If you’ve ever been tempted to participate in a “Track Day” you won’t regret it if you do. Track Day allows the everyday enthusiast to get his favorite car out, take it to a local track, and put the pedal down without worrying about red lights behind you. Unlike drag racing, Track Day takes place on a road course for people who like to use that big round thing in front of them called the steering wheel.
Here in Southern California, we have a few tracks in close proximity to us that are fun to drive and challenging, to say the least. Unlike drag classes, you can participate with others who share your skill level as opposed to your vehicle class. Also unlike drag racing, there are no winners or losers at Track Day because it’s not a race against others, it’s a race against yourself – if you so desire to keep track of your time via some sort of device or app on your iPhone.
Your car doesn’t have to be the fastest, and you don’t have to be the most experienced driver, you only need two things: your car, and your desire to go fast on the track. We’ve seen small cars with four-cylinder engines on the track at the same time as a race prepped Shelby Mustang, and we’ve seen rented HEMI Challengers on the track with sports cars. It’s a “run what you brung” theme, as long as you follow the rules and have fun.
We’ve attended a few Track Days in the past few years, and it’s got us hooked. We first raced at Chuckwalla Raceway in Desert Center, California, a couple of years ago. We also took our cars up to Willow Springs International Raceway near Rosamond, California. There are Track Day events at Button Willow, Laguna Seca, Thunderhill, and even Sears Point here in California. For those outside of California, you can usually find out about Track Days by calling a local track and they can get you in touch with someone for details.
West Coast Racing, Inc.
We caught up with Jim Saxton, owner of West Coast Racing, Inc., and talked to him about the events that he puts on twice a year at Willow Springs. We met him at an event last year and loved the two-day format of his events. We’ve been to the single-day events and while they’re a lot of fun, we find that people keep to themselves. They show up, go to a meeting, race their car, eat some food, race again, then pack it in and go home. By the end of the day, not many people care to stick around to talk or share the experience.
Then there’s West Coast Racing’s program that takes place on a Saturday and Sunday, and there’s so much more to this event than the single-day events. For starters, when the track closes down at 5 p.m. or thereabouts, very few people leave because they have all paid for the two-day event.
These events are not much more than the cost of the single-day events that we’ve attended, and it’s great to talk and share stories, trade track lines, and debate corners with other racers and enthusiasts.
All day long, the action is non-stop and the accommodations are plentiful. There’s a restaurant that’s open most of the day for breakfast, lunch or an early dinner. For those who run low on fuel there are fuel pumps with higher octane racing fuel, and a couple of shops are open for those who have tire problems or might need some help with repairs.
No matter where you walk, you’re greeted by people who don’t care what you drive, they just think it’s cool that you’re there. This atmosphere is likely a reflection of Saxton and his dedication to the hobby he loves. A retired businessman who’s done it all, he truly enjoys these events and makes it a point that everyone has a great time.
The camaraderie at this event is second to none, tempers might flare occasionally on the track, but Jim and his staff are quick to shut down any conflicts. He tells us that they want everyone to enjoy themselves, and that they won’t tolerate anything that disrupts the racing, or the fun.
West Coast Racing, Inc. – Track Day
Willow Springs International Raceway
- Green – Novice/beginner, passing on straights only, must attend driver’s school.
- Yellow – Some track experience, passing on straights only.
- Blue – Experienced, driving school and passing experience required.
- Red – Extensive track experience, five-point harnesses, roll bar preferred, driving school, racing license, extensive passing experience required.
At at 8 o’clock on Saturday morning, everyone who races is required to attend the mandatory driver’s meeting. We were there this past October for the weekend to talk with everyone, and to share our experience with you. The crowd gathered in the restaurant where Jim and his wife, Cherie, spend much of their day at the registration table, or assisting people with questions and concerns.
Jim and Cherie greeted the crowd of roughly 150 people, and spent a few minutes going over some basic rules and discussed the four run groups, which run about five times a day each. The schedule was already made out, and every driver who registered got a copy of it, along with a sticker for their run group that was to be placed on the upper left of their windshield.
The four run groups separate skill levels out on the track: green for beginners; yellow for those with some track time; blue for experienced and red for advanced racers. But at the 8 o’clock meeting everyone heard the same thing: what to do, what not to do, and how to interpret the conditions ahead of them. There’s fun, seriousness, laughter and tales of past events all mixed in with the meeting.
