Ladies & Gentlemen, Start Your Engines!

Autocross

When we autocross, we usually attend a local Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) low speed event. There are a few NCCC autocrosses in our area (NV, CA, AZ) you can participate in, too. They're usually in a parking lot, like at the Speedway, Sunset Station, or Sam Boyd Stadium, with cones set up for you to drive around. They have sharp turns, zigzags, straight-aways, and such. The idea is to get through the course as fast as you can. When we autocross for Racerís Edge with SCCA, we do Matching Time Trials. You donít have to go fast, you just have to be consistent. You try to get two runs with the same time or as close to the same as possible. Oh, yeah, weíre talking about thousandths of a second here! When we put on our own NCCC autocross, it can be a Matching Time Trial or for speed.

On the autocross course, you get to see what your car can do. You get to see what you can do. If you go too fast, you get to spin out. Iíve spun out on the autocross course before. It was fun! Thereís no safer place to test your carís and your own limits. Once youíve figured out where that limit is, you will be able to get as close to it as possible without going over. Youíll find out how well you car will handle while swerving and braking. When you have to swerve to avoid windblown garbage or hit your brakes to avoid someone who is running a red light on your way to the next meeting, youíll do it easily and without hesitation, because youíve done it before Ė at the autocross. If you get a new car, take it to an autocross so you can safely get the feel of it. And who knows, maybe youíll win a Racerís Edge trophy!

NCCC autocrosses are a little different than SCCA autocrosses. For instance, their classes are completely different. Also no passengers are allowed except on a parade lap. The basics are the same, though. The following is for SCCA autocrosses.

What you need

1. Helmet - If you donít have a helmet, you can rent one from SCCA (usually for $10 and they hold your driver's license until you bring it back) or borrow one from another LVCA member. For SCCA, a helmet with the current or two immediately preceding Snell Foundation standards (SA, K or M) are acceptable. For example, in 2012, acceptable helmets are M2000, M2005, M2010, SA2000, SA2005, SA2010, K2000. (For NCCC events, your helmet must fall within the last two rating cycles. So in 2012, only M2005, M2010, SA2005 or SA2010 are acceptable.) If you're not sure about your helmet, ask.

2. Corvette in good working order. Make sure your tires arenít bald or cracked. Make sure you car isnít leaking any fluids. Make sure your battery is mounted tightly.

3. Nothing loose in the car. You canít have things sliding around in your car. Leave them at home, stow them in your compartments, put them in some elseís car, or leave them in the pit area.

4. Make sure your car doors are clean. You will be taping numbers on them with masking tape which comes off really easily. They donít stick very well if your door has dust on it. Besides, you want your car to look good, donít you?

5. Food and Drinking Water. Never go anywhere in the desert without water. If it's going to be hot, put a water bottle in the freezer the night before. It will provide you with cold water later in the day. For the all day events, you will want some lunch.

6. Sun block. Youíll be spending some time in the sun.

7. A good nightís sleep. Youíll be getting up early.

What to expect


During the hot summer, the SCCA autocrosses are usually held in the evening. During the cooler months, they are usually held during the day. For evening events, registration starts around 5 p.m. For day events, it usually starts at 7 a.m. Check the local SCCA website for details - http://www.lvrscca.org (thatís for Las Vegas Region SCCA). You want to get there as early as possible so you can walk the course as many times as you can. But they donít always have the course ready on the early morning starts, so I usually try to get there a half hour after registration starts.

Registration

When you arrive, park somewhere in the pit area where the other cars are parked. I usually look for other Corvettes and park near them if possible.



Marvinís and Michaelís Vettes parked together in the pits.

Then, find the registration table and get registered. You can pre-register on-line at the SCCA website. This saves you some time.

First you will sign an insurance release, then you get a wristband that you get to wear all day. Then you fill out the registration card, or, if you pre-registered, they have a card for you thatís preprinted. Give someone your entry fee (varies depending on location, but it's usually around $40 for non-SCCA members, $30 for SCCA members). Theyíll initial the card to show that youíve paid. If you autocross often, you will want to get a permanent number. If you donít have one, theyíll assign a car number for you just for the day. Theyíll give you two pieces of paper with the number on it. Itíll usually be a three digit number starting with ď6,Ē like ď610.Ē Theyíll also give you some small letters. These indicate the class in which you will be racing. Here is how to figure out what class you should be in. If your car is stock, not modified like Marvinís car, then the second letter will be an ďS.Ē The first letter roughly corresponds to the power of your car. For Corvettes, it's divided up by year as follows. F = 1953 to 1962 (C1); B = 1963 to 1982 (C2, C3); A= 1984 to 1996 and ZR1 (C4); S = 1997 + (C5, C6). The exception is the C6 Z06, which is in ASP. If you are a man, you will only have the two letters. If you are a lady, you can run in the menís, or Open class if you want, but if youíre racing in the Ladies class, (and most of us do) youíll have a third letter following the first two - an ďL.Ē Thereís also a Novice class. If you are new to autocrossing, you can add an ďNĒ to your class designation. It doesnít matter for our club which class you run in, but if you want to have a chance to win an SCCA award, you should be in the Ladies class if youíre a lady or Novice if you are a newbie.


