How does AutoCross (Auto-X) work?
You may hear about autocross from time to time, but have you ever wondered, “What is Autocross”? Well, it’s typically a timed event held in an open parking lot or a portion of a road course. What makes autocross unique from other forms of racing is that it’s a race against the clock and most of the time, the courses are very short with lots of “obstacles” throughout the course. These “obstacles” are typically set up with bright orange cones; from as little as 1 cone per obstacle to multiple cones per obstacle. The nice part about the cones is that these typically aren’t going to hurt the car when the driver runs “off course”.
So, how does your average autocross day go? Well, you show up early to the event location and usually unload your vehicle. There shouldn’t be any loose belongings as they can become projectiles while on the course dodging cones. Once your vehicle is cleaned out, you’ll visit the registrar and sign the required forms for that specific club. Some clubs are different than others, but most are similar and the forms are simple liability forms. At this time, you’ll likely find out what run group you’ll be in as well as your worker assignment. Once that is completed, you’ll make your back to your vehicle and check your car over and get it ready to run. This might include swapping out wheels & tires, checking tire pressures, torquing wheels, changing damping settings, applying your “race numbers”, etc. Once your vehicle is ready to race, it’s time to walk the course. This is arguably the MOST IMPORTANT part of your day. This is what separates the “pro’s” from the “amateurs”. What you’re doing here is gaining an understanding of the overall course, but more importantly trying to figure out the fastest way through each obstacle…..you’re trying to find the right “line”. Once you have walked the course, hopefully several times, the club will likely have a drivers meeting and discuss the rules of the event (amongst other things). Then it’s time to “race”!
So, what makes autocross different than time trial, rally, hill climb or road racing? Each different motorsport “discipline” is different. Both time trial and hill climb are both timed events meaning your not “racing” wheel to wheel with other vehicles while road racing is exactly that, racing wheel to wheel with your competitors.
What about requirements? We haven’t talked about the requirements for autocross. The requirements are very few. You need a valid drivers license and a car that is in good mechanical condition. And a good attitude. That’s it! No, you don’t have to own a “race car”. No, you don’t need special tires. No, you don’t need special suspension, brakes, seats, safety gear, etc. Just bring your car, yourself and a great attitude and be prepared to have a fun day whether rain or shine.
Autocross is a great way to get involved with motorsport and improve your driving skills. It also helps drivers better understand what their car is, and isn’t, capable of.
Tip #1 – Tpically cars are organized into groups based on the performance of each car. Most clubs tend to follow SCCA guidelines where you might see classes such as B Stock, F Modified, STR, STX, STU, etc. A piece of advice to someone that is new to autocross or is thinking of getting involved with autocross is to “build” a car to a specific class if you want to be “competitive”. The national autocross scene can be pretty competitive, so if don’t pay attention to the rules when modifying your vehicle, you could easily put yourself into a class with very competitive, highly modified, lightweight “race” cars. At the end of the day though, it’s all about having fun and pushing yourself, and your car, outside of their comfort zones.
Tip #2 – Ask for an instructor. All too often, you’ll see a new driver out on the course and they are unsure of where they are or where they need to go….and they are the only one in the car. Don’t hesitate to ask to have an instructor jump in the car and give you some pointers.
Tip #3 – Ask questions. You’ll find that other car enthusiasts are extremely friendly and are all too happy to help a fellow “racer”. Whether it’s asking about the course, asking about rules, needing help with vehicle set up or asking an instructor to take a couple extra rides with you, ask. Everyone is there to have a fun time and no one wants to see a “friend” not having fun.
Tip #4 – Find the person with the biggest hat in the paddock. This is an “inside joke” amongst autocrossers, but the person with the biggest hat in the paddock might be the person with the most experience. Find that person and make a friend.
Tip #5 – Have fun!!! That’s what it’s all about. Enjoy the day with like minded enthusiasts.