Big thank-you to Ludachris for hooking me up with the free NASA track day at Willow Springs ysterday.
It was my first time running with NASA and I signed up for the HPDE 2 group, but in hindsight with 8 track days under my belt I should have gone straight to HPDE 3. The problem was that HPDE 1 & 2 run together, and while I needed an instructor to show me the right line to drive (for one session anyway), lining up in the "instructor" line in pre-grid meant getting out on track after a whole bunch of slower cars and drivers and playing "newbie slalom" for most of the session. I took to pre-gridding my car super-early so I could be 1st out on track and get some open track to myself. Even when I did, about halfway through the session I ended up catching up the last people to get on the track; I passed a couple of them, pulled in to the hot pits and signalled for "more space", was waved back on after a few moments, only to catch up to traffic again after half a lap. People were fairly good about pointing me by (and one nice thing about NASA is that point-bys are optional, and people who took too long, I just blew by) but with only two passing zones in the front straight and 5-8 complex it meant trailing slower drivers a lot.
Anyway I elected to drive solo and do my best to figure things out, and didn't get an instructor to ride along until my last session, whereupon he showed me a bunch of things I was doing wrong:
T1: I braked deep and apexed at the end of the dots as redevolution suggested, where I should have braked a bit less and a bit earlier, apexed at the beginning of the dots, and used the full width for track-out.
T2: I used the classic line and apexed very late, little reflective marker by the flagger's station; my instructor had me take a tighter line and apex about 15' earlier.
T4: had real trouble finding a good line through this; apparently the way to go is to apex early going up the hill, drive uphill almost to the edge of the track, healthy braking and hard right turn for the downhill stretch.
T5: I took the classic "RWD" line through this--start out wide and apex going over the hill. AWD line is to turn in a bit earlier and almost hug the length of the apex berm. People seemed to be afraid of this turn, as I tended to put a lot of distance between myself and the faster drivers here.
T8: I eventually worked myself up to entering this turn at around 110 mph--no brake, just a slight lift. It felt like I had plenty of grip left and could have stayed flat out from 5 all the way through 8, if I didn't run out of courage first. Had a bit of trouble finiding a good visual reference for the apex and the line I took was to start 2/3 out and track in slowly towards the apex. My instructor had me dive in a bit earlier and stay most of the way inside.
T9: lots of trouble with this one, the problem being the lack of visual references for braking and turn-in. Apparently what I should have done was brake, follow the outer edge of the track for a bit before turning in for a smooth curve towards the apex. Didn't have any trouble hitting the apex or tracking all the way out and using a bit of the pit entrance, but early on it always felt like I was turning in early. I decided to try waiting longer to brake and turn in and ended up finding myself pointing almost straight at the edge of the track with nowhere near enough room to brake...
... I drove straight off, gradually came to a stop and brought the car around, signalled to the corner worker I was okay, and waited for him to wave me back on to the track, since with the race harness I couldn't really see oncoming traffic over my right shoulder. The flagger kinda just stood there and stared, and after a while I decided he wasn't going to do anything useful for me so I loosened the shoulder harnesses a bit so I could see, then pulled back on to the track gingerly watching to see if the flagger would frantically signal me to stop; he didn't and I got back on the track and very quickly into the hot pits for a little "chat" at the black-flag station.
A few comments about NASA: the event was very well-organized and ran like clockwork; they sure know how to cram as many run groups into one day as possible (basically I'd get out on to the track as the last cars from the previous group were on their cool-down lap). My run group was a bit more crowded than I'm used to; if I'd been in a group with faster cars and drivers traffic would have been less of an issue. Safety was reasonable, I didn't feel that anything was unsafe at any given point. They definitely like to do things "racing style", for example when someone broke down on course they sent out the tow truck while keeping the course hot--with the appropriate flags out of course. Total track time was 95 minutes: 4 20-minute sessions and 1 "bonus" 15-minute session before lunch.
All in all not a bad day, considering I got in for free. I think ordinarily registration would have run around $150. That being said I'm inclined to pay a bit more and run with a group like NCRC which tends to err more on teh side of caution, has fewer and less crowded run groups and better one-on-one instruction and coaching.