Kathy has a C5, so she is in SSL. She has taped on paper numbers.


Marvin and I autocross often so we have permanent assigned numbers. 
Marvinís car has permanent painted on numbers and my car is decked out in vinyl removable numbers. 
Heís in the SM2 class, which is Street Modified. I was ASL, because I had a stock C4 and I'm a lady.

Hand your registration card to the person sitting at a laptop computer at the end of the table. She enters your info into the computer then hands you your card. OK, youíre all registered with SCCA.Find the LVCA host and sign our clubís waiver and pay the LVCA event fee. The number of trophies awarded depends on how many people enter.

Tech

Now youíre almost ready for your Technical Inspection. Or as the regulars say it, ďYouíre ready to get teched.Ē First, though, you need to put your numbers on your car. Somewhere at the edge of the course is the timing trailer.

There should be some masking tape there that you can use to tape the numbers onto your car.

In this photo, they have blue and lime green. Sometimes there are other colors. Pick whichever color looks best on your car. Roll off a length of tape and take it to your car. Do not take the tape dispenser to your car. Other drivers will be using it, too. If there is a long tech line, you could put your numbers on while you are waiting in line.

They usually have the Tech inspections in the grid area. Just look around for a small sign that says ďTechĒ and some cars lined up. The cars at the head of the line will have their hoods up.

Drive your car around and get in line. When you are the first or second car in line, or a tech inspector (guy with a clipboard and orange t-shirt) tells you, get out and open up your hood. Hand your registration card to the tech inspector. Have your helmet handy; he'll want to look at it, too.

What they look for
They look under the hood and make sure your battery isnít loose. They grab your tires and make sure they have some tread and arenít loose. They check your seatbelts to make sure they work. Sometimes they check your brakes and throttle, too. They look into your helmet to make sure it is Snell approved and new enough. If you still have some loose stuff in your car, which is normal at this point, they may remind you to take if out before you run.

After they inspect your car and everythingís OK, theyíll put a little round sticker on your windshield on the driverís side with a number on it. The number is the event number. Leave it on there until you are completely done racing for that day or the weekend, if it is a two-day event. If youíre racing on a Saturday and Sunday, and you passed tech on Saturday, you donít have to re-tech on Sunday.

After you are teched, park your car back in the pit area.

Walking the course
Ok, now itís time for some exercise! Find the Start line. It will look something like thisÖ

Öonly the cars wonít be there yet. If the Start sign hasn't been put up yet, look for two black boxes set up so you can drive between them. There should be two sets of them, one at the start and one at the finish. If you've spotted the two sets of black timing boxes, but still don't know which way to go, either watch other people to see in which direction they are walking, or ask someone. On weekends when they have racing on Saturday and Sunday, they usually make a couple of small changes to the course, then reverse the whole thing. So it could be run in either direction.

Walk the course. Thereíll be cones that you will drive between showing you which way to go. There may be a stripe of chalk or flour more or less connecting the cones. If you're there early, they may still be working in that part. Just follow the course around. Ideally, you want to memorize the course so youíll know whatís coming up next when you are driving it. Memorize it in sections. Note what you do first after leaving the start line. Do you go straight for a bit or is there a sharp curve right away? Are there any U turns? If you see a single row of cones, this is a slalom (like in downhill skiing or weave poles in agility). You will go in and out of the cones. Watch for places where you will be able to swing wide for a curve and watch out for places where you will have to turn sharper. Sometimes pointer cones show you which way to go.


These cones indicate a sharp left turn. Note the chalk line connecting them.

 
Double cones tell you to drive in between them.
Sometimes the outside cones will be laying down pointing toward the opening.

Itís helpful to walk the course with someone who has autocrossed before, but donít interrupt them if they are concentrating. They're trying to memorize the course, too. Remember that when you're walking, it goes much slower and your head is higher than when you're in your car driving it. It will look a little different once youíre behind the wheel.

They sometimes have a Novice walk before the driverís meeting. Theyíll announce this over the loud speaker. Youíll get lots of useful info during these walks. I highly recommend them.

