17 Things No One Tells You About Your First Race
Learn from my fails
Here's how to survive the worst possible conditions for your first ever race
Maybe you’ve been doing track days for years or maybe you’ve just passed your ARDS with minimal preparation and a death wish, like yours truly. Either way, you’re going to be starting at the back of the grid with a cross on your rear, just like everyone else.
If there's one lesson you should take from my near catastrophic debut it's that if you fail to prepare, you should prepare to fail. I did my first race within a month of driving on a track for the first time ever. Before pulling out of the pits for qualifying I had a grand total of 15 minutes behind the wheel of the 1959 Morgan Plus 4 SuperSports I piloted - on a different track. It might also be worth mentioning that I was also foolish enough to get out on a track I had never driven before (does a few laps on Project Cars count?) in the wettest conditions possible - having - you've guessed it - never driven in the wet before.
The race was a support race for the closed wheel support race at the Walter-Hayes Trophy. Happening at the beginning of November each year, the Walter Hayes is a notable date as being the last hurrah for the British club racing season. So the last thing they wanted was a novice getting in the way. Sorry, guys.
In a grand scientific experiment where I conducted a survey of one (me) this is what no one tells you about your first race.
1) You won’t be nervous before qualifying
How on earth could you be? You have no idea what you're letting yourself in for. This feeling of lightness, revelry and easy-come-easy-go is much more pronounced if you've only done a few track days before and you've got an ace support crew with you. Ignorance is bliss.
Support team = squad goals
2) You will be terrified for the actual race
Now that you've actually experienced what it's like having every single other car on the track lap you a couple of times with a couple of close shaves, you're going to be petrified for the actual thing and you'll consider going home.
3) You won't be able to let go of the idea that you might be able to win
Despite fully comprehending that the aim of your first (or any) race isn't to win, you won't be able to get rid of that nagging feeling that you should be battling it out for pole. But you won't be rubbing bumpers because you're an absolute n00b.
4) You'll congratulate yourself for recognising flags
Yellow double waved, yellow double waved... what's that one again? Oh yeah, serious business has happened up ahead, be prepared for shit to get real... hooray! Oh wait...
5) If someone crashes into you, it's not the end of the race - necessarily
There's no getting away from it. You'll get hit at some point. Some bell-end will inevitably decide to have a go testing the limits of his drifting skills around a corner and causally broadside you. If you're super lucky like me, it'll happen in your first race. It's fine though - if you've got any doubts - get into the pits to get yourself checked over and then head back out again.
6) You’ll have to pee about five times in the run up to the race itself
Even if you haven't been chugging tea throughout the morning you will make many trips to the bogs in the run up. Even when you're sitting waiting for the lights to go out, you'll still be wanting to go, even if you just went. Weirdly, after the race, you won't need to pee.
7) You’ll wish you’d done much more practice
Probably. And certainly if you decided to make your debut in conditions you've never driven in before and on a track you've never seen. I sure as hell wished I'd spent a bit more time on the Playstation.
8) You'll forget everything about apexes and how to go round a corner
The notion of there being a racing line will, by the end of your first race, become a fully ridiculous idea. You might also whig out while going round a corner, tap the brake because you're an idiot and end up doing a 180.
A racing what?
9) You’ll have a lot of fun on the track but you’ll have more fun off it
I like racing because of the banter, to be honest. When you're in the car there isn't anyone to talk to. It's not lonely as such, but belly laughs are few and far between. And the time on track goes really quickly. Who cares how fast you are on the track when your mate's wit in the paddock is lightning quick?
10) Going to your car and leaving all of your stuff behind is really weird.
What do you mean I don't need my phone?
11) Seeing the chequered flag brings on a weird wall of emotions
Driving is much more exhausting than you expect. If you're not that strong your arms will start to ache and you'll be sitting there thinking, "wouldn't mind a hot chocolate right now - when the hell does this sodding thing end?" and you'll start wishing for the chequered flag. And then you see it and it's all over. You'll be amazed. Then you'll think, "That's it?" You do one more lap and go in. And when you reach your spot and you undo your harness and take your helmet off it'll hit you: you're a racing driver.
12) The marshalls wave to all the cars after the chequered flag
It will whig you out - "This wasn't in the ARDS test, was it?" You'll ponder, "What the hell are they trying to tell me? Am I at fault here? Are they restarting the race?! What the hell is happening??" Relax. It's just a tradition. They're congratulating you. Wave back, for goodness sake.
13) You'll become superstitious
Because thinking about getting hurt tends to do that to you. Get out that lucky charm bracelet.
14) You'll realise how much you know about cars
Absolutely fuck all in comparison to everyone on the grid but a hell of a lot more than your family who will ask competitors if they would go easy on their daughter/son/sister/brother. And especially your dad. He'll be upset that you went into the pits because you saw white smoke pouring from the engine - but actually there wasn't anything wrong with the car and why couldn't you have just kept on going? BECAUSE I THOUGHT I WAS GOING TO DIE, DAD.
15) You won't know what friends are until...
they turn up with sweatshirts with your name emblazoned on the front and a picture of you on the back. And then wear them.
16) You'll understand that racing at this level isn't about winning
Right at the beginning the aim is to get your bloody signatures so all you have to do is just finish the damn thing in one piece. Oh and er, yes, of course - you're meant to be having fun too.
17) Racing make the Sunday night blues much, much worse
What do you mean I have to go to work tomorrow?
Follow Florence on Instagram: @floxxiewalker
Special thanks to the Toms from The Classic Life and Hedi from The Mechanists for their photography.