Getting tired of drag racing the same old straight 1,320 feet? Is autocrossing around cones in a parking lot, racing against the clock, not doing it for you anymore? What if I told you about a place where you could compete head to head against similar cars with similar modifications in a drag race format on two mirrored autocross courses? Does the idea of blasting away from a drag race Christmas tree and then barreling into a tight turn interest you? How about coming out of that turn and seeing your competitor out of the corner of your eye, sideways, coming out of his turn just a few feet ahead of you over on the other track? You’ll need to push harder and run the next corner even faster if you plan on being the first car across the finish line. Sounds pretty crazy doesn’t it? It is absolutely fantastic competition. It’s called Pro Solo, and it’s drag racing with corners.
This racing, like E.T. Bracket Drag Racing and Solo/Autocross is relatively inexpensive. Almost any street car can run the event, so you don’t need to have a truck and trailer or a dedicated racecar. In order to participate you have to be an S.C.C.A. member ($85 a year), own a current Solo rulebook ($25), and then a weekend of racing will set you back $95 for the entry fee. You will need a helmet (I/O Port Racing Supplies can get you one for as cheap as $94). That’s it; that’s all you need. A few bucks and you’re there doing it.
The Sports Car Club of America, S.C.C.A., has the monopoly on this sport. There are lots of drag racing and solo sanctioning bodies, but the S.C.C.A. is the only one I am aware of running Pro Solo style events. They only put on about eight events a year, including the National Championship, so getting to an event may mean some traveling. But it’s absolutely worth it. Here is the link to the website for Pro Solo. They have multiple classes depending on the performance and modifications to your car which means you will be competing against similar rides. And there is contingency money to be had (if you win) based on the manufacture of your car and/or your tires.
If you have ever run an autocross you already know the joys of sliding a car around a corner as hard as you can without any worry of running into something hard (like a concrete wall). And if you have ever drag raced, you know the fantastic feeling of coming across the finish line first. This sport combines the best of both worlds. You get the adrenaline shot of side by side competition with the heart pounding action of driving through slaloms. This is total kick ass fun with a car. When you are racing side by side, you really find yourself pushing harder and harder, where you may not when racing against yourself. You really can’t beat this type of racing high combined with the low risk factor (if you lose it, there is nothing to run into).
Even though this is head to head racing, no two heads shall make contact. The tracks are mirrored and laid out in a way so that the two competitors can see each other but will not make contact with one another, even if a vehicle loses control and spins out in a corner. The only thing your car will run into is a pylon. The biggest wear and tear on the cars is the tires from hard cornering. Most people race their street cars and use a set of dedicated wheels/tires to mangle on the course.
You need to pre-register for the event online at S.C.C.A.’s website. Most drivers arrive Friday and get the cars tech inspected. If you want you can pay a few dollars to get some practice starts on the Christmas tree. I would recommend this as it will help you get your car and tires acclimated to the launching surface. You will be given some required event sponsor stickers to put on the car (which will make your street car look like a racecar –something you always wanted anyway). On Saturday morning they will post grid sheets that tell you where to line up. You will run with your class (similar cars). Strap on your helmet because it is time to race.
When you move forward toward the starting lights you will have the chance to do a little burn out to warm up your rear tires (and psych out your opponent). Then you will proceed forward to the staging lights while your competitor will be doing the same thing on his (or her) side. Staging is just like drag racing (which we covered in great detail in a previous Racer Boy column on E.T. Bracket Racing). Leave on the last yellow light and run as hard and fast as you can just like any other autocross course (which we conveniently covered in a previous Racer Boy column on autocrossing). Remember, as you thrash through the course, stay off of those cones, they will cost you two seconds apiece. Once your run is over, you and your competitor will switch sides and immediately race each other again on your respective opposite course.
For the first session you will get three shots at the course (six runs, three per side). Your overall time is the best left side course and best right side course of the weekend (they do not have to come from the same left and right combo run, just your best from either side).
Sometime during the day, just like in standard autocrossing, you will have to work (stand out on the course and shag downed cones) in between your race sessions. For the next race session of six runs, the grid sheets will be adjusted so the faster cars will go up against each other. After your second round of adrenaline pumping hard driving action, that will finish out Saturday’s fun. Sunday morning you will have one more chance to drive another six run session and attempt to better your times. After all of the runs are completed, and whoever has the lowest left and right combined time wins the class and automatically qualifies for the Challenge.
