August 28, 2015

Speed limits for track days is a terrible idea

Recently Road & Track published an article suggesting speed limits be imposed at Track Days and "Driving Schools".   It got a quite a bit of play and discussion but,

It's a terrible idea.

The proposal is a 90 mph limit for beginners and 100 mph for experienced drivers.
It should be fairly obvious speed limits on a race track situation are unenforceable.   Speed gun every car and pull over all offenders?  Install GPS devices into every car to be individually checked after each session?  How?

The reason given for this is that today's cars are so capable that they are much faster than race cars of the past, minus the safety gear.

That is indeed true for speed and handling, yet a modern 2015 road car with 27 airbags and assorted safety feature might protect the occupant better than a 30 year old home built race car.
Given how track days are run by hundreds of different organizations, arbitrary speed limits will just drive clients to the "no speed limit" companies.

In all my years on track I have seen quite a number of crashes but I can can only think of one that happened on a straight and that was because of rain.   Most happened at speeds under 90 mph.
Heck, I've seen a bunch of cars totaled on parking lots while dodging cones at 60 mph!

Controlling a student is the job of the instructor and it is the job of the organizing entity to put him in a condition to do so.

Want to improve safety?

Don't cram sessions so that instructors have more time with their students before and after sessions.
Vet your instructors more carefully,  let's be honest, many are there just for the free track time and some for the ego trip.  Really great instructors are rare.

Want to slow cars down?

Build temporary chicanes with cones for beginner students.  Industry events for motoring journalists do versions of this.  It will not be popular but that's the proper way to limit approach speeds to corners.

Don't allow slicks and r-comps for beginners.

Organize skid pad sessions!

The article cites the death of several instructors  but it's worth noting that none of those deaths were caused by excessive speed as much as by borderline criminal negligence of circuit owners and organizers:

The death of the instructor in Florida at the now defunct Disney Raceway  can be blamed on the jackass who decided it would be ok to run the track backwards.

The death at Summit Point Raceway's Jefferson occurred on a low speed "fun drive" event and highlighted the need for tracks to get their act together when it comes to safety, trees should be nowhere a car could even remotely hit them.    Summit Point,  fun track that it is, has had safety standards straight from the 1960s.

It's up to the consumer to understand the safety level of some of these tracks:  you could drive 150 mph all day at COTA and be safe, you could get in big trouble at 60 mph elsewhere.    Organizations have to demand higher standards from tracks.

Of course on the opposite end is economics: it's a fact many tracks are struggling financially, new tracks are being built in the Country Club model, not open to the public.

Insurance premiums have gone up  at least 35% this past year, yet reputable organizers have no way of proving their events are any more or less safe than Sideswipe Bob's Open Track Mayhem Circus.

There is no sanctioning body in the US that can  grade procedures and quantify risks for each event.  

Two ways to go here:  in the UK,  our friends at Destination Nurburgring, tell us how they must submit to their insurers detailed descriptions and risk assessments for each event.  A lot of paperwork  but help comes via the Motor Sport Association, a national organization regulating motorsport activities, it furnishes certifications to underwriters.  By providing standards, the MSA helps both organizers and insurers.

The opposite would be Italy where tracks have their own coverage and they don’t ask organizers be insured. The person we spoke with said that in any case, coverage for these activities is so sketchy there, that chances of a company paying out are almost nil.

You are essentially on your own.

Take you pick but arbitrary speed limits are definitively not the right solution.

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