Useful Car Tips

How to Safely Push Your Car to its Limits

November 14, 2020
There is no safe way to push one’s car to its limits on the street—pedestrians, other motorists, adverse weather conditions, potholes, and darting animals constitute just a few of the litany of hazards that may arise when driving down public roads at high speed. If you’re driving a sports car, it can be very tempting to do so; after all, sports cars are designed to go fast! However, the risks outweigh the benefits, especially when one considers all the options available for drivers who want to safely test the limits of their vehicle in a controlled environment: drag strips, autocross, track days with optional HPDE (high performance driver education), and even sim racing on those rainy days at home.


Looking to safely reach speeds that would otherwise get your license revoked? Look no further than your local drag strip! Many local drag strip organizations exist, each with their own distinct rules, but generally, all you’ll need is a vehicle with functioning tail lights, the proper clothes, and a helmet that meets minimum safety ratings as established by the certifying body in your jurisdiction. Quicker cars which breach a certain quarter mile time or top speed threshold are usually required to have roll cages installed. Otherwise, one can use nearly any vehicle in stock form.


Nothing can beat a drag strip for testing a car’s outright speed, but events such as autocross (as hosted by the Sports Car Club of America, or SCCA) allow you to test the limits of your car’s handling; all with a relatively low cost of entry. While overall speeds are low, autocross instead greatly challenges every driver’s skill in navigating a course of tightly-packed traffic cones—it’s a lot harder than the pros make it look! Short of a track day, an autocross event is the best way to test the holistic performance of your vehicle and your own skill as a driver.


However, the fact remains that an autocross event can still fall short of a day spent on a proper track, especially if you’re enrolled in an HPDE event such as one hosted by NASA—the National Auto Sport Association, not to be confused with the NASA which sends rockets to the moon. HPDE, or high performance driver education (also known as high performance driving event) are events hosted by driving schools and car clubs which offer drivers instruction on proper driving techniques on the track, covering everything from braking to throttle control and all the details and plethora of minutiae between.


You may scoff and chortle, but a well-designed racing simulator such as Assetto Corsa, rFactor 2, or iRacing paired with a decent gaming computer and sim wheel, pedals, shifter, and seat can make for a surprisingly exciting and educational experience. In fact, some professional race teams include simulators in the training regimen for their drivers. Although this is obviously not a replacement for a real day at a drag strip, autocross course, or track day, sim racing can nevertheless scratch the itch to go fast without having any virtual tickets and fines show up in your virtual mailbox and reflected on your virtual driving record. Plus, simulators with laser-scanned tracks can help teach you the right lines to take before heading out on the track to do the real thing.


Although it can be extraordinarily tempting, it’s always a good idea to exercise a degree of caution while driving on the street—even if you’re driving, say, an 840 horsepower Dodge Demon or a Porsche 911 which is just itching to warm up its tires. Instead, the best way to safely push the limits of your car is in a controlled environment: everything from the drag strip to the high-intensity track days we’ve outlined. Not only will they be more safe, they’ll be more beneficial in building skill as a driver in the long run. With relatively little investment in terms of time and money, drivers can truly experience the limits of their car at their current skill level; a skill level which only has room to grow upwards as more time is put into practice and refining one’s technique. Have you ever taken your car to a drag strip, autocross event, or track day, or raced it in a virtual simulator? Let us know about your experience in the comments below!
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