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Autocross - Not the Place to Learn?

Automotive Industry News : Features and Editorials Last Updated: Aug 16th, 2006 - 11:01:00

Autocross - Not the Place to Learn?
By Dezoris - M. Sanew
Jul 22, 2004, 22:04

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Autox or Autocross has been around forever.  You can talk to some old car nuts and they will tell you they have been there and done that.  Although it's been around a long time, the awareness level has only just reached an all time high.  This may be due to advertising or just the increase in lower cost performance cars flooding the market.  Seven years ago most people would have laughed if you had said that in future the biggest turn out at most autocrosses would be Subarus.

In today’s world we have manufacturers giving away free memberships for SCCA with the purchase of their vehicles.  Advertising, movies and the media have helped spark the car scene and aftermarket to an all time high. As the profits rise and the streets are flooded with ever higher horsepower machines for even less money, where can today’s buyers take their cars to learn a thing or two?

I would agree with most people that autox is one of the best outlets.  However when it comes down to it, is it really?

After watching, competing and following coverage around the US, I can see that registration numbers are up at events all over the country.  Herein lies a problem.  The way the average autocross event is structured allows for a large number of registrations.  In turn this helps to offset the expensive costs of site rental and insurance.  Most of the people involved in racing as a hobby are bailing out of larger venues because there is less driving and more work.

Work??? Yes, work!  At the last few SCCA events I attended it was not uncommon for people to work two heats, in most cases totaling 3-4 hours of working the course, while there were only 5-7 minutes of actual driving time.  I checked around and it seems that this is becoming more common with larger groups.

I spoke with a beginner auto crosser who looked forward to coming out to a Midwestern TSSCC event last year at Miller Park.  He was willing to offer a few comments for this piece.

Q. Greg, what brought you out here today?

A. Well I just bought my Mazda Speed Protégé and really wanted to see what it could do. I had fun on the street but I could not really drive it how I wanted it.

Q. What do you think of the event so far?

A. Everyone is cool, and so far everyone from TSSCC was great but there are too many people, it's too hot and I wound up working for 2 hours this morning and I am ready to go home.

Q. Well is it not worth it to get out here and run your car?

A. Not really, I don't know the course, I walked it but it’s not like driving it, and I wasted my first 3 runs learning it. Now I have to wait another 2 hours before I can run again.

Q. Are you going to come back to another event?

A. Maybe if there were not 120 people at the next one.

I followed up with Greg for this year's events. He seems reluctant to try again, because at a second autox he attended he worked the course for 4 hours while other people were not working at all.  However it seemed that there were more than enough people at the event to pitch in.

He also showed great concern about the amount of hype on the net and in the media concerning companies voiding warranties for auto crossing.

I respected his opinion and continued with my season until the last event I attended with Milwaukee SCCA group.  Now I have been to countless autocrosses with many vehicles, however I could not seem to remember one where I was so tired and burned out.  The result was that I did not drive well that day.  I had brought with me a long time veteran with his Miata, which is a project car. Things started with the tech inspection where he passed but was given a lecture on the state his car and his helmet being Snell95. I questioned why his car was given a 10 minute scrutinizing but my car had passed tech without even a look under the hood or at my helmet.  Comments continued from other drivers and event staff about his car and its condition. 

The car is not pretty but after 190,000 original miles it is a triumph to the longevity of the Miata. It is safe and street legal and he runs in stock class.

They told him that next time he had better have it cleaned up because they didn't want junk running out there.

After all the comments and the long day it turned out that now I was one of the people pulling a double shift. To add injury to insult I moved my car out of grid for the day and grabbed some water and food. Then my name was repeatedly called over the PA to work for the second time. I'd had more feet time and sun burn than I paid for and wound up working nearly three and a half hours at that event.  With more than a hundred and thirty people in attendance, I wondered exactly why I was working two heats, when I'd never had to before with other clubs?  The people I talked about this were equally as frustrated but they just kept saying it was all part of the event.

Case and point, but seat time may mean different things to different people. However, most people would not consider paying for an event where they spent only five to seven minutes  behind the wheel and two to four hours working.  B theyut are gaining the valuable experience that most people speak of when the word autox is thrown around.

I have mentioned this to both organizers and long time die hard members and have been told  "that if you don't like it you don't have to come."  Well that's true and it may well be the way that these events will lose their numbers. 

Other people like Greg above may be interested but turned off to the big autox clubs because of experiences like these.  So just where can they go?

One of the better places I have found is:


Tuners can search their local area for smaller clubs with lower numbers, as well as driving schools.  You can also look for local clubs not directly associated with the bigger guys. What most people will find is a more laid back atmosphere. Many of the people who have been doing it for a long time seem to migrate over to these clubs because of their laid back atmosphere and the lack of a cut throat competitive edge.

So in the end is autox the best place for seat time and learning?

Yes and no.  Some clubs and venues are worthless for this, while others are geared toward the smaller laid back crowd. Overall the best place for seat time is in a test and tune or a drivers' school hosted by an autox club. And for that filler, the driver can always hit the smaller autox events just to keep things interesting.

 Dezoris - M. Sanew


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