Track Racing on the East Coast

I finally made it to a track this weekend., and had an amazing time!  There are a bunch of things I learned in general about track racing through this experience, as far as logistics of how to actually do it.

General Info

  • Tracks rent out in time intervals, at the rate of thousands of dollars per hour.
  • “Groups” (aka BMW Club, Porsche Club, SSCA, EMRA) rent out the track for a few hours or a whole weekend.
  • Every group runs the day differently, and some are much more serious and competitive than others.
  • I went with EMRA, which is not super competitive and whose rules are a bit more relaxed.  They allow stock cars, stock seatbelts to race.  You need to tape up any glass (sunroofs, headlights), and have a proper racing helmet (snell rated), but that’s about it!
  • SSCA is much stricter about cars — everybody needs a rollcage etc.  Don’t expect to bring a stock M3 here generally.
  • No matter what you’ll pay several hundred $ for a track day.
  • HPDE — High performance Driver Education Event.
  • HPDE Insurance is a great idea — usually you can get this either at the track or buy it online ahead of time.  I paid about $115 for insurance for the day.
  • There are several tracks within 3-4 hours of NYC — to find a track day you can either pick a car club and look at their schedule, or pick a track and look at the track’s schedule.
    • Lime Rock Park
    • Watkin’s Glen
    • Pocinos Raceway
    • New Jersey Motorstate Park (NJMSP)
    • Summit Point Circuit
  • Unlike Autocross you usually get a LOT of time on the track at an event like this.  Anywhere from 1.5 -> 3 hours!
Bring to the track:
  • Your own Snell 2005 or 2010 rated FULL FACE helmet!  (Expect to pay $300+ for a good one)
  • Blue masking tape — the stuff that doesn’t leave residue
  • Zip Ties (to tie on a timing transponder)
  • A Razor / Sizzor (to cut the zip ties at the end of the day)
  • An EMPTY car — nothing in the trunk, etc.
  • Fresh break pads!  (You eat these guys up at the track!)

HID Kits, Xenon Bulbs and Halogen headlamps — The Story

So I’ve done a handful of research lately on halogen and Xenon lights.  Below is a basic summary of my findings when investigating (and eventually buying) replacements for my stock Halogen headlamps in my 2006 Mercedes C55 AMG.

Disclaimer: I pulled this together from bits and pieces here and there.  I do not claim to be an authority on lighting, but I think most of this is reasonably accurate.

Info about Xenons

  • HID = High-Intensity Discharge (for purposes of this doc, HID == Xenons)
  • HID Kit == Xenon Bulb (mine are size ‘D2S’ for low beam, H7 for high beam) + Ballast + Wiring.
  • If you already have headlamps with HIDs or are replacing the bulbs in an existing HID with a different color / temperature you do NOT need a whole new kit, just new bulbs.
  • Higher temperature == more color and less light
  • Stock color / temp is 4300Kelvin.  5000Kelvin is a brighter white, 6000K starts to look a bit blue and 8000K is getting fairly blue.  I went with 8000K 🙂
  • HID kits are generally a bit flaky, but are very cheap
  • Stock halogens are 35W, and to avoid complications its not a bad idea to stick with 35W if your upgrading to Xenon.  If the ECU notices a different power draw from the headlights it might throw errors.
  • Mercedes should be coded from Xenons (via STAR / ODBII computer systems) to avoid error codes.
Info about upgrading from Halogens to Xenons
  • If you have halogen lamps you can take out the halogens, buy an HID kit and be good to go, total cost of upgrade on the order of a couple hundred bucks (2-300) TOPS.
  • HOWEVER — You could also replace the whole headlamp assembly, which has several advantages:
    • Stock halogen headlamps do not use projector lenses.  Projector lenses look significantly better with Xenons than the traditional ones.
    • OEM Xenon headlamp kits come with their own ballast etc. which is generally more reliable than a HID Kit.
    • Mercedes OEM Xenon lamps have leveling motors etc, which is a nice to have but a bit gimmicky.
    •  I bought a used OEM Xenon assembly from a friend on — going to install them later this week.  Hoping for the best!