Are mold hairs visible on your shoulders? If you just wondered if there’s a new super-bug dandruff going around, you might not be a real car guy.
I’m talking about the hair-like bits of rubber found all over most new tires. If mold hairs are still present on your tires’ shoulders, it means you’ve NEVER pushed you car to the limit. Owning a high-performance car that is never pushed to its limits is like being in a platonic relationship with Miss September. Why?! Even when I drive economy cars and SUVs, the mold hair rarely lasts a couple of on-ramps.
A safe, fun way to scrub off those unsightly mold hairs is a track day or autocross. The difference between the two: Autocross speeds rarely exceed 60 mph. Depending on the racetrack, even novices might see twice that during a track day. For both types of events, you drive as fast as your car, your skills, and (sometimes) officials with more sense allow.
If you’ve never done a track day or had any high-performance driver training, it’s a good idea to participate in an autocross before tackling the higher-speed stuff. It’s better to get a feel for the limits of your car at 50 mph than at 110.
The first step before a track day is up to you. Go over your car as if you’re going racing. This is a good time to install new brake pads and flush the brake fluid. If your car is aging, have a mechanic check the steering gear, ball joints, bushings, and the like. Make sure your lug nuts are tightened to the manufacturer’s specs. (Buy a torque wrench!) Change the oil. Set tire pressures five to 10 psi above what you carmaker recommends. (Ask your instructor for specifics.)
Unless you hit something or select second gear when you want fourth, autocrossing and track days aren’t particularly hard on cars. After a track day, you’ll probably need a new set of brake pads and four new tires. That’s a small price to pay for the fun.
As a novice track day participant, you’ll receive more classroom instruction than you can possibly digest. The first on-track session will likely be a lead-follow exercise, where you and the other novices drive around behind an experienced driver. This will help you learn which way the turns lead. It’s also supposed to show you the proper path (aka “line”) around the track. Few novices pay this much attention.
The next couple of on-track sessions usually have you ride with an experienced driver, or the experienced driver ride with you.
When you’ve properly checked the boxes, it’s time to solo. This is NOT the time to show talent scouts that you should be in Formula 1 next weekend. Instead, it’s time to gradually work up to speed. Hold your right foot to the floor on the straight parts, but slow down early (but not too much) for the turns. Try to roll through turns as fast as the tires will allow (thus eliminating those mold hairs), and be ready to accelerate as soon as the tires will accept more power.
After the session is over, your instructor will undoubtedly have some pointers. Listen carefully. It’s his goal to keep your car (and you) out of the body shop. After this debriefing, go back over the mechanicals. Recheck the lug nut torque, check (and, perhaps, adjust tire pressure), look for leaks, check fluid levels, and more.
You’ll be amazed at the capabilities of your car. You might even amaze yourself (and your mold hairs).