After Jim and his staff shared the rules with the crowd, Jim turned the floor over to one of his experienced instructors, Bill Nelson, who is also a regular participant at these events. He brought out the flags and explained what each one means, and how to react to the situations on the track, and what to do when a flag is waving as the drivers make their way around the many course workers manning the corners.
After the instructional part of the meeting was over, the floor was open to questions, and not only was the staff ready with answers, but more experienced drivers also shared their insights and experience for the novice drivers. All in all, it was a very relaxed and comfortable atmosphere and you could tell the crowd was getting revved up to hit the track.
Time For Racing
Immediately following the driver’s meeting, Nelson and some of the other instructors headed off to a small classroom upstairs for a driver’s course for the green run group. Many in this group were beginners who had other questions and concerns, and the instructors gave basic guidelines to follow so everyone could have a good experience, especially if it was their first time out on the track.
Nelson has been racing for years, and knows this track like the back of his hand. For anyone who is a beginner and wants to learn the lines at this track, he and the other instructors are always willing to get into a car with you, as passenger or driver, to help you find the fastest way around the track.
For those who were interested, the instructors took their pickups and SUVs out on the track for ride-alongs before the first run group hit the track. Seeing full-size trucks make their way around the track at speed gives you an indication that these guys know the best lines to follow.
After a couple of laps, everyone returned to the pit area where the cars started to line up, and engines were revving. The adrenaline began to pump and cars scattered from the paddock and pit areas out to the start finish line where Mike MacManama and his family and friends manned pit row and the tower, and Mark Reese and his team headed out to work the corners.
As the cars lined up, it was a mixture of vehicles and you could find Mustangs running on the track at the same time as the Miatas. Some of the cars were driven to the track, some came in by trailer, and others looked the part of a race team – with a full tube chassis and racing slicks. The main straight at pit lane was nice and long, and some of the faster cars were seeing speeds well over 150 mph.
When we see people drifting or causing trouble on the track, we will pull them aside immediately. We won’t tolerate it at our events. -Jim Saxton
We asked Saxton about the drifting, and people who just don’t play by the rules. He said, “When we see people drifting or causing trouble on the track, we will pull them aside immediately. We won’t tolerate it at our events. They’re given the opportunity to follow the rules, or we ask them to leave, simple as that.”
He makes it very clear that he doesn’t care for drifting, and that’s good for the rest who don’t want to worry about cars all over the track creating a smoke screen. Willow Springs has a few other tracks for drifting, motorcylces, karting, a skid pad, and also a driver’s training course to name a few. Jim chooses to stick with Big Willow, the largest track at Willow Springs, and he’s content with the program.
Saxton has been involved in track events for over 25 years, beginning with Ferrari, Pantera, and other clubs. He had found it was getting to a point where very few people were willing to organize such an event so he started organizing them himself.
Ten years ago he started West Coast Racing, and it’s been both fun and successful for him and Cherie. He’s not getting rich doing this, but he does it because they love it. He said he used to have to turn people away before the economic downturn, but now he’s not always sure if they can pull it off because they don’t get enough participation.
When groups or clubs get involved, it helps out tremendously. This past October Galpin Auto Sports showed up with an array of Mustangs, an Aston Martin, and a custom Ford Ranchero they took out on the track. Bruce Schureman greeted anyone who stopped by to talk, and employees at Galpin were there to hand out T-shirts and baseball caps while supplies lasted.
At the end of the day on Saturday, everyone joined together again at the restaurant and Saxton provided a huge barrel of ice cold beer for everyone, and the camaraderie continued. Everyone shared stories, shared some laughs and as many times as we’ve been at this event there has never been any trouble that we could remember. It’s a great event for the beginner, and we saw a lot of familiar faces and cars from prior events.
At the end of the day when it started to get dark, the crowd dispersed and everyone went to their trailers, or left for the evening to stay at a local hotel. For those who stayed at the track, there was plenty of room for campers or fifth-wheels, and the facilities were clean and numerous.
We headed back to our trailer, but stopped by the Galpin Auto Sports trailer where we were treated to a bit of a party with food and fun. After a bit too much partying and liquid encouragement, we were off to bed, ready to get some much needed sleep before we hit the track again in the morning.
If this sounds like something that you’re interested in, check your local tracks and find out when their open Track Days take place – you won’t regret it! If you’re in Southern California, check out the West Coast Racing web site and register for the next event coming up March 2nd and 3rd, 2013. Plan on a weekend of driving, racing, and socializing with people who all have the same goal in mind: have a blast and go fast!