Wednesday, April 30, 2008

So What is 'Autocrossing'?

I've had a few questions about 'autocrossing', the kind of racing Annie and I do so I thought it was high time I explained it better.

Technically and legally speaking, it's not racing. There's only one car on the track (aka 'course') at a time. The track is usually a big parking lot or airplane runway and the turns and straights are marked with regular traffic cones. The object is to get around the course in the shortest elapsed time possible without hitting any cones. If you happen to punt a cone 2 seconds is added to your time. If you hit 4 cones that +8 seconds.

(This is a friend's lightly-modified Honda Civic from the event we did a couple weekends ago. It's not uncommon for some cars to life the inside rear tire off the ground during really hard cornering. It's harmless and the driver can't even feel it come up or down.)

Cars are categorized into classes so that similar cars compete against each other. That's partially for fairness but it also makes for closer competition which really multiplies the fun. There are classes for completely stock cars like you're probably driving right now and there are classes for non-street legal full-on race cars with tens of thousands of dollars of modifications that go really, really fast.

(Here's a pic of a highly modified BMW in action. Pretty cool, huh?)

So who runs these events? A little known nation-wide club called the Sports Car Club of America which was formed shortly after WWII. There are clubs regionally all over the US and they offer more than just autocrossing. There's also road racing at dedicated race tracks, time-distance rallys (public roads, not actual racing), stage rallying (high speed racing on dirt roads and etc), and even hill climbs which involve racing up a mountain road against the clock. Anyway, at an autocross event the drivers also volunteer to run the event while they're not driving. Someone has to reset cones after they are sent flying, run the timer computer, flag the cars at the starting line, and so on. Those are all drivers waiting for their driving heat to come around.

The cost for a typical event is $20 if you're an SCCA member ($70/year). It's $35 for non-members. Annie and I generally arrive at 9:00 or so to get registered and get our car and helmets inspected. Cars usually start running at 10:00 or 10:30 and heats last for 1-2 hours. You have to be there for 2 heats; one to drive and one to volunteer. We usually make a day out of it and volunteer for extra heats just for fun.

So after all that explaining, here's a video for your enjoyment. This footage was taken with a roof-mounted camcorder on my friend's 1994 Corvette from an event at the Wichita Greyhound Park last summer. I've actually posted faster times than this guy in our family station wagon but didn't at this particular event because it had too many straights. I haven't explained anything about how to read where the cones are telling you to go but that is a vital aspect. If you take the wrong route around the course you are disqualified. It's easy to them with practice. One last thing: Here's a link to our Wichita SCCA club's website. There's a lot more info there. If anyone would like to meet us or drive at an event, just shoot me an email at jmr302 gmail com.


Annie said...

Was I at that event? I don't recognize the course at that speed. :)

Anonymous said...

Annie didn't recognize the course at that speed because that dude was way slower than Annie.

Is there a heat for drivers using one hand to talk on the cell-phone or do other "important" things? It would be more realistic...