What Is Autocross?

Autocross (also referred to as Solo) is a FUN and SAFE way for YOU to test your driving skill and the performance of your car against other drivers in vehicles of similar performance level. Each driver is placed in a class based on their car’s performance potential, which includes modifications, and their autocrossing experience. There are Novice classes, Open classes and Ladies classes–but some women choose to run in the Open class with the men (no gender gap here). There are currently 18 vehicle classes.

An autocross event consists of a series of timed runs, one car at a time, through a mini road racing course set with traffic cones. SAFETY IS THE UTMOST CONCERN and the courses are designed accordingly. The course is usually set in a large parking lot, on a road racing course or, in the case of Sand and Sage Sports Car Club, on the infield and track of Tri-City Raceway, Example Map. Autocross courses are configured to emphasize the driver’s car control skills and car set-up, not speed, although speeds up to 70 MPH may be attained by faster cars. The drivers that negotiate the course the quickest in each class wins a trophy and everybody has fun. While speeds are no greater than those normally encountered in legal highway driving, a combination of the mental concentration required to drive quickly and car’s feedback can create an adrenaline pumping experience that leaves you literally breathless and shaking in your shoes! Fun, fun, fun!

Autocross is also a great way to learn new driving skills and hone those you already have. Most people use their street cars–four door sedans, coupes, sports cars and even a few 2WD pickups–but some have cars built specially for autocross. No matter what kind of car you have there is a class for it and for you, so give autocrossing a try and join the fun.

If you want to race (yes, we call it racing), you must posses a valid driver license, be at least 16 years of age (under 18 must have a parent/guardian sign a consent waiver) and have a vehicle that can pass a simple safety check. Some people even share a car. A personally owned DOT or Snell-certified motorcycle or auto-racing helmet is nice to have, however “loaner” helmets are available at the event that will get you by. But you don’t need to drive to get involved in autocrossing activities. The club usually has a number of volunteer positions during the events that need filling and the help is greatly appreciated. So even if you’re not quite ready to drive, why not come to an event or two and just help out? You’ll be around a bunch of fun people, of all ages, who share the same kind of interest in cars and high-performance driving.

Well, yes and no. If you are an overly aggressive driver that likes to over rev the engine, dump the clutch and burn lots of rubber, then yes you might hurt something. If you are a reasonably practiced and skilled driver that understands your cars limits then it is extremely unlikely that you will hurt anything. In fact, your car will probably run better after an autocross event simply because you “blew the carbon out”, exercised the drive train and suspension parts more than what happens on the street. Of course, autocrossing, like any high performance driving endeavor, does put additional stress on some parts, particularly tires, brakes and suspension components, but much of this can be alleviated through good maintenance practices and using quality parts and fluids. If you run twenty autocrosses a year for five years you might need to replace something related to racing…maybe. Actually a vehicle is at a much greater risk of damage when driven on public roads. Potholes, road debris, careless drivers, shopping carts, storm drains, you name it, are just a few of the hazards found on the everyday commute to work or trip to the store. Of course, there is a slight element of risk as there is in any dynamic auto activity, but autocross courses are laid out so that the risk is minimal and the fun factor is really, really big. As for wear and tear on the tire, well, as they say, “that’s where the rubber meets the road”. If you participated in all the SSSCC events this year then you might use up 50% of the tread life on a new set of tires. Many autocrossers have a dedicated set of tires just for racing.

If you are still concerned about safety or would like to get some driving instruction from a seasoned veteran autocrosser, why not attend an autocross driving school? These are held around the Northwest during the racing season. Check the SSSCC calendar for more information or email one of the club officers for details. Our club has adopted a new rule that allows drivers to ride with each other. This enables everyone to accellerate their autocross learning curve by helping each other. If you’re new to the club, ask any club officer and they can put you in touch with one of the club’s experienced autocrossers to help you.

