There’s a saying in photography: “The best camera is the one you have on you.” I believe that basically applies to track days, too. The best car to run is the one you’ve got. One day in 2015 I had my dad’s 2012 Honda Accord EX-L, and yep, I bet you can see where this is going.
Editor’s Note: My bosses saw this headline in our drafts and sent me a message along the lines of “don’t get us sued when somebody’s kid bins a minivan at a track day.” So I need to explicitly state that this story is for entertainment purposes only. Race your parents’ car at your own risk entirely. For real though: Respect your elders. –Andrew
My actual car was a 2000 Toyota 4Runner hand-me-down, but I would regularly jump at the opportunity to borrow the Accord to take for a quick canyon jaunt in the nearby mountains. Sounds ridiculous but the slow, big-body Honda could carry some decent speed on its cheapo tires and it was a great car to learn basics in. You know, like, “not crashing.”
As I learned and progressed, I’m still impressed by those Accords, and with the little “mods” I connived, er, convinced my dad to do, I made it pretty fun.
As I got more experience driving, I became more interested in getting on a track. I would stare at the people mobbing Street of Willow while I was out shooting drift events, and decided I wanted some of the action. But my 4Runner wasn’t about to rip laps and dad’s car was dreadfully stock, with weak brakes and tires.
The key to making your parents inadvertently purchasing performance parts for their daily driver is to sell them on what they wanna hear. When the Accord needed brake pads, I strongly recommended dad go with a Hawk HP+ set “with better stopping power.” I mean, it wasn’t a lie. I sent him a link, and when they arrived I even installed them for him (as a favor) and everything. Dust and noise? Pffft, I didn’t daily drive the car. I thought it was cool when I drove it around.
With brakes checked off the list it was time to tackle tires. The original Michelin Primacy tires were nearing the end of their life, somewhat thanks to my enthusiastic exploration of the Sierra Pelona canyons. I dug up a link to a set of brand new Michelin Pilot Sport A/S 3 tires for a good price and sold dad: “These are basically like the factory tires. Good all-season grip and quiet.”
A day or so later the Accord was decently shoed. Those tires were not exactly ideal for track duty, but plenty grippy enough for a beginner. Also, a huge upgrade in the canyons.
Finally, the shocks were devoid of any damping and needed replacement. Before my dad could order a set of fresh OEM shocks, I stumbled across the Honda Factory Performance option. The HFP set yielded a two-inch drop, stiffer springs and damping, with the ease of looking factory. I told him about it, he was on board for it, and we had some decent performance suspension!
The ride quality was perfect for my tastes, maybe a touch firm, but the car looked pretty cool and the dynamic change was noticeable. The vehicle felt much more eager to rotate and change direction.
So, finally, there was the issue of actually getting the car onto the track. I worked at a local Italian place, and had some money saved up, so I found the cheapest track day at Streets of Willow possible, just $65. With good brakes, good tires, and good suspension (optional, but recommended) I was ready for my first track day!
There are only a few things to check before you head off to such an event.
I always start by topping up the engine oil, and adding an extra half-quart. This helps prevent oil starvation when cornering hard, and mostly when doing quick transitions from left to right. I drain it after the track day, if the car hasn’t burned it off from being driven hard. It really shouldn’t, but that Accord’s K24 engine was… well seasoned.
I pump the tires up a few extra psi before I head out, or do it at a local gas station. You’ll be airing the tires out as you track the car throughout the day, as the pressure rises with the heat you’ll be forcing on them. So it isn’t a bad idea to have some extra air.
Most tech inspections for track days are self-reporting, so just make sure your battery is tied down, all your safety gear works, and the car isn’t about to fall apart.
What’s most important to remember once rubber meets track, is that this is your fucking parent’s car oh-my-god I need to bring it home shit shit shit! So take it easy, work your way up to your limits, kill your ego, sign up for the beginner group, and take the free instructor (like I did), and enjoy the learning curve that you’re starting at rock bottom. I didn’t take any pictures of the car at the track for fear of being caught, but now I’m a gainfully employed adult six years removed from the crime, and the car got totaled a little while back. So hopefully I’ve passed the statute of limitations on dad getting mad.
Driving the canyons is one thing, but the track? It’s a new world of fun, fear, and exhilaration. If you catch the bug, soon enough you’ll be one of the faster dudes on track, getting new personal best lap times every weekend.
Oh, and let the smell of cooked brakes ventilate well out of the car. My dad is still suspicious of what happened with that stink. And uh, I guess the mystery will be solved when he reads this. Sorry dad!