Originally published in the Winter 2014 quattro quarterly
ACNA-NJ CHAPTER HELD ANOTHER High Performance Driver Education event at Pocono Raceway in Long Pond, PA. This event in particular was very unique—it was one of the only “twilight” events held in the Northeast. Night events are popular in the south due to the hotter temperatures during the day. Many cars benefit from the cooler night time temperatures, running under more optimal conditions in a less stressful environment.
Organizing an event like this can seem daunting, but fortunately the ACNA-NJ has an experienced and resourceful leadership staff. Pocono Raceway has no lighting so one of the first tasks was to procure lighting to make the event safe while also giving drivers the challenges that night driving brings. The ACNANJ teamed up with the Motorsports Rehabilitation Foundation (gomrf.org) to co-host the event. Temporary construction lights were rented and strategically placed around the track to maximize visibility in each turn of the course as well as illuminate the flagging stations. Visibility was superb while still maintaining the nighttime driving environment. Lights were also placed in pit road and the paddock to increase safety.
Tech inspection started an hour before the event with over 100 cars checked to ensure everyone had a safe driving experience. A drivers meeting was then held to review special procedures for night time driving. Chief Instructor Scott Lynn and Co-Chief Knute Hancock conducted the meeting in their usual fashion—conveying all of the safety rules in a serious yet lighthearted manner. In the classroom the drivers learned not only the typical HPDE topics of the driving line, terms, flags, etc., but they also were instructed on what to expect once the sun sets and the lights come on. New concepts like “over driving the headlights”, “getting lost in a turn”, not following the tail-lights of the car in front, and decreased depth perception were introduced. Every group would get to run during the daylight to learn the course.
The event was being held on the North Course which comprises NASCAR turn 3 and the north infield—this course is ideal for night as it is easy to set up lights at each turn and a proper length for the students to memorize the course and not get confused. As the sun went down, each group drove in progressively darker conditions, and once dusk had fully set in it was time to turn on the lighting and enforce the headlight rule. This is when the real fun began.
Photos courtesy of Ryan Grae Photography and Flowing Color Photography
Driving at night on a track at speed is certainly a unique experience but also invaluable in learning the limits of your driving. The turns seem to approach faster, your focus needs to remain constant, your gaze has to be as far ahead as you can see, and you need to remain vigilant to the other cars around you. It’s very easy to stare at the taillights ahead of you and get caught driving an incorrect line...or worse following a car off track. Safety seemed to be the topic of the day, as all drivers made sure not to push too hard and to be courteous to fellow drivers wishing to pass or who were passing. Even with all these extra things to worry about, everyone came off track after their first night session with a gleaming smile.
There were not only quite a few first time night event drivers, but also many first time HPDE drivers as well. The lineup of cars was fantastic, with Audi owners showing up in force. The event was received well by all; the drivers were buzzing in the paddock about how much fun they were having while learning not only about night driving but high performance driving in general. The instructors praised the club for organizing a great event and planning the smallest of details. This will surely become an annual event.