YES! Running higher air pressure will greatly increase the life of your tires and also improve the performance level of your car. Normally, autocrossers run approximately 10 pounds more of air pressure than is recommended by the vehicle manufacture (especially on front wheel drive cars where front tire pressure should be at least 40psi) when racing. Using synthetic oil in your engine and transmission/differential may provide a degree of security and will help performance as well. Some drivers use racers tape (duct tape) on the inside of the wheel wells and on other areas of the car that might receive a rock chip from running sticky tires. But probably the most important thing you can do is work on your driving skills. Obviously if you’re dumping the clutch, burning rubber at every corner and slamming gears as you shift, you will be putting more wear and tear on your car–as well as reducing your chances of turning in a good time. If you watch the fast drivers, you’ll notice that they don’t really look that fast–very little screeching of tires, sliding, etc… After you participate in a few events you’ll quickly learn an old driver’s adage–smooth equals fast–and smooth driving won’t hurt your car.
One fellow put over 125 autocross events on his 1990 Miata and when asked if anything had broken or worn out, he replied “just the car jack!” (from swapping over to race tires at each event)

The autocross arena is populated by all kinds and ages of people and there is no stereotype for an autocrosser. The majority of them are upper middle class adults from 30 to 70 years old that are extremely responsible and have been successful in life’s endeavors. One of the really great things about this sport is that teenagers who try autocrossing end up interacting with these fine folks due to their common interests of racing and cars, and they can’t help but come away with a greater appreciation and respect for others, particularly the “old codger” that just beat them in a race. There is a melding of ages and a glimmering of camaraderie between all the participants that is rare in other endeavors of this day and age that bring adults and youth together. Autocrossers make great role models and autocrossing is wonderful way to erase the lines that separate the ages.

And, if your teenager already drives fast…too fast, introduce them to autocrossing. Don’t laugh! Autocrossing provides a legal way for them to take out their youthful energy and automotive enthusiasm in a safe and nondestructive way. There are already a number of success stories where the whole family has ended up racing together. It seems that once most teenagers are exposed to autocrossing, racing on the street loses much of its allure. Autocross isn’t guaranteed to fix the problem driver, but it can’t hurt to give it a try. If teenager is under 18 years of age they need to come to the event with a completed the Parental Consent/Minor Waiver. It is available here.

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. Yes, there are plenty of upgrades that will help make a car faster, but a driver’s skill usually accounts for at least 75% of it, especially at the local level. In fact, that’s one of the attractions of racing in a stock class, the Monday after race day, you can drive your “race car” to work! On the other hand, if you enjoy tinkering with your car, and many people do, there are many classes for modified vehicles, too. These classes can be quite expensive to be competitive in but they allow the car builder to express and demonstrate his or her abilities to build and drive a unique car. Fun, fun, fun!

Road and Track, Car and Driver, Motor Trend, etc… they all test cars for speed and handling. They pick their favorites, not just because they have a big motor and can turn a great 0-60 time, they also enjoy how well a car handles. This is exactly the point of autocross, learning how to appreciate the fine handling traits of your vehicle. Once you learn it, you’ll be hooked like the rest of us!

Here’s what it takes to participate:
Clean out your car–you don’t want stuff rolling under the brake pedal or otherwise distracting you. Any loose speakers/subwoofers need to be removed, and your battery needs to be secured (no bungee cords)
Bring/buy a helmet–the club has loaner helmets, but buying one at the local motorcycle shop is cheap, and you know the sweat inside is yours. (must be D.O.T. or Snell approved)
You must have a valid drivers license– ’nuff said.
You must be at least 18 years of age or have your parents sign the Parental Consent/ Minor Waiver form.
Proper clothing–many people forget this and it can ruin the day. It can get very cold in March thru May, and when you’re standing in the elements for 1.5+ hours, it can get cold. Bring a heavy jacket, hat, gloves…why take the chance?
Lunch/Snack Food–Hunger can make you tired. You’ll drive better if your not tired.
Club membership–If you plan to attend at least 4 events this season, it makes financial sense to purchase a club membership. Even if you don’t plan to race that often, it’s a great way to show your support for the club. (we need the money!)
Have a parent/guardian complete the Parental Consent/Minor Waiver available here.