Autocross is a form of racing that not many people outside the sport know about. This overlooked motorsport is quickly gaining popularity because of its unique blend of competition and affordability. Autocross events are time trial competitions in which there is no wheel-to-wheel racing involved, meaning that there is only one car on the track at a time. Competing vehicles are not racing against each other on the track; therefore, each driver races the course against the clock, not against other cars on the track. The winners are determined by the vehicles that complete the course with the quickest time.
Autocross is a great starting point for someone looking to get into becoming a race car driver. It is a safe and cheap way to participate in competitive racing. Autocross events are generally run by the SCCA, which is the Sports Car Club or America. These events are either sanctioned by the SCCA or run under their rules by independent clubs. The SCCA calls their autocross events Solo II. Generally speaking, any safe, street legal vehicle can compete without any significant modifications to any part of the vehicle. Each driver is placed in a class based on their car’s performance potential (including modifications) and sometimes the racer’s auto-crossing experience. The only classes that are based on experience are Novice classes which are for drivers in their first season. There are also open classes and ladies classes. Open classes are for all experienced drivers, and ladies classes are obviously only for ladies. The best way to figure out which class your car fits into is to order a copy of the SCCA Solo II rulebook, which includes a summary of the classes based on vehicles and modifications. In general, a course is laid out using traffic cones and is usually set up in a large parking lot. Autocross courses are configured to emphasize the driver’s car control skills and car set-up, not speed. However, speeds up to 70 MPH may be attained by faster cars.
The SCCA and independent clubs hold events in locales across the nation throughout the summer. The best way to find a local club in your area is to do a search for events on any popular search engine. Once you find a local club, you can sign up on-line or in person for the next event.
To compete in an autocross event, you must posses the following: a valid driver’s license, be at least 16 years old, have a vehicle that will pass a simple safety inspection, and have a DOT and Snell approved helmet. If you do not have a helmet, most clubs generally offer loaners. For the best results, you should clean out all loose objects in your car including the spare tire and jack, subwoofers, floor mats, any cargo, and basically anything loose that may get caught in your feet while you drive. You should also bring your drivers license, the helmet, a signed consent form if you are under 18, lunch, and proper clothing. On the day of the event you should arrive early to the race site to get yourself prepared for the day.
Autocrossing is generally an all day event and you should be prepared to stay all day. The day will normally start between 8:30 and 9:30am. This gives you time to arrive, check in with the registration tent, change your tires if you have race tires, look your car over, and get it numbered for the event. For numbering, you can use masking tape to do the job and upgrade to magnetic numbers when you have been to a few events and want to look more professional. Once your car is ready and you have checked in, you can go ahead and take your car over to the tech inspection area to get it race approved. At the tech inspection, the team there will make sure your car is in good racing shape. This inspection will include making sure your vehicle has all wheel studs, the battery is secure, all loose items have been removed, the vehicle is not leaking any fluids, you have a valid helmet or are borrowing one, and that your car is numbered and ready to go. Once they clear your car to compete, you can head back to the parking lot to get ready for the race. Make sure your tire pressures are good and your car has enough gas so it is ready to go.
Following the inspection, it is best to walk the course. By doing this, you will be able to get an idea of how the course is laid out so when you run it, you will know where you are going. It is also a good idea if you are a novice to walk it with an experienced driver to get some pointers on what to look for when you walk the course. Many times the organizers will offer this opportunity to novice drivers prior to starting the event, or you might just look for someone to help you. It is generally best to walk the course at least twice, so you have a picture in your mind of the course and the best way to run it.
After all the vehicles have been through tech inspection and registration is closed, they will hold a drivers meeting. Here they will announce the work and run order. Most large events will have three running heats of vehicles racing. You will be required to work one heat in addition to running one. By working, you may be picking up cones that drivers have knocked over, working the start or finish line, or even announcing. You will also have a heat where you are not running or working and during this, you can generally watch and get a good idea of how the other drivers are running the course. By watching where they are braking and accelerating, you can get a good idea for yourself when you run. When it is your turn to run, proceed to the staging lanes and the workers there will get you lined up and ready to go. When they direct you to, proceed to the start line to make your run. Follow the cones on the course and try to have the best run possible. Once you finish, proceed back to the finish line for your next run. The most important thing for beginners is to try to improve your time on each run, rather than worrying about winning because being your first event, it is more important to focus on racing than winning. Improvement will come with experience and your times will improve with practice. There is no substitute for seat time in autocross and you will improve as you gain more of it.
Usually auto-crossing entails three to five runs, after which you head back to the parking lot. If you are working next, report to the tent and get your assignment and head out to the course and get ready to work. If you are not working, you will have about two hours to do whatever you want, but it is best to try to watch others and learn what you can from watching them run. This may also be a great time to ride with an experienced driver to try to learn from them on how they run the course. It is best to ask around and find someone who will let you ride-along. Once you have worked once, ran once, and had a break you will be done for the day. You can head back to your car and get it packed up and ready to go.
The satisfaction of doing well in autocross is similar to doing well at tennis or golf. This is because driver skill is so much more important than the amount of money spent on the car. When you do well at an autocross, you have the satisfaction of knowing that you were the reason, not because you outspent everyone else. A driver’s skill usually accounts for at least 75% of his or her success. On the other hand, if you enjoy tinkering with your car, there are classes for modified vehicles as well. These classes can be quite expensive to be competitive in, but they do allow the owner to express himself with different modifications.
Autocross is a form of racing that once you have experienced it, you will be hooked like the many other enthusiasts. It is a great and exciting way to spend a Sunday afternoon and you may find yourself at many events throughout the summer. As you gain experience, you will compete better but remember that it takes time. Don’t worry if you do not win a trophy or finish in the top half of the class right away because you are racing against experienced drivers a lot of the time, and they have honed their skills. To get further information on getting started in autocross, you can visit the following sites:
– http://www.scca.org Rules, Local Regions
– http://www.tirerack.com/features/solo2/handbook.htm Novice Handbook- Great Read!!
I hope you have learned a good amount about how auto-crossing works today. Autocross is something every car enthusiast should try at least once, as it is an experience you will not soon forgot. You will also learn many techniques for performance driving that will subsequently improve your daily driving. Check it out and have fun!!