Car and Driver
Whether you’re getting started with an SCCA autocross day or competing for points at a NASA track weekend, the fundamentals are the same: have fun, and bring the right tools. Those rules apply from cars as cute as Miatas to machines as serious as Pikes Peak Hill Climb champion Romain Dumas’s electric Volkswagen I.D. R. While sunscreen, coolers, and proper hydration are all greatly important to preventing cone-course curses, it’s also good to have the right tools and safety gear, some of which may be less obvious and might require ordering ahead of time.
The following products are ones we’ve used during our own track days. They are presented here to help you decide what equipment fits your needs. This isn’t a complete shopping list, but it’s enough to get you putting rubber mustaches on cones and curbing alike. Here are 12 products we suggest investing in before your next high-rpm weekend.
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- Stronger than Nyquill.
- Won’t blow away.
- The last work mat you’ll ever need.
- Larger mats greatly increase in price.
Lying under a car is rarely comfortable, which makes this high-strength tarp from Pitmat an underrated piece of kit when there’s wrenching required atop pavement, gravel, or dirt. It creates a welcome barrier between the greasy junk already on the ground and the mess you’re about to make under your car. Every Pitmat ships from Colorado, and is strong enough to hold a floor jack and jack stands without tearing. The weight of these mats also obviates the need for traps, tools, or coolers as anchors. Our 10-by-10 Pitmat never moved an inch during a windy autocross weekend.
- Easy to setup and store.
- High-quality carrying case.
- No cupholders.
- Not very tall.
- 300-pound maximum weight capacity seems optimistic.
These compact CLIQ chairs solve the biggest problem with bringing big and bulky folding chairs to any event because when folded, these seats are roughly the size of a lava lamp. Offering a convenient parking spot for most-size rear bumpers, these CLIQs are great for camping and barbecues but are especially helpful in saving trunk space while packing for a track weekend. These are easy to set up, a breeze to carry, and come with a handy storage bag to keep dirt, sand, or wheel bearing grease off your caboose.
Milton 507KIT Digital Tire Inflator
- Deflation function.
- Affordable price.
- Illuminated digital gauge.
- Somewhat cheap-feeling trigger.
Maintaining proper tire pressure is essential to every track day, but did you know not all gauges are created equal? This Milton tire inflator, which also features a handy pressure release button, offers an accurate illuminated digital readout and a flexible rubber hose to reach even the shyest valve stem. Hooking this through an air hose makes quick work of tire-pressure adjustments. And the price is reasonable for a tool with a three-year warranty.
Steelman 5-Piece Sleeved Socket Set
- Safe to use on fancy wheels.
- Easy-to-see color-coded sizes.
- Only one socket is necessary in this five-piece set.
The real mechanics will tell you, always use sockets designed for pneumatic tools, not the chrome stuff. But those stronger sockets are often thick-walled and can scratch or grind away the wheel material around your lug nuts. These Steelman sleeved sockets use removable polyethylene casings that are designed to take the brunt of any contact the socket might make with your OE or aftermarket wheels. The powder-coated multi-color bases make it easy to tell the 17-mm, 19-mm, 21-mm, 13/16-inch, and 3/4-inch sizes apart. A plastic toolbox prevents these tools from rolling into oblivion, where so many sockets ultimately disappear to.
Camco AccuPark Parking Mat
- Designed to drive over.
- Brightly colored and easy to spot.
- Great for home or track use.
- You could easily MacGyver a free alternative.
- Adhesive not ideal for temporary track use.
This Camco AccuPark mat is designed to stick to floors to help take the guesswork out of parking inside a garage. A subtle alternative to the classic hanging tennis ball, this mat is built to drive over but is tall enough to keep your car from rolling away. Although a block of wood is a cheaper solution, this mat can keep your track car from rolling through the paddock like a rogue autonomous car. Safely check your tire pressures and leave the car running without worrying about setting the handbrake on hot brakes with this affordable parking mat.
Track Armour Racing Head Sock Balaclava
- Good value.
- Fits most head sizes.
- Doesn’t meet fireproof rating required in some motorsports..
Sweaty track days can make even the lightest and most expensive helmets smell like a bucket of stank. To prevent that, we suggest these mid-value Track Armour head socks. Made from a breathable fabric, these reusable balaclavas act as a barrier between your sweaty head and the protective foam inside your racing helmet. The size is universal, and if it made it over my giant midwestern melon, it should be large enough for other head shapes as well. We suggest buying these in pairs because it’s always handy to have an extra and could be useful if you’re generous enough to let someone else borrow a helmet.
Stilo ST5 GT Composite Racing Helmet
- Supports optional communication and hydration systems.
- Easy-to-open visor.
- Maybe overkill for autocross use.
A Snell- or FIA-certified helmet is required at even the most fundamental level of competitive driving and is a seriously important investment. The Stilo ST5 GT Composite lid is made from a mix of Kevlar and carbon fiber and offers the benefits of strong lightweight materials in a package that doesn’t cost as much as other full-carbon options. We like this helmet because it can be easily configured to adapt to communication, cooling, or hydration systems, and the rubber knob used to open the visor is a thoughtful design. We also appreciate the high number of intake and exhaust ports on this unit that keep the fresh air flowing. We were able to comfortably wear our prescription eyeglasses while using this helmet but would recommend going 1.0 to 2.0 cm up in size for maximum comfort.
