Pro racing drivers, driving coaches and national champions all agree: video will make you faster. The ability to see what you are doing behind the wheel provides immense feedback and the ability to improve. The price of action cameras are extremely reasonable. There is really no excuse not to use this tool to help you improve your skills behind the wheel. Plus you can look like a hero on YouTube with your super cool shots of you passing a Porsche in your Miata — and we know this happens all the time.
The only drawback to video is that it’s yet another thing you have to deal with during a track day. You already have enough going on between watching the schedule for your next track session, download meetings with instructors, keeping your gas tank full and running to grab a quick track burger at lunch. I have found I never watch my track videos until I get home after the event. Then and only then will I take the time to pull the SD cards out of my cameras, plug them into my laptop and see how things looked on the track. I may see things like I wasn’t using all of the track on my exit of Turn 4. That information doesn’t do me any good then. It would have been better to have learned that between sessions when I was still at the track.
I have been contemplating the importance of watching videos between track sessions, but I have found there just isn’t enough time to go to my pit space, get the laptop out, pull the SD cards from the camera and upload video when I am at the track. Then I realized that the newest GoPro that I bought came with Bluetooth in it and it would allow me to use my cellphone to turn the camera on or off. The GoPro app would even allow me to watch the videos wirelessly on my phone. This was a cool new feature, but I found that a cellphone screen was just too small to really gain any insight to what I was doing on track. To make this really work well, I just needed a bigger screen to watch the video wirelessly. How about a tablet?
I did some market research on tablets and found most were more than I really wanted to spend on a track day tool. An iPad Air costs $600 (too much for me). Then I found a loophole in the market. Amazon’s Kindle Fire 10 is only $149.99 and it is a tablet with Bluetooth capability and has a large 10 inch screen.
I ordered myself a Kindle Fire 10 and it arrived the next day on my doorstep — thank you Jeff Bezos! — I went through some quick tutorials and the tablet seemed easy to use. Then I searched for the GoPro app (the same one I had on my phone) but it was oddly unavailable on the Kindle. In fact a bunch of really obvious apps were not available, like YouTube. What was going on? Some quick internet searches located a lot of people on the interweb complaining about this issue. Then I found some folks who had a quick, easy and free solution, jail break the Kindle Fire, add some APK files and “Poof!” the Google Play Store arrives and you can add all the apps you want. Bingo! The link on how to add the Google Play Store to an Amazon Kindle can be found here. The process only took me about 10 minutes and it was easy.
Once I had the Google Play Store on the Kindle, I immediately found the GoPro app and loaded it. It works perfectly with zero bugs. I was initially concerned that apps that weren’t initially available on the Kindle Fire 10 may be problematic. The reality is the Kindle Fire is super cheap because Jeff Bezos wants you to use “his” apps on the device. But the operating system is essentially Android, so any app that works on an Android phone will work on the Kindle. Sorry, Jeff, we found a workaround.
Holding the slim and light Kindle in my hands made it seem a bit fragile for track use. I like to work at a certain pace and throw things around when I’m the track. Another quick search on Amazon scored me a reasonably priced tough cover for the tablet.
The Tuatara cover came with a handy rotating stand on the back for ease of palming the tablet and for holding the tablet up for viewing videos. I realized this 10-inch tablet would be great for watching YouTube tutorials on fixing cars while in the garage. Of course, to get the YouTube app – I had to jail break with Kindle. This tablet was already paying for itself.
Over the years I have probably owned every iteration of the GoPro camera. I actually made a documentary film about the 25 Hours of Thunderhill called Double Down with nothing more than a bunch of GoPro cameras and some community college AV geeks to edit it all together. As the cameras have improved with each release, there are things I really appreciate with progress and sometimes old features I miss. The GoPro Hero 8 is a great camera and has wireless and GPS capabilities for telemetry. The video quality is second to none, but the battery leaves a bit to be desired, especially when Bluetooth is activated to connect with the Kindle. You may want to use the USB port in your car to charge the GoPro at some point during the day. Unfortunately, because the GoPro Hero 8 case is waterproof, you can’t leave the USB charging cord in the camera while you are using it (the battery will fall out). This isn’t a problem if you have earlier GoPros.
To connect the Kindle to the GoPro, first turn on the Bluetooth on the GoPro. Then simply open the menu on the Kindle Fire and find the GoPro app. Open it up and select the camera icon at the top right. This will open another menu asking to search for available cameras. You will see your GoPro camera show up. Connect and forget.
You can control the camera via the app, which is really handy in certain situations where cameras are mounted in hard-to-reach places. For track day videos, a very important feature to enable is the “spot metering” on the GoPro. If you don’t do this the interior of the car will look great but the track itself through the windshield will be washed out in the video footage (which doesn’t help you if you are looking for details on track). To fix this you need to tell the GoPro where you want the spot metering for lighting adjustments to be made. Instead of the full frame, which includes the interior simply hold your finger on the screen at the location of the center of the windshield. A box will appear indicating the area where spot metering will occur. That’s it. Fixed. Your in-car videos will look great.
To mount a GoPro for optimal track day footage where I can see what I am dong with my hands, where my head is looking, and if I am using all of the track I like to have the camera mounted center of the car just behind the driver. A suction cup mount will not work at this location. I found an inexpensive camera mount from Tackform for only $59 and it mounts to the headrest post of most cars. It is super easy to install and also easy to take out when I am not playing racecar.
The Tackform mount allows multiple adjustments for height. I have fine-tuned it to get the best framed shot to capture the track through the windshield. It also placed the camera in an easy to touch location to turn the camera on and off between tracks sessions (which helps save that limited battery).
The GoPro has a nice mount in the car but I didn’t really have a place to store the Kindle Fire 10 while racing around the track. It is such a large screen that it wouldn’t fit in my glove box. I am super safety minded so I didn’t want any situation where the tablet could slide under the brake pedal or fly around and strike me during a crash. A handy and simple solution I found was the pocket on the back of the right front passenger seat. The tablet was out of the way and I could quickly access the tablet between runs to review video.
To be absolutely sure the tablet wouldn’t fly around the car I leaned the passenger seat all the way back into the rear seat to lock the tablet into the pocket. This little move also lowers the car’s center of gravity by 0.0001%. Hey, every percentage point counts when you are trying to put down your personal best on track.
I headed to a NASA HPDE event and put my little video replay project to the test. It worked great! The Kindle and the GoPro remained connected and I could quickly and easily view video right after I came off track. The screen on the Kindle Fire 10 looked great and I immediately dropped over one second a lap between sessions just from watching my apexes on the video playback. This system is great for track days and HPDE but it would also be extremely helpful for autocross and rallycross where tracks are different every time you show up to an event. For the new tablet, the cover and the SD card I only spent a bit over $200. And for that money I went quicker on track after just one session. That seems like money well spent to me. See you on YouTube!