Updated: May 19, 2021
I'm going to start by making two large assumptions. First if your reading this you have an interest in cars and secondly you will have heard the term track day. As such I'm not going to go into detail about what a track day is or what the benefits of such a day are for improving one's skill set. What I do want to discuss is when does it become more fulfilling to go move from trackdays to racing and why don't more enthusiasts make the jump? Your comments and opinions are encouraged here to drive (pun intended) the discussion.
I've personally been doing trackdays for almost ten years and in that time I've noticed there seem to be three types of people who participate.
The first type is people with stock cars which are probably used on a daily basis. This type of driver is there to enjoy pushing their car a little harder than they would on the road. They tend to be driving something with a bit of power that could easily put points on their license if they enjoyed the car to its full potential outside of a closed environment. These people are quite content to complete a few laps and come back into the pits not stressing their car. So long as they can drive the car home again at the end of the day, they have had a good experience. My understanding from chatting with various people I place in this category of enthusiast is that they may only complete three or four trackdays a year.
The second type of track day enthusiast is someone who has been participating in track events for a couple of years. They feel confident in on circuit and are seeking a bigger thrill. They have started to add performance upgrades to their daily driver. Probably a suspension kit, some better brake pads, a performance air filter and possibly a sportier set of tyres. Depending on the car this would probably cost £1500 to £3000. As a driver, they are now trying to hone their skills and are actively looking to chase down and pass cars with more horsepower then what they are driving. These enthusiasts may do three to eight events a year.
Third, are the die-hard track day enthusiasts. They will either be aged in their mid-twenties to early thirties and drive their now highly modified daily with a bucket seat and harness. practicality has been reduced as they have gone to the trouble of fitting a half cage into the back of the car. They are willing to put up with the discomfort because, #BecauseRaceCar and it's what they are passionate about. Alternatively, they will be a little older, wiser and value their spine. As such they will have a dedicated track toy that's trailered to the circuit. Both types of Diehard track fans will most likely have spent a small fortune on building their cars into well-honed performance machines capable of taking on certified race cars from a number of series. The cost of these types are cars can be staggering. I attended an event at Oulton park and got chatting to a chap who had just purchased a TimeAttack spec Mitsubishi Evo for the sole purpose of doing track days. From talking to this type of enthusiast they seem to be doing a track day every other week.
This is what got me thinking if you can spend £3000 or more modifying or buying a car to be better on track you can afford to go racing? I built my Mazda 2 racecar to enter the Mazda Motorsport Club Championship for less than £3000. It's certainly not as fast as your average track-prepped Clio or 3-series but I'd wager it's just as much if not more fun to drive. The thrill of running door to door with other people on track more then makes up for the lack of speed.
What could be preventing these enthusiasts from making the step into competitive motorsport? It's certainly not the cost of the cars as they are already willing to spend large amounts of money on mechanical and software upgrades, event entries and insurance for driving modified cars. There is the cost of the personal safety equipment. I purchased all overalls, helmet and FHR, etc for £1200 buying the best I could afford the majority of that being the price of the helmet. So my total for getting to the starting grid so far is £4000 which is still a lot less than some people are willing to spend on their cars and annual track day budget.
There is an argument that the Upgrades to a track car can be done over time so it's not one single large outlay and this is true but in the grand scheme of everything automotive, it's not an astronomical cost. Then consider from the second season of racing you already have all the kit so the outlay becomes solely race entries.
The cost of events is typically higher with race entry fees normally being double that of a normal open pitlane track day. Yet the gap is closing. In this funny Covid affected world we currently reside in, we are seeing the prices of some trackdays increasing to the point where they are rivaling race entries. There is a day at Oulton Park on the MSV website priced at £309. BrandsHatch is pushing £400 at times. Yes, the circuits need to recoup lost revenue from 2020 in order to continue functioning and I'm in favour of paying a little more and keeping our beloved circuits open instead of paying less and letting them close. Yet I also hope the cost of trackdays will return to pre covid pricing. Not likely though.
