23rd May at Sandown Race course

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23rd May 2009, informed by a member of MG owners club, there is a track day event at Sandown race course on that Saturday. So I went there to see what track day is. It was my first track day experience. I have been to Sandown before, but it was for a scale model exhibition.

On the day, apart from MG owners club, there were a whole lot other events going on: Improved stock car race, Formula Ford race, Supercart Race, and also GT car race. Hear with my own ears, and see with my own eyes, the cars are louder and faster that i thought. Even those small cars like supercarts are loud. Cars of each category practiced and raced on the track for 4 or 6 laps in turns. When one group was racing, the other group would prepare at the dummy grid.

Different from the rather serious Formula 1 grand prix, the track day feels more of a leisure time entertainment event. Apart from the actual track, anyone can walk freely to anywhere: garages, tents, even into motorhomes and trailers and talk to anyone there. So I did exactly that to find out just who are those people that attend track days. I found out that typically, most of expensive GT car (like Lamborghini, Maserati and Porsche) owners are business owners, some are small business, some have a bit bigger ones, some of the businesses are race related such as tyre shops, or roll cage makers. Usually the more expensive the race car is, the bigger the business the driver owns, or owned (in some cases, the drive has retired) But also there are people who are normal employees. But one thing for sure, all of them are car enthusiasts.

There are lots of side reasons why those people attend track days. Some of them put stickers of their company names on the side of the cars to advertise their companies. However the track day is not broadcasted in anyways, and no tickets are sold to any spectators (the only spectators on the day were the wives and kids of the drivers and the drivers who are not racing at the time). So the promotion purpose and effect are somehow limited. Some of the drivers go the track to attend organized event of the owners clubs, for instance the MG club on the day and Porsche club. The club events provide the opportunity for owners to get together and discuss and share their experience with the cars and give the members a sense of belonging. It does not matter whether the car in question is a thirty years old MG or a shiny new Porsche. Others come for a more serious purpose, which is in the case of Formula Ford racing. The drivers are all young teenagers who are pursuing a racing driver career and what to be Lewis Hamilton in the future. They attend to compete against each other to work their way to the top. But as I asked them what the real reason is, all of them answered: “For fun, yeah, absolutely.” They choose to go to the track on Saturday in the same way people choose to go to the beaches or country side in the weekend. The difference is that people at the track like to get their hands dirty and breathe the smell of petrol.

Ultimately, the track day is a form of entertainment for car enthusiasts. It is a reward for the drivers after a hard week of work, or in the case of those retired millionaires, a reward for their hard work during the first half of their lives.

However, where there are people enjoying, there are people suffering. And it is not just the residents that live in the neighbourhoods near the track who need to listen to the noise for the entire Saturday, sometimes even Sunday. There is a more direct group of victims: they are usually the female members of the families of the drivers: spouses and daughters. On the track day, it was a common sight that many of them, bored reading a book in their folding chairs outside the trailers or fall asleep inside the trailers. Some of them brought a barbecue grill and provided food for their husbands, team members and friends. But most of them were there just to look after the kids and belongings. When their boyfriends or husbands are on the track thrashing the cars, they will go to the platform on the top of the garage to watch the race, but from the look on their faces, it was more of a worrying than enjoying. Some of them may eventually start to enjoy the track days because their love to the boyfriends and husbands, but love can also be the reason that some of them may never appreciate the dirty, stinky and noisy hobby of their husbands. As it is always the case, there are exceptions, such as the girlfriend of the MG club member who got me in the track, she is a total car nut who drives her hot hatchback very enthusiastically on the road everyday, not to mention that she is Italian.

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