Please welcome a new writer to the Speed:Sport:Life, Rob Krider. Rob was the staff writer for NASA NorCal last year, and has been published in AutoWeek and MotoRacing Magazine. Rob currently is a columnist for the Santa Maria Sun but wants to share his adventures and knowledge with a great group of car guys such as the readers of Speed:Sport:Life. His column, Racer Boy, will be running bi-weekly and will cover every type of racing that us normal guys can possibly get involved in…from Pinewood Derby to the Demolition Derby. This week Rob covers Solo 2 Autocross. Please welcome Rob to the S:S:L team! — Zerin
One of the easiest/cheapest/safest ways to get into some type of motorsports is Autocrossing, otherwise known as Solo 2. Autocrossing is a timed event where an individual car maneuvers around a coned off twisty racecourse which is usually located in a large parking lot or abandoned air field. Each entrant gets three to five shots at going around the course as fast as possible and the fastest time wins. Motorsports glory is yours to be had.
What makes Autocrossing so cool is that it’s dirt cheap, usually around $25-$40 per day depending on the club. The only requirement for Autocrossing is that you bring your own car (anything will do, your commuter Honda, mom’s Volvo or, of course, dad’s Corvette), have a state issued driver’s license and a helmet (M2000 is sufficient). Some clubs even have loaner helmets (enjoy the lice).
There are tons of clubs who put on these events, most notably the SCCA, Sports Car Club of America (www.scca.com) and NASA, National Auto Sport Association (www.nasaproracing.com). SCCA requires a club membership in order to participate which runs around $85 per year (yup, that’s where they get ya).
You really can’t beat the bang for your buck here. Whether you’re in a tire squealing Camaro blistering with torque or piloting a leaned over three wheeling Volkswagen Rabbit, when you get out of the car after running your hot lap your hands will be shaking from all of the adrenaline. In Autocross the speed is relative. You might go faster at the drag strip. Big deal, what is so exciting about going a hundred miles an hour in straight line? In an autocross you can go forty miles an hour sideways, which will get your blood pumping and oftentimes stain your shorts.
Cars hold up very well at Autocrosses. The only real hardship is on the tires themselves. After a few events most competitors choose to buy a dedicated set of wheels and race tires so their street tires don’t need to be replaced every 1,000 miles. Since there are no other cars on the track at the same time as you, even if you put your head straight up your butt and drive off course, the only thing you’re going to hit is an orange pylon -it buffs right out. I’ve probably run a hundred events and never had any damage to the exterior of any of my cars (Mom will never know). And if you do hit any of those cones, that will add a one second penalty (sometimes two seconds) to your overall time. Lots of downed cones equals no trophy.
One of the best ways to Autocross is to use the buddy system. Since the event is run one car at a time, two people can share the same car and the costs (we can use my car, you buy the tires, a tank of gas and a Big Mac).
Get up early and road trip to the event site. Before the race starts you can walk the course and see where you need to turn left and where you need to turn right (very important). Sometimes these courses can look like a sea of orange cones once the red mist hits and you have your right foot planted deep into the fun pedal. You need to get an idea of the track and a feel for the flow of the course since the track layout is different at every event. Besides racing you will also be working. No, they don’t have disability or unemployment at the Autocross. You race, you work. It keeps the cost down. Your job will be to stand in the parking lot and pick up cones after the Corvette drivers have knocked them all over (and they will).
Finally, it will be your turn to run. Your run group, filled with similar cars to yours, will be up and you will get in line. Once you are at the front of the line, wait for the green flag and then haul ass! After your run, get back in line until all of your runs are complete. Then head to the timing trailer to see the results. Are you a bad ass who whipped all the guys in your class? Or did you realize that you still have a few things to learn about car control? Either way, I guarantee you had car sliding, testosterone filled, power over-steer fun. Time wise you are looking at about 7 hours, half a day to compete in and work at an Autocross.
Of all the motorsports I have competed in I would say that Autocrossing has some of the most open armed participants. There will always be someone there to help you if you are a first timer, guys will ride along with you or let you ride with them to see different driving techniques (or to just scare the pants off you). I would say as far as car guys go Autocrossers are on the nerdy side of things. They are very meticulous about their cars and they live by their rule book. This isn’t circle track racing, don’t cheat up the car here. Autocrossers are some of the absolute fastest drivers you’ll ever run across (amazing car control) and they know a lot about car set up (tire pressures, alignment, strut rebound setting etc.). Like I said, they’re the smart/nerdy racers.
You won’t cross the finish line three wide and inch out your competitors here for instant gratification. You won’t find a drag racing win light either. Most times you find out if you won or lost about a half an hour after the event is over. It is a strange way to compete but the adrenaline from the racing comes from running the cars hard as opposed to the heads up racing like at a drag strip. Nope, no trophy girls here either. And most clubs only issue trophies at the end of the year for championship points. The real glory in Autocrossing is moving up from Regional races to competing in Divisional and National Championships. Being a National Champion autocrosser probably won’t get you laid, but it might get you a free beer in the right bar.
OH, YOU WANT TO WIN, DO YA?
Even though Autocrossing is very inexpensive in comparison to other forms of motorsports, in order to be a big shot you’re going to have to write a few big checks. The car you run for starters will play a big part in your success. To win in SCCA’s stock division you probably need to figure out what car won the prior year. In B-Stock you’re going to need a Mazda RX-8, in F-Stock you need a Ford Mustang Shelby GT (nope, not the GT 500, just the GT). Besides the car, you’ll need a dedicated set of lightweight wheels and race rubber (Kumho and Hoosier continue to have an ongoing tire war in the National Autocross ranks). Some adjustable shocks can make your car handle better but can get very expensive where a large front anti-rollbar is a pretty inexpensive way to get your car to corner better (ST Suspensions, www.stsuspensions.com, makes these for almost every car). If you want to just look like a winner, instead of painters tape or shoe polish for those numbers on your door go to Figstone Graphics (www.figstone.com) for super cool vinyl numbers or reusable magnetic ones (obviously no magnets for you fiberglass clad Vette guys). I/O Port Racing supplies (www.ioportracing.com) can get you a good helmet on the cheap.
RACER BOY GAUGE
Let’s review the Racer Boy gauge cluster here:
Fuel gauge is over three quarters full because you still have money left, this is cheap, cheap racing.
The tachometer is at 5,700 RPMs because when you drift a car around a corner and shave the orange peel off of a cone but somehow don’t knock it over, that gets you hollerin’ like a Duke Boy.
The Speedometer is around 48 mph because this is very safe racing. Wearing a racing helmet while driving around in an empty parking lot is almost ridiculous. You are in more danger driving to the event itself while your surrounded on the freeway by diabetics going into commas while piloting big rigs.
The volts gauge is low because this doesn’t take much personal time or effort to participate in. You don’t have to weld in a roll cage or trailer the car anywhere. Just check your oil, tire pressure and drive your car to the event.
The mileage is at around 2,000 miles because these events aren’t hard on your car. How much you over rev the engine is up to you. How many events you run on your tires that have to get you back to work or school on Monday is up to you as well. Generally, it’s easy on automobiles.
So, put the video game controller down and get your butt out to the track.