How Track Days Affect Your Car’s Maintenance Schedule
A healthy, safe car will pay off in reliability and peace of mind.
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Paying attention to your car's service intervals is an integral part of car ownership that becomes even more crucial for people who like to push their cars. When it comes to performance driving activities like track days, it's important to not only know these intervals, but also shorten them, as fluids in tip-top shape ensure your car can stand up to the increased heat, friction, and other wear-inducing forces of on-track driving. It's also a good idea to pay close attention to the vehicle's overall health with frequent thorough inspections.
I did some research and spoke to a few professionals in the motorsports industry for their opinions on performance-oriented service intervals, as well as asked if they had any inspection tips for anyone who's inclined to track their own cars. I received a lot of great insight, and the universal truth is that shorter service intervals are better.
More Frequent Is Better
No matter where you seek your advice on shortening intervals, whether it’s forums, Facebook groups, or various informational blogs, everyone has their own custom schedules in mind. But then, not everybody drives the exact same way or does the same amount of track weekends per year.
Although tracking a properly lubricated and cooled engine, transmission, and differential doesn't cause any major wear, the increased heat, friction, manifold pressure, and blow-by will deteriorate the fluids' lubricating and protecting properties faster. Tracking on oil that's no longer doing what it's designed for will only be an all-around bad situation and lead to major issues sooner than later. Nobody wants to spin a rod bearing while having fun on track.
When it comes to engine and gear oil, automatic transmission fluid, differential oil, coolant, and brake fluid, find out what fellow enthusiasts who are tracking cars like yours are doing and consider following suit. Heck, some enthusiasts say shortening automakers' service intervals regardless of track work is a good idea.
Some companies offer advice on the subject, such as Counter Space Garage's recommended intervals for tracking the Scion FR-S/Subaru BRZ/Toyota 86. Otherwise, there are two universal truths that could help you determine your own track car maintenance schedule: consider making it shorter than what the factory recommends and consider doing oil analysis to see what's going on with your oil.
Companies like Zengine and Blackstone Laboratories offer services in analyzing your vehicle's oil post-change, and give you a solid look into the health of your engine. Not only will these alert you to anything concerning, but also might help you determine if you should change your oil after every track day, every other track day, or longer.
However, it's up owners to determine what's best for their car, the amount of tracking they do, and what they're keen on budgeting. Fluids, especially fluids that are designed to put up with the extremes of track driving, are expensive, and many performance cars require them in high capacities. If you're tracking a Porsche, those historically have higher oil capacities than say a Subaru or Toyota.
What Racers Say: Prep is Everything
Taking a page from those who do track driving for a living in club-level and professional motorsports, it’s a good idea to do shorter service intervals, and also to use a thorough prep regimen. Sure, racing and track days aren't the same thing, but it involves putting cars under increased stress nonetheless. Chris Taylor, owner of Chris Taylor Racing Services, races and manages a handful of SCCA B-Spec race cars, so his experience with caring for track vehicles is extensive.
"I have a maintenance checklist that we go through after every weekend," he said. "Its contents aren't super secret, but it's also the reason we have damn few DNFs."
He does a pre- and post-track inspection for each of his cars, and depending on how watchful of an eye you maintain, even if you don't race wheel to wheel, it might be worth your time to do the same. Honda Performance Development (HPD) had similar information to share.
"Creating a simple checklist to complete prior to each session on track is an easy way to stay on top of normal maintenance and can keep you on track instead of in the pits trying to repair something," Janeen Farias, the Marketing Lead of Commercial Motorsports at HPD, said. "What should remain constant is to inspect the car before and after each session on track."
She then said that sample safety checklists through reputable track organizations and motorsports sanctioning bodies are a great resource, and that adding in special areas of concern for a particular car and its usage is a good move. This is a great method because not all cars have the same trouble areas. On my own BMW 128i, I keep an eye out for oil leaks in certain areas, whereas someone who tracks a Lexus IS F might keep an eye out for coolant leaks.
Fortunately, inspections are often easy to perform and only require a jack and some jack stands to be able to crawl underneath and get a good basic idea of what's going on. Some track day companies' tech inspection checklists can clue you into where to start, as well as help avoid forgetting a step.
Some things to consider beyond checking fluid levels before, after, and during the track day include torquing bolts and marking them with a paint pen, checking alignment with some basic tools, keeping the air filter as clean as possible, checking brake pad and rotor thickness, and more. Then, keeping the engine, transmission, differential, and general underbody as clean as possible helps with being able to spot leaks that might develop over time.
The Racers' Take Shortening Intervals
Regarding track-centric service intervals, Taylor says any track or race car should have its engine oil changed at least every weekend event or two. Air filters should be cleaned every event weekend, plus every single little detail on his written checklist fulfilled.
Taylor also crews on Skip Barber Race Team, which campaigns a handful of Honda Civic Si and Type R race cars in SRO World Challenge's TC America series. In this capacity, the oil and trans fluid are changed after every weekend.
Though, the kicker here is that many professional racing teams, whether factory or privateer, have sponsorship deals with major oil and other automotive fluid companies, like Castrol, Mobil, Liqui Moly, Idemitsu, and others. Many teams will change all the fluids after every race weekend because, why not? For those who get them for free through their sponsorship deals, they'd be fools not to.
Which comes back to the notion that you should consider shortening fluid change intervals for all components that apply on your car, but it's up to you to find the ideal balance between track days driven and money spent on this increased interval schedule. Or, some folks even recommend factoring in hours instead of days—figure out how many hours you're on track per track day, and use that as a marker in when to change certain fluids.
Peace of Mind Will Translate to Faster Lap Times
No matter what you come up with in your budgeting, or the recommendations you find, nothing beats having a little more peace of mind when it comes to maintaining your car's health. Or, spending a little more time underneath a safely supported car with a flashlight and a notepad. Not only will more service lead to fewer mechanical risks, but this will surely translate into faster lap times as well, as you'll have more confidence in your machine to go those extra feet into a braking zone, hold that gear near redline a bit longer, or give a session your all.
Do you track your car in any capacity? Share what your strategies are for maintaining your vehicle's health!