I Need a Track Day. You Probably Do, Too
The news lately seems to be all doom and gloom. The jokes and memes about 2020 continue to fly around the Interwebs. And much of the usual entertainment distractions available to us are on hiatus or heavily restricted, due to the pandemic.
All this makes me want to take a drive to clear my head sometimes. And while testing new cars for a living gives me an excuse to do just that, I think I need more than a relaxed freeway cruise or a blast down a back road to really relieve the stress.
I need to get my ass to the track.
I won’t be able to anytime soon, even though some tracks are open and observing pandemic safety rules, for a simple reason: I don’t have access to a racecar. Nor can I afford to plunk down more than my monthly housing costs on a rental.
Track days are expensive. Automotive journalism isn’t lucrative.
I was thinking about my experiences tracking a Shelby during pandemic times earlier today, and that’s what set off the proverbial light bulb in the ol’ noggin. I got to mulling over how nice it was to shut the world out for three or four laps, and how, given that the doomscrolling has gotten worse in the month and change since that day, I’d love to get out there again.
I’m not arguing that tracking a car is the only or best way to take your mind off the world for a bit. Of course not. Even during a pandemic, there’s plenty of ways you can entertain yourself both actively (playing a sport that allows for social distancing and masks, like golf) and passively (watching TV). You might not even have to leave your home and risk the ‘rona.
Indeed, thanks to cable, streaming services, video games, the Internet, and books, we are lucky to have many more ways to alleviate boredom, without spending much money or leaving home, than ever before.
Still, as I hinted at near the end of the Shelby piece, there’s something about being out there, on track, engine screaming, that I’m really missing right now. And I don’t think going for a walk, or spending a few hours slapping a ball into the woods (I’m a laughably terrible golfer), or even a nice drive on public roads can really substitute for it.
I know my track experience is limited compared to others who have graced these pages, and I know I’m not as fast as they are. I don’t care. Track driving requires a level of concentration and mental energy/effort that few other activities do. Given the state of the world and the quality of our discourse about said state, I need a break from social media and the flood of news and the political discussions taking place on our text threads. We all do, I think.
Can’t doomscroll when you need to keep your eyes up to spot the turn-in point. Can’t argue about policy planks when you’re looking for the apex. Can’t discuss the latest outrage in your political circles at 100 mph. Can’t check your phone when it’s in the glovebox, turned off. Nor can you look at it when you need your eyes to be up (where the eyes go, the car goes). Can’t touch the phone when your hands are solidly at 9 and 3 on the wheel, as they should be.
I know many of you suffer the same lack of time and money that I do. I know that, as I said above, tracking ain’t cheap. I’m also fully aware that this job allows me to have track experiences I otherwise wouldn’t.
So, yeah, tracking is a luxury most of us can’t indulge, even when a nasty, potentially deadly virus isn’t circulating unchecked. Again, I’m not advocating for it as the only means for a mental escape. As noted, there are cheaper ways to spend your downtime.
But if you can get out there somehow, do it. Maybe you can splurge on a rental or your wealthy weekend-warrior buddy will give you a shot behind the wheel, or even just a chance to help in the pits. Maybe your itch can be scratched by being a corner worker for a weekend. Even if you aren’t driving, there are other ways to use a track day to boost your mental health. That said, there are some high-performance driving experiences that are relatively affordable, even for the average cubicle farmer. Take a look around for deals.
I don’t mean to suggest that you should use track time to completely stop being an engaged citizen in the world. Far from it. There are difficult conversations to have regarding race, justice, and other topics, and you shouldn’t shy away, as long as the discussions remain reasonable. Taking a break from the world is good, checking out entirely is bad.
That’s part of the joy of tracking, too. The “real world” will still be there when you pull into the pits. And a day at the track will, if all goes well, leave you recharged and ready to deal with it.