What about value for money in terms of time actually on track? I'm competing in the Mazda Motorsport Club Championship so will base my arguments around that. There are five rounds this year with an average price of £445 per weekend. We get a practice session, a qualifying session and two races in which we go door to door. Each session was a good twenty mins which works out about the same as a session-based track day. An open pitlane event may offer more time out of track but probably not to the extent you first think. By the time you have come back into the paddock, let the car cool, checked your brakes and tyres, had a coffee then a lunch break and an excursion to get fuel. Likely hood is your getting three sessions of twenty mins in the morning and four or five sessions of twenty mins in the afternoon by your own choice. When you think the race entry only £50 more then some track days, racing starts to look better value in my opinion especially when you add in the competitive elements and the fact you can dive bomb your mates into a corner without getting black flagged and sent to the TDO for a ticking off. For those people doing eight or mere track days a year. Would you be willing to sacrifice three of those events to go racing? I did and haven't looked back yet.
Possibly an odd element to consider but could "fear" be stopping people from progressing from track days to racing? There are certainly parts of racing that can cause worry. Damage to your car, cost of repairs, the time needed to fix a car. Injury to the driver, not being able to work, etc. Possibly it could be a fear of not being as fast as you think you are once on a grid with like-minded people in similar equipment. These are genuine concerns and as a reader, you may be able to add more to that list, but how different is the risk and danger involved in racing compared to a track day? Well, not every race series is about running each other off the track like in touring cars. That actually happens a lot less than the videos on YouTube would have you believe. If you do your research and find a series known for its high driving standards, such as the Mazda Motorsport Club Championship, damage to the car from driving standards is a very rare occurrence. Remember the number of normal people in the world far outweighs the number of millionaires so most competitors would rather get their car to the end of a race in one piece without incurring large rebuild expenses so are less likely to try risky maneuvers. Damaging your car because you run out of talent is a different story that's down to you as a driver, but is the risk of running out of talent any different in racing to a track day? At both track days and racing, you are always pushing to go faster or carry a little more speed through a particular corner.
I doubt fear of competition is a reason as it is possible to see groups of friends and strangers running bumper to bumper trying to bully each other in tp pulling to the side of the track on the straight to let the following driver pass.
So what do racing drivers have that track day enthusiasts don't? A racing driver has a racing license for a start. This is a piece of plastic with your photo on it that states you can lap a circuit safely and you understand what the flags mean. All things a track day enthusiast should also know. Yes a small number of drivers seem to have an issue remembering what the blue flag mean on a track day but that happens in racing to. Feel free to insert your favourite Nakita Mazaspin joke here. There is obviously a cost associated with getting a race license but this is the same price as a track day at any of the premier circuits in the UK and once done if you keep competing doesn't need to be done again.
A Racing driver has to be part of a club. True. Racing events have to be organised and paying an annual membership helps to organise these events and give you as a driver insurance cover which you don't get on a track day. The club membership cost does vary from club to club. A small sprint club like curborough may charge £25 for a year which gives you access to the events they organises and any events their club is invited to participate in. At the other end of the scale is 750MSC and the BARC with membership just over £100 for the year.
So to sum things up in my opinion if you are the second or third type of enthusiast I mentioned at the start of this article, able to build a track-focused car. Can drive to a good enough standard that you car run close to the car in front without contact and are willing to sacrifice the value of a track day to obtain your race license enjoy the thrill of competition and comradery found in a motorsport paddock, then there is no reason for you not to start competitive racing.
If you disagree or have a different perspective please do comment below. What could be stopping you from lining up on the grid?
Huge thanks to the Mazda Motorsport club for helping me transition from trackdays to Competitive racing. Should anyone reading this be thinking of taking the plunge or on the verge of doing so. Go to the Mazda Motorsport Club website or click the link below. There is a competitive class for all budgets encompassing the addictively fun Mazda2 through to the highly competitive MX5 ND and everything in between. It's also in my own experiance the most welcoming series for beginners.