Driverís Meeting
When you register, ask what time the driverís meeting will be held or check the schedule on-line. Then when you're walking the course, listen for the announcement on the loudspeaker, or if you're too far away on the other end of the course to hear that, watch for people gathering around the timing trailer. Then go join them. If you joined the Novice walk, the meeting will start shortly after you return.

 
Gathering around the timing trailer for the driverís meeting.

 

Listen carefully. Theyíll give you useful information regarding the dayís activities. The piece of information that everyone is most eagerly awaiting is the run order. Typically, the computer will divide everyone up into two to four groups, depending on how many cars are racing. One group will run, one group will work, and the remaining group(s) will rest. Then for the next heats, they will switch positions. Theyíll announce the run groups and assigned grids by reading off the classes for each group. So listen carefully. Know what your class is, probably either SSL or ASL (SS or AS for the men) and listen for it. If you miss it, donít fret. They tape a piece of paper onto the outside of the trailer and you can look at it to find your group.

Go get your car and drive it around to the appropriate grid area. If youíre resting first, find a good spot to watch. A good spot will usually consist of shade and a good view. I usually move to a few different spots throughout the heat to get views of different parts of the course. You can also look to see who is racing while you're resting and ask if you can ride along with them. You will need to wear your helmet. This is a great way to get the feel for the course. (NCCC autocrosses don't allow passengers to ride along.) If youíre working first, just step up to the timing trailer. The ďWorker GuruĒ will take your name and assign you a position. Thatís right, this is a work/run event. If you want to run, you have to work.

Working

The job that most folks get, because they need lots of them, is course worker. You pick up cones when the cars knock them over. There will be around six stations with two to four people at each station. Each station will have a fire extinguisher, a radio, a red flag, safety vests and extra cones. One person uses the radio and the flag. The other folks will be the runners. The most important thing to remember out there is to pay attention to the cars on the course! You should be in a position where no cars will be sliding around a corner into you. When I first get to my station, I look at the course and notice where the cars will be coming toward me, if at all. There are usually at least two cars on the course at one time so you could have one going by on one side and another going by on the other side at the same time. Talk to your station buddy(s) and decide which side you will watch and which side she will watch. Your job is to watch to see if the drivers knock over any cones and if they go the wrong way around a cone. If a driver knocks a cone over or out of the chalk box drawn around it, the driver gets a two second penalty. The radio person will tell the trailer and the runner will go put the cone back in the box. Make sure you have time to do it before the next car comes by. If you donít have time, wait until the next car passes. If they go the wrong way around a cone, or miss a cone, they get a DNF, a Did Not Finish. This run doesn't count. If someone spins out, but doesnít knock over any cones and gets back on course right where they left it without missing any cones, thatís ok. They wonít have a very fast time, but they do finish. Click here for a more in-depth description of the duties of a course worker.

Watch for cars that may exceed that limit we talked about earlier. If a car is skidding, chances are, they are out of control. If the car is coming toward you, the driver probably wonít be able to change directions to avoid you. Donít try to out run the car. Itís faster than you are. Simply get out of the way, kind of like a bull fighter. Step (or run) perpendicular to the carís path.

Being out on the course also gives you a chance to see how other drivers handle certain parts of the course. For instance, you might get to see where they cut corners too sharply and which direction they take the slaloms (that is, start on the right or the left of the first cone). But donít forget your job while you are watching their technique.

Other jobs are timing person (writes down the times on a piece of paper and gives it to the drivers after they cross the finish line), grid (makes sure drivers and passengers have seatbelts on, they have been teched, directs traffic in grid), starter (waves the green flag to start cars), radio person in trailer (talks to course workers on radio). There are also the people who work registration and tech, the announcers, the course designer, and others.

Racing

When itís your time to drive make sure your loose items are out of your car. Have your helmet on and seatbelt buckled and cinched tight. They recommend that you run with your windows down. You donít want your air conditioner on. It will strain your engine. If itís really hot out, just turn it off when you move up to the starting line. Donít forget, though. Turn it off if your engine starts getting too hot while you are waiting to run. Traction control and active handling should be off. After the car ahead of you leaves, the flag person will signal you to move up. She will signal you to stop when you are up far enough. When itís time for you to start racing, she will wave the green flag. And youíre off!

There are pairs of black boxes at the start line and finish line one on either side of the lane. When you pass the first set of boxes, the start line, your time will start. Thereís no reaction time involved here. Just go whenever youíre ready after youíre green flagged.

Follow the course, trying to remember whatís up next so youíll be ready for it. ďKeep ahead of your car.Ē In other words, keep looking ahead.

