What is a HPDE Event or Track Day?

Yellow corvette and red porsche in the pit lane at watkins glen international

Definition #

An HPDE event (High Performance Driver’s Education) or Track Day is an organized event that allows drivers to learn high-performance driving techniques on a real race track. The aim is to help you safely and effectively navigate the specific track you’re on as well as better understand the handling characteristics of your car. These events are typically split into different groups or sessions, based on your experience level e.g. Novice, Intermediate, and Advanced, to group you with similarly skilled drivers.

Most of these events incorporate both on-track and classroom instruction. The curriculum typically covers key driving elements such as acceleration zones, braking zones, turn-in and turn-out points, and passing strategies. This blended approach ensures that participants grasp the intricate details of high-performance driving while applying them in a controlled environment.

What HPDE events are not. #

HPDE events are not about racing or achieving the fastest lap times. These are structured learning experiences aimed at self-improvement in high-performance driving, not competitive racing. No lap times are taken during HPDE sessions; instead, the focus is on enhancing your driving skills and understanding of your vehicle’s capabilities.

The environment is one of community and mutual learning, where overtaking is generally prohibited unless the car in front signals that it’s safe to pass. This controlled setup distinguishes HPDE from racing events, emphasizing skill development and safety over speed and competition.

Can you bring your own car to a track day? #

Yes, you can bring your own car to an HPDE event! In fact, that’s pretty much the point. Most participants opt for this approach, whether they use their daily driver, weekend cruiser, or a purpose-built race car. However, your vehicle doesn’t have to be track-specific; in fact, a bone-stock car is typically recommended for beginners. Rentals are available but usually cost around $1,000 per day, making them a less popular option.

Ensuring that your car passes a technical inspection is so important before driving on track. This ensures that your car meets all typical safety standards and is mechanically sound.

My car is a convertible. Are they allowed? #

Convertibles are generally allowed but come with specific requirements. Check with your club’s administration to see if your convertible requires additional rollover protection like an aftermarket rollbar. More often than not, convertibles, cabriolets, and open-top cars should have structural rollover protection, either factory-equipped or aftermarket, to be deemed track-worthy. The well-known “broomstick test” is used to measure if there is enough space between the top of your helmet and the highest point of your car’s roll hoop or roof. This is to ensure your head/neck is protected in the unfortunate event your car rolls in an accident.

Rear view of open top mazda miata at autocross event with driver and passenger
This Miata wouldn’t pass as there’s no roll hoop / bar installed.

How safe are HPDE events? #

HPDE events prioritize safety and are generally considered safer than your regular commute! As one of our instructor’s once said, “In my opinion, the most dangerous part of any track day is your drive to and from the track.” HPDE organizers implement rigorous safety protocols, including rules, education, and controls aimed at minimizing risk as much as possible. Driver’s on track are going to be hyper-focused, and almost always have an instructor with them at the beginning of their HPDE journey. Drivers share a unified goal: improvement without endangering themselves or others.

Unlike on public roads, track drivers move in the same direction and are usually going to be more alert and trained. HPDE events have corner/turn workers to warn about problems and specific rules for communication between drivers. This creates a controlled environment that sets HPDE apart from ordinary road driving.

Most tracks will operate with paramedics and fire/rescue services onsite which further adds to the overall safety of the event.

With all that said, some risk inevitably remains. You will be traveling at higher speeds than usual, and things can happen and happen quickly. This is why specific track insurance coverage is something worth considering.

What cars can I expect at a track day? #

The variety of cars at an HPDE event is wide-ranging, from daily drivers to weekend cruisers and purpose-built race cars. Contrary to popular belief, you don’t need a high-end sports car to participate. In fact, it’s common to see sedans, hatchbacks, and even some SUVs on the track. The key here is no matter what car you’re planning on taking it (typically) must pass a technical inspection to ensure it’s safe for high-speed driving.

A collection of different cars on the front straight at a njmp thunderbolt hpde event track day
A host of different cars at NJMP

What is the community like at an track day? #

The HPDE and track day community tends to be a diverse and welcoming group focused on self-improvement in driving skills. It’s not about racing or going fast for the sake of speed; rather, it’s a community where everyone is learning and honing their skills. People are generally extremely friendly, open to sharing insights, and respectful of each other’s experience levels.

You’ll find drivers of various ages and backgrounds, all united by a common passion for driving. The community fosters an incredibly supportive atmosphere, offering both on-track and classroom instruction to help you progress through different experience levels. This environment makes track days a lot of fun and a really rewarding experience for car enthusiasts.

What happens if I have an accident at a track day? #

It’s a common question and certainly one we asked when we were just starting out on track. The HPDE community does prioritize safety, and while they do happen, accidents are generally rare. Instructors, corner workers, and event rules aim to create as safe an environment as possible. While some risk is inherent in any driving event, education and coaching really help to reduce the risk.

While fairly rare, accidents on track can happen.

In the unfortunate event you have an accident during an HPDE event, the most important thing to remember is to stay in your car, unless it’s on fire. Being inside your “steel cage” offers much better protection from other drivers who also might follow you off-track. For example, you may have hit coolant thats leaked on track and a car behind you also ‘hits it’ and goes off-track along the same trajectory as you.

After an accident, the most important thing to do is learn from it. Identify the reason(s) behind it, discuss it with your instructor and adjust your driving accordingly. Doing this will improve you as a driver and help you to potentially avoid similar incidents in future.

It’s important to drive at your own pace. Remember, the HPDE event is not a race. The ultimate prize is you leaving the track with your car intact or “shiny side up.”

Related: HPDE Track Insurance Explained

Updated on November 1, 2023
Was this article helpful?