Once all of the class winners are decided, then the Pro Solo Challenge will begin, which is run in more of an E.T. Bracket race as opposed to the earlier “heads up” runs. This way a Nissan Sentra SE-R has an equal chance against a Ford Shelby Mustang. Your fastest runs become your bracket time and the Christmas tree will delay the starting light for the faster car. The two cars will run both sides and the first one across the line with the combined lowest time will move onto the next round. If you don’t qualify for the Challenge or get eliminated, stick around because this is really fun to watch. Two drivers will be absolutely going for it at the line and in the corners. The racing is intense.
When the weekend ends there will be an awards ceremony for class winners and Challenge winners. Some will come away with contingency money and trophies; others will come away with four bald tires. All leave having had a great weekend of racing.
Even though this is a combination of drag racing and solo, generally there are no dedicated drag racing teams here (remember the saying, drag racing is for fast cars, road racing is for fast drivers?) This sport is filled with solo/autocross competitors. Not just any old regional parking lot racers either, these are the best of the best of the solo/autocross world. Most cars running in the Pro Solo series you will see racing at the Tire Rack SCCA Solo National Championships. The cool part about the people that compete is they are very friendly to first timers and put on a course walk through for anyone who would like to learn more about Pro Solo, staging, or how to run the track. These folks communicate with each other and give great advice at SCCAForums.
The racing format of the Pro Solo is where the glory comes from. As cars are eliminated, and you are one of the few left, all eyes will be on you for the final runs. There is a lot to celebrate winning a Pro Solo Challenge. Not only will you win a trophy but there is a lot of contingency money up for grabs if you have the correct stickers on the side of you car. An overall win could pay for the entire weekend of racing, and then some.
OH, YOU WANT TO WIN, DO YA?
You have to be a real wheel man to win at a Pro Solo. Anyone can enter in almost any car, but to win here you need a nationally competitive prepared solo car, fantastic reaction times, consistency, and mad driving skills. This is not the place where a limited field of competitors and some luck will give you a trophy. Anyone who possesses a Pro Solo Challenge trophy earned every piece of it.
That being said, here are the tricks of the trade. You need to beat everyone in your respective class (for instance F-Stock) to qualify for the finale. But you only want to beat them by a little and leave some “sand in the trunk” when it comes down to the final Challenge runs. Unlike in E.T. Bracket Racing, in Pro Solo, if you break out, (go faster than your bracket time) you are not instantly disqualified; you get to keep your round win. For your next run against the next competitor, you will have your bracket time lowered a few tenths of a second (which might be faster than you can muster), however, if you save this little extra “boost” for the last run of the day, then you have nothing to worry about.
Unlike drag racing where you choose a lane, the challenge is a two session race. Meaning you will run both lanes/sides of the track and your combined time is what gives you the win for that round. If your competitor hit a cone on one side (and is penalized two seconds), you know you can roll things back a little on the second side, make a conservative run and still win the round (without lowering your overall target time).
Obviously great reaction times always help while “too good” reaction times –red light, will put you on the highway to home. Just like drag racing, a red light is a total bummer.
RACER BOY GAUGE
Let’s review the Racer Boy gauge cluster here:
FUEL (Cost): The fuel gauge is around three quarters because the entry fee is a little more than a standard autocross and you have to be a member of S.C.C.A. to race (gotta pay those dues). Plus your tires will surely die. This is still one of the cheapest forms of racing with the best competition factor.
RPMs (Adrenaline): The tachometer is at 6,200 RPMs because the moment you come sliding sideways out of the first corner and you see the guy on the mirrored course next to, your adrenaline is off the charts. This is high test racing.
MPH (Danger): The speedometer is at 52 miles per hour because this is safe racing. Just like autocrossing, driving to this event is more dangerous than participating in it with a helmet on.
VOLTS (Time): The volts gauge is at less than three quarters because this is a three day event (tech and registration one day, two race days) plus some travel time. Some of your precious quality time with the missus will be used up some (Momma ain’t gonna be happy).
MILEAGE (Car Wear): The mileage is at 3,000 miles because, like autocross, it’s not really that hard on your car, except you will wear out the sidewalls of your tires in the corners and you’ll destroy the center of your tires during the drag race starts. Obviously clutches take a beating here too (unless you have an automatic, which brings up a whole spectrum of things allowing me to make fun of you for, but I won’t).
This is one of those events you have to try once. The drag racing with corners Pro Solo experience is an outstanding adrenaline rush. Nothing else really compares to the head to head racing action without the worry of damaging your car in a crash. I’d recommend it to any racer (even the ones with those nutty automatics).