous curve for the smoothest and fastest line. Imagine connecting two turns into a more elongated "U" shape: you'd hit the first apex, drift out a bit to prepare for the second one, and then hit that second apex before exiting the turn. "Big Bend" at Lime Rock Park is a good example.

  • What does DOT mean?

    DOT stands for the Department of Transportation , which sets safety standards for tires, helmets and gear mainly intended for street use. While a DOT-approved helmet ensures a basic level of protection for everyday road conditions, it doesn't quite cut it for the track. For track use, you'll usually need gear with standards like Snell or FIA , as they undergo additional, stricter tests that simulate conditions in a high-speed track environment.

  • What’s a decreasing radius turn?

    A decreasing radius turn is one where the curve gets tighter as you approach the exit, requiring you to adjust your line for a later apex. They can be a bit tricky because you'll need to manage your speed and steering angle more carefully than in a constant-radius turn. Think of it like a spiral that starts wide but tightens up. You'll want to enter at a moderate speed, delay your apex, and progressively tighten your steering to stay on the best line.

  • What’s curbing?

    Curbing refers to the raised, often multi-colored strips of pavement you see at the edges of racetrack corners. These are part of the track and should sometimes but not always be used. They come in different forms—some flat, some textured and others with different levels. While you might see pros using curbing to optimize their line, it's best to be cautious of them until you're familiar with the track and know which ones can actually help you versus those which might upset your car's balance. Don't use them in the wet, painted surfaces act like ice when wet!

  • What’s a corner worker?

    A corner worker is someone stationed at specific points around a racetrack to ensure safety and smooth flow of activities during a race or track day. These folks are like the unsung heroes of the track, armed with radios and a set of flags to communicate with both the drivers and race control. They alert drivers to what’s happening on the track—like if there's a spun car or debris—and they're often the first to respond in case of an incident.

  • What’s a corkscrew?

    A corkscrew is a challenging turn on a racetrack that combines elements of a chicane with a dramatic drop in elevation. This kind of turn tests both your car control skills and your stomach! The most famous corkscrew is probably at Laguna Seca in California, and it's a thrill that keeps drivers coming back for more.

  • What does ‘cooking the brakes’ mean?

    "Cooking the brakes" means you've overheated them by using them too much, reducing their effectiveness and potentially leading to brake fade. The heat buildup can cause the brake fluid to boil and, in-turn, make the brake pads less grippy.

  • What’s a contact patch?

    The contact patch is the area of a tire that actually touches the road surface. Think of it as the tire's "footprint," a small but crucial space that plays a big role in how your car handles. It's important to keep your tires in good condition and properly inflated to maximize the effectiveness of the contact patch and grip.

  • What’s a constant radius turn?

    A constant radius turn is a circular, flat turn with a long, consistent apex where the curve stays the same from entry to exit. In simple terms, think of it like a section of a perfect circle. The idea is to maintain a consistent steering angle and speed throughout the entire curve. This kind of turn is a bit more forgiving, making it easier to find and keep the best line. 

  • What’s a track walk?

    A track walk is when you physically walk (bike or scoot) around a track to better understand its layout and nuances. You can pick up on details you won't not notice at speed—things like elevation changes, the texture/grip of the asphalt, or camber changes etc. It's a way to break down the track into digestible pieces so that when you're behind the wheel, you'll have a mental map to navigate by- always good to take a notebook or tablet with you! If you get the opportunity to do a track walk, take it, they're invaluable!

  • What’s a cold track?

    A cold track means that no vehicles are currently racing or driving at speed on the track. When a track is "cold," it's generally a time for lunch, inspections, or activities such as track walks.

  • What’s a chicane?

    A chicane is a sequence of tight turns in an S or Z shape that requires quick weight transfers and precise steering to navigate successfully. Think of it like a mini-obstacle course on the racetrack designed to slow you down and test your car control skills. You'll need to a good approach to a chicane, balancing your throttle and steering to smoothly transition from one curve to the next.

  • What’s a Carousel?

    The Carousel is a turn on a racetrack that's shaped like a circle, requiring you to almost complete a full loop as you navigate it. Whether it's on-camber (sloping in your favor) or off-camber (sloping against you), navigating the Carousel is all about finding the best line while maintaining a consistent speed. It's a test of your steering skills and throttle control, and getting it right can feel challenging, but is oh so satisfying when you nail it.

  • What’s a braking zone?

    A braking zone is the area of the track where you should be slowing down before you reach the turn-in point for a corner. This zone is crucial because it sets you up for a successful turn; get it wrong, and you can easily miss the apex or overshoot the corner altogether. While brake markers can guide you, it's crucial to understand your car's braking capabilities and to adjust based on track conditions. Always remember, the goal is to decelerate smoothly and progressively, setting yourself up for the best possible line through the turn.

  • What are brake markers?

    Brake markers are signs or cones located at specific points on a race track to help you gauge when to start braking before a turn. Think of them like breadcrumbs leading you into a corner. Whether they count down from "300," "200," "100," or go from "4" down to "1," these markers are a helpful reference point for optimizing your braking strategy. The distances are usually in yards or meters, and they serve as a visual aid to time your deceleration effectively so you can navigate the upcoming turn.

  • What’s a blind turn?

    A blind turn is a section on a track where a driver's line of sight is obstructed, such as elevation changes, making it impossible to see what's ahead until the turn is taken. Navigating a blind turn just requires you to prepare, know the track layout and a bit of faith in what's on the other side.

  • What’s a blind spot?

    A blind spot is an area around your vehicle that you can't see directly while looking forward or through any of the mirrors. Make sure your mirrors are correctly positioned to minimize the area around your car which you can't see.

  • What’s a blend line?

    A blend line is a painted line on the track that shows you the path you should take when entering or exiting the pit lane to merge safely with on-track traffic. Think of it like the on-ramp to a highway; you wouldn't dart directly into high-speed traffic. The blend line helps you have time to get up to speed and ease into the flow. Failure to observe the blend line will result in a black flag and warning typically.

  • What’s a bend?

    A bend is a slight curve in the track that requires you to adjust your speed and steering.

  • What’s Armco?

    Armco is a type of steel barrier commonly used on race tracks and highways to absorb and redirect impact energy. In the context of HPDE, armco barriers are situated along parts of the track such as edges and corners. They serve as a protective measure in case a car goes off-course. These barriers are designed to deform upon impact, cushioning the force and minimizing damage to both the car and driver.

  • What is the ‘Apex’?

    The "Apex" refers to the innermost point of a corner on a racetrack that a vehicle aims to touch or get close to when navigating the turn. Proper use of the apex allows for the most efficient path through a corner, enabling higher speeds and better lap times.

    The apex can be categorized into three main types: early apex, middle apex, and late apex, each with its own strategic use depending on various factors like corner geometry, vehicle capabilities, and driving conditions. Properly hitting the apex allows for a smoother, faster corner exit, enabling better acceleration onto the subsequent straightaway. Understanding how to effectively use the apex is a key skill in advanced driving techniques.

  • What does hands at 9 and 3 mean?

    The term "hands at 9 and 3" refers to the recommended hand position on a car's steering wheel, as if imagining the steering wheel as a clock face. This hand placement allows for optimal control, steering input, and quick access to paddle shifters or other steering wheel-mounted controls. It also provides the best range of motion for turning the wheel without having to reposition your hands, which is particularly useful in high-performance driving scenarios.