If you see a course worker waving a red flag, stop immediately. Come to a complete stop. Youíll most likely see a car on the course up ahead not moving or moving slowly. When they are out of the way and/or the course workers signal you to proceed, just drive the rest of the course at a normal speed. Go ahead and drive the rest of the course. If you pull out and bypass the cones, you miss an opportunity to set the course more firmly in your mind by driving it slowly. You also need to drive between the finish timing boxes so the computer will know you're done. Otherwise, the timing people will have to reset the computer clocks.

After you cross the finish line, the second set of black boxes, slow down and drive up to the timing person. She will hand you a piece of paper. Thatís your time. Save those pieces of papers so you'll know how you're doing. The LVCA event host will most likely get a printout of the results from the timing people at the end of the day.

Remember, all the other competitors who are not LVCA members are trying to get the fastest time possible. Donít be discouraged if your time is slower than theirs. Theyíve been doing it a lot longer than you and we are only trying for matching time. Of course, you can try for speed if you want. In fact, I highly recommend it. Thatís how you find out what your car can do. (I figure if I go as fast as I can, then next time, if I go as fast as I can again, Iíll have similar times!) If you are going for speed, DRIVE YOUR OWN RACE. Donít try to go faster than the other guy; just try to go faster than your last run.

Now drive back to the grid to the same row as before. Repeat as necessary. How many runs you get in will vary due to several factors - how many drivers are racing, how long/fast the course is, if they got started on time, if they had trouble with the computer, etc. Typically itís from 3 to 5 runs. Then everyone switches places and the next group gets to run.

After all heats have been completed on the all day event, itís lunchtime. Sometimes they stop for lunch, but usually they keep racing and you get to eat during your rest break.

The afternoon session usually goes a little faster. Not everyone stays for both sessions, so you have less people running. Once again, the number of heats depends on the same variables as before. If there are significantly less folks, you may get more runs in than in the morning. Itís included in your entry fee, so go for it. If you can't make it to the morning session, but get there before the afternoon session starts, you can register and run just the afternoon session.

After all of the runs are done, if itís the last day of racing for the weekend, the workers who worked the last heat help by picking up the cones on their way in. They just stack them into multiple stacks, and then a truck goes out to pick them up. Thatís it. Youíre done. Sometimes they post the times for the morning runs on the outside of the timing trailer. You can check with the Racerís Edge person in charge or compare notes with your fellow LVCA competitors to see if you won.

Now you can take the numbers and the tech sticker off your car. Make sure you have everything you came with. Now go home. Or out to eat with the gang so you can talk about what a great day you had!

In a couple of days or so, the results will be posted on the SCCA website along with photos taken by their own photographers.

How can you go faster?

If you arenít happy with just having matching times and want to go faster, there are a few things you can do without beefing up your car. First, thereís that thing about keeping ahead of the car. It really works. Go on the novice walk for some pointers about how to handle different sections of the course. Ride with one of the expert drivers. Get one of the expert drivers to ride with you. Adjust your tire pressure. Take a driving class from SCCA. Check their website for the schedule. The most important thing you can do to decrease your time is to increase your ďseat time.Ē In other words, practice!

Dangers

Well, hereís that heading again. Everything you do has some danger involved. If you skid or spin out, most likely you will only hit cones, but it is possible to hit a curb at the edge of the parking lot, or in the case of some parking lots, you could hit a light pole. The courses are usually designed for this to not happen, though. The main danger with this type of event is when you are a course worker. When you first get out there, look to see where the cars will be going near you. At what point are they coming toward you? Will they be coming around a corner where, if they spin out, they will come right at you? If so, donít stand there! Talk about it with the other workers at your station. If anyone thinks that place might not be safe, check with the Safety Steward and find another place nearby where you can still run to the cones quickly. Course workers do occasionally get hit, although the local SCCA has a clean record. Just pay attention. Keep an eye on the cars out there. If you see a car starting to slide, call out to your station mates. They may be looking the other way at a different car. If your car starts to slide while youíre driving, let up on the gas and steer into the skid. Donít slam on your brakes.

Oh, yeah, another danger is sun burn. Remember to put on that sun block. And drink that water you brought.

I hope weíll see you out there!

http://www.corvettesnccc.org/surreyautox.doc
http://www.tunnellracing.com/advice.html

http://www.tunnellracing.com/handbook.html

Now get out there and have fun!

Happy Racing!
Cathy Wilson
Lady's Racer's Edge Champion 2004 & 2005


All photos by Cathy Wilson, except the one of Kathy Clapp in her yellow C5, which was probably taken by Greg Clapp.

Click here for the SCCA Autocross Guidelines for LVCA