Walking though a jam-packed paddock at a NASA event, I saw a driver wearing a T-shirt that had printed on the back, “I Won HPDE.” It made me smile a bit because it revealed a driver who is so competitive that no matter what he drives or where he is, he is trying to win.
HPDE, DE, open track, track days and even driving school are all terms used to describe an event that enables drivers to bring their street car to a road course and enjoy the thrills of speed and g forces in an environment with no speed limits.
Having participated in a variety of track events, from private track days to corporate ride-and-drives and vehicle launches, I’ve seen this competitive gleam in the eyes of just about everyone who dons a helmet. Is this a survival instinct carried through from Neanderthals and suppressed by our civil society? Isn’t survival a form of winning a competition? The stakes may be higher, but it just might be that HPDE is an essential part of our sanity as primates looking to do what we are designed to do — survive or win! I often hear people referring to success with the phrase “killing it” as an expression of winning, which also could apply to driving well in HPDE.
HPDE is not a competition with timing and scoring, but drivers are trying to improve, and that requires a scorecard. To become a better driver, you must measure your current skillset. If you don’t, noticeable improvement is elusive and frustrating. Although a driver is not competing for a lap time or going door to door into the braking zone, learning to be a better driver requires a competitive instinct. This competitive nature, combined with a high tolerance for risk is what drives folks to the track to learn how to be a better driver, a tougher competitor and even a better person, especially at the HPDE levels.
I would imagine that most HPDE drivers — TT drivers and racers too — are a few of, if not the only people, at their work or at home who have experienced the thrill of a track event. I also imagine that each HPDE driver has a difficult time explaining to their co-workers, what track driving is about and why they do it. If that’s the case, being the only person in the work environment that tracks their car, they are most likely the best driver around. They are probably seen as the “doer,” the person who makes things happen. They are, in the eyes of those around them, a competitor, and a person who achieves their goals.
Make no mistake about it, if you are in HPDE, I am talking about you. Taking your car to the track and running the engine rpm up to the limit, precisely changing gears and even finding the perfectly matched downshift heading into the corner at threshold braking is something most people never do. To perform the perfect scan of gauges and mirrors to ensure situational awareness just as you apply the pressure on the wheel for turn-in, is a hard-earned skill.
The next time you take your car to the track, know that you are a rare individual who is doing what others only dream about. Accomplishing your goals to be a better driver does, in fact, afford you the bragging rights of winning HPDE. To the person who was wearing that shirt, bravo!