Simpson Racing Hybrid Sport
- Safety on a budget.
- Life saving.
- Doesn’t require racing harness seatbelts.
The helmet restraint system revolutionized motorsports safety by using the driver’s helmet and shoulder to prevent fatal neck movement during a crash. This Simpson Racing Hybrid Sport neck restraint is reasonably priced versus alternative units and, because it straps to your helmet and chest, doesn’t require removal before exiting the car. If you’re curious about HANS Device and Hybrid safety systems, check out our in-depth coverage about preventing injury with these neck-saving units.
Gearwrench Flex Head Electronic Torque Wrench
- 250-ft-lb max torque rating.
- Helpful angled head.
- $250 alternative to a $600 Snap-On product.
- Batteries sold separately.
- Finicky torque value adjustment.
- One-year limited warranty.
The frequent installation and removal of track wheels and tires is enough reason to invest in a torque wrench that you can trust. The 1/2-inch-drive Gearwrench torque wrench has a digital readout and can handle torque requirements between 25 and 250 foot-pounds. The wrench beeps, vibrates, and reads the current torque value. We found changing the desired torque value to be somewhat funky in that the intervals jump both too slowly at first and way too quickly after a few seconds. That said, you won’t need to change the values that often if you’re using this at the track for just one car. This is a far cheaper alternative to more expensive products but comes with a limited one-year warranty that pales in comparison to what you can get with pricier Snap-on tools.
Crescent 3-Piece Metric Flare Nut Wrench Set
- Compact size is perfect for tight areas.
- Easy-to-clean chrome finish.
- Lifetime warranty.
Avoid the pain and humiliation of destroying bleeder valves or brake lines with these Crescent flare nut wrenches. These combination wrenches fit 9- to 14-mm sizes, and measure roughly six inches long, making them compact and easy to swing. The six-point hex shape provides a perfect fit around brake fittings and prevents damage from occurring on even the most stubborn hardware. Made from chrome vanadium steel, or the same stuff most sockets are built from, these wrench sets are supported with a lifetime warranty. However, because they aren’t sold with a carrying case, we assume most people will lose one before breaking any.
Motive Products Power Brake Bleeder Kit
- Simplifies an otherwise two-person job.
- Includes all necessary tubes, fittings, and adapters.
- Easy to clean.
The Motive Products Power Bleeder is the right tool for the job. This two-quart bucket has plenty of capacity for a full-system flush and can be ordered specifically for European, Asian, Chrysler, GM, and even Tesla vehicles. Power bleeders simplify a job that normally requires two people, and accidentally running the brake master cylinder reservoir dry while using one of these is nearly impossible. We found the Motive Products Power Bleeder made bleeding brakes quick and easy, and the company’s numerous adapters mean only one tank is required even for those with a diverse car collection. It comes with easy-to-follow instructions that include proper cleaning techniques and how to avoid showering your engine bay with brake fluid. We also recommend picking up a fluid bottle for catching the old fluid.
Bosch Freak 18V Impact Driver Kit
- Impact driver with integrated bit driver.
- Helpful LED light illuminates from beneath the driver.
- Big power, small package.
The Bosch Freak 18-volt 1/2-inch impact driver is another compact tool with big benefits. The Freak uses a 4.0Ah (amp hours) battery that delivers plenty of power for longer versus cheaper electric impacts that use, say, a 2.0Ah battery. With 150 foot-pounds of max torque, removing lug nuts and other automotive extremities is easy. The Freak weighs almost four pounds with the battery attached and is light enough to loop around a tool belt should you wish to wield the power of Thor on the go. This 1/2-inch impact driver has a 1/4-inch bit holder inside, making it compatible with bit drivers. The variable-speed trigger helps control how much torque is delivered and if you do strip something, the LED light at the base of the drill will help you admire your handiwork or lack thereof. We like the Freak because it’s compact, is half the weight of other electric drivers, and has plenty of torque and battery life to swap wheels several times during track weekends. That said, the first time we charged the battery, we thought something in our kitchen was on fire. Beware of that aroma after unboxing.
- Carrying case has wheels.
- Setup instructions are stitched into the case.
- Comes with fillable bags for anchors.
- Nearly impossible to set up alone.
- Carrying case is a little too spatially precise.
Never underestimate the value of shade in a searingly hot paddock. That’s why you want a canopy shelter like this one from ABCCanopy. This waterproof polyester tent covers 100 square feet and has some height adjustability should you need it. Short of extra wheels and tires, this tent would likely be the largest part of your kit. Stored, the canopy measures roughly 50 inches in length and weighs more than 40 pounds. Thankfully, its wheeled carrying case makes moving it around fairly easy. We also liked that the instructions are stitched onto the case, rather than printed on a piece of paper that’s sure to go missing. It also comes with four bags that you can fill with sand, dirt, tools, or car parts to help anchor it in place. We found setup to be nearly impossible with one person, but with two people it takes just a few minutes. These canopies come in nine different colors and in sizes 6.6 by 6.6 feet, 8.0 by 8.0 feet, or 10.0 by 10.0 feet.
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