What you need to know before your first autocross.
So, you’re a racing fan. You like to watch and wonder what it would be like to be behind the wheel. The thrill and adrenalin of pushing your car to the limits. You can experience the fun of racing without the big investment of a race car.
It’s called Autocross (or Solo racing). It’s a mini road course set up with traffic pylons on large parking lots and airport runways. You drive through the course as quick as you can without hitting a pylon. It’s one at a time, so you’re racing the clock. That way there’s no chance of banging fenders with another person. It’s a great way to explore the performance potential of your car in a responsible way.
It’s also very safe. To keep speeds to normal highway speeds there are many turns. Typically, more than a road course or F1 course. The result is that there is always something going on. It’s very fast-paced and adrenalin-filled.
Autocross has gone mainstream in recent years with the popularity of Goodguys and Optima Street Car Challenge. Of course, the Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) has been holding Autocrosses for generations and is still the premier venue.
It’s best to let the organizers know you’re coming. If you’re unsure if you can make it – register anyway. It’s easier to cancel that to register late. It really helps the organizers plan. Plus, many venues offer a discount to pre-register.
What to bring
Here are some items you may want to bring. Pack what you can the night before so you’re not rushed in the morning.
- Your Valid Driver’s license. (to get a discount)
- If you’re under 18 you will need the proper form filled out by both your parents.
- Your safe car (although you may share a car with someone else).
- Your entry fee.
- Sunscreen – You’re out in the sun all day (hopefully).
- Sun glasses.
- Comfortable shoes and/or driving shoes.
- Umbrella and other rain gear – if you’re not out in the sun all day.
- I like to bring a change of shirt for when I get sweaty, and extra shoes and socks in case it rains.
- Jacket, etc. if it will be cold – especially in the morning.
- Folding Chair.
- Water – I bring at least a gallon.
- Pack a lunch (and snacks).
- Tire gauge.
- Air tank or pump. Or get extra air in your tires on the way to the event.
- Tools (jack, jack stands, lug wrench, etc).
- Chalk or shoe polish to mark tires.
- Magnetic numbers or painters’ tape.
- Note book to keep notes.
- Helmet if you have one. (if you’re concerned if it meets safety requirements – bring it. If it doesn’t you can still borrow one of ours)
Arriving at the event
You will want to arrive as early as possible to give yourself the best possible preparation. When you arrive the first thing you will need to do is find a place to park in the Paddock. This will be an area usually close and/or adjacent to the course and Grid. If it’s not obvious where to park, just ask someone.
Register and sign the waiver. You will want to register as soon as you can. That will give the event officials early class counts, and it will expose any questions or problems early. You will have to sign the waiver and get a wrist band. At some events this will be done at a checkpoint as you enter the site.
Unload your car. You don’t want any distractions, and from a safety standpoint, you don’t want anything flying around or getting under your brake pedal.
Put your car/class numbers on and take your car to Tech. To be sure everyone is safe you will need to take your car to the tech area to have your car safety inspected. They will check it for safety items such as (but not limited to); your helmet (if you have one), wheel bearings, throttle return, brake pedal, and a solid battery tie-down.
Walk the course. This is probably the best way to feel comfortable when taking to the course in your car. When people start autocrossing it’s easy to get lost on course. So many things are new that it is difficult to remember where the course goes. The easiest way to combat this and feel more comfortable is to walk the course as many times as you can. This is not the time to socialize. It’s the time to try and memorize as much of the course as you can. Walk a little bit and then stop and imagine running it in your mind. Walk a little more and repeat.
Novice Course Walk. This is an opportunity to walk the course with an experienced person with the sole purpose of helping newer drivers. Walk along and pick up some pointers. If it’s your first autocross you will likely want to stick with the very basics. The more events you have under your belt the more you can incorporate better techniques to your driving. There is always something to learn and improve.
Drivers Meeting. This is held just before competition begins, and it is held at the timing vehicle. The organizers will cover what will happen that day, safety items, run/work order, and any other housekeeping items.
Schedule of the day. There is no one way to run events. Much depends on how many entrants there are. Most days are divided into 2 or three Heats. If there are two Heats you would work one Heat and run the other heat. Usually with a break in between. When there are 3 or more Heats then you usually work one Heat, run one Heat and are ‘off’ the remainder of the time. This format usually does not have a break between Heats.
Working. Drivers are usually required to work one heat. The tasks can be varied, and newer people are placed in helper roles. Usually on course replacing hit cones.
Running. When it’s your time to run you will take your car to Grid. Bring everything you will need during your runs. Especially something to drink. The Grid will be located adjacent to the course area, and will have Grid workers to let you know where to park your car during your run session. Sometimes there are assigned spots for each competitor, but this is not possible on small Grids. With small grids you will like up in rows. Depending on event participation size you will get 4-6 runs. Try to remember the course as you are preparing for your run, and have fun with it! After your run, sit in your car for a moment and review your run. Try to remember as much as you can. Do not dwell on what went wrong, but what you did right. And then what do more right next time.
After the event
Picking up. After the event there is to put away. All help is appreciated, and it’s a great way to get to know your new friends who helped you have such a fun day.
Trophies. At some point during the cleanup there will be a trophy presentation. This is a great time to whoop it up with your new friends. Cheer for the ones who got trophies, as they will be the ones cheering for you when you get trophies.
Dinner. Often times after the event some will go out to eat after the event. This is a great time to socialize and do some bench racing with your new friends.