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986 Girl 03-30-2007 07:19 AM

Intro To Autocross Minutes
I hosted an "Intro to Autocross" dinner last night, where a group of about 15 newcomers and about 10 experienced drivers came together to go over the basics of autocross. My main goal was to give Novices a heads up about events before they show up.

For those that couldn't make it, I posted a rundown of what we talked about. I figured since there had been a few people here that expressed interest, I'd throw it up here as well.

Please remember that a lot of things can differ between regions/events. But this is how the Finger Lakes Region SCCA operates.

Things You Can Do Before An Event
  • PLAN to actually attend the event. Don't decide to wake up and see how you feel that morning or you will never show up. Pre-register for an event if you can, get everything together the night before, and make sure to get enough sleep.
  • Get everything unessecary out of your car the night before so you have less to do the next morning.
  • Make sure your car will pass tech: check to make sure the battery is securely tied down, make sure your tires are in proper condition (not corded), check your brakes/brake fluid, oil level, etc.
  • Ask around for a helmet. You might know someone who has one they will let youborrow.
  • Double check the registration time, location and make sure you have directions. Every region is a little different, and you don't want to get there late.
  • Meet Marnie and I at Dunkin Donuts the morning of the event. If you don't know how to get someplace, chances are either her, I, or both of us are going. We always meet to get coffee first, so feel free to catch up with us. We will post what time we will be there before every event.

Things to Bring
  • SCCA Membership Card (for more information about membership, check out www.scca.org. Click on Members, then on Join Now! Finger Lakes Region (FLR) is region #62).
  • Drivers License
  • Entry Money
  • Pen/pencil
  • Blue painters tape or white shoe polish
  • Magnetic numbers (if you have them)
  • Helmet (if you have one)
  • Tire gauge
  • Air compressor
  • Work gloves
  • Suitable driving shoes
  • Sunglasses
  • Sunscreen
  • Chapstik
  • Hat/Visor
  • Folding chair
  • Accessories appropriate for the weather (umbrella, canopy tent, etc)
  • WATER!!
  • Lunch and snacks
  • Glass cleaner and paper towels
  • Trash bags

Morning Operations - Parking Lot
  • When you arrive at a location, do not move cones in order to enter the parking area. There will be someplace that is designated for entrance, and it will NOT be blocked off with cones. Those cones are there for a reason.
  • Find a spot that does not appear to be taken (look for items sitting at the front of the space, which could indicate that someone has already taken that spot). This will be your spot for the rest of the day.

Morning Operations - Registration
  • Registration is held at a table near the SCCA van (this is a little different for each region). You will need to bring with you your license, SCCA membership and entry fee. If you have questions, feel free to ask the people working registration!!
  • They will check your license (yes, every time), take your money (blast), and ask for your car number/class. You must also sign the waiver at registration, whether you are participating or just spectating. They will give you a wristband to wear... wear it prominently (ie, don't tuck it away in a pocket).
  • If you are at an FLR event, you will also receive a map of the course and an event sheet.

Car classification

Morning Operations - Pre Tech
  • Return to your car and begin prepping your car: Remove everything loose in the car, floormats, hats, radar detectors, things hanging from the mirror, EVERYTHING (trunks included).
  • Remove hubcaps, if you have them. Take your spare out.
  • Put numbers on your car. If you do not have numbers, get paper ones from tech and use tape to put them onto the side of your car. Alternatively, you can use white shoe polish to write numbers on your windows. Make sure you write them large enough, about 10" tall is good.
  • Add pressure to your tires, about 5lbs over stock. Do not worry about changing tire pressures for the first several events. You will never be able to tell the difference that tire pressure will make until you have a consistant driving style while on course. HOWEVER, you should be checking your tires after a run to make sure that you are not rolling onto your sidewalls. For help checking this, try putting a line of chalk where tread meets sidewall. Based on the scuff marks on that chalk, you should be able to tell how much your tire is rolling over and add enough pressure to prevent it.
  • You can buy portable air compressors for about $20 at Sears. Several of us "regulars" have the same type. If you do not have a compressor, don't be shy about asking to use someone elses.

Morning Operations - Tech
  • Look for an area where there are typically two lanes designated by cones off to one side of the parking area. This is tech. If you can't find it, it might not be open yet. Ask!
  • Pull into one of the lanes, and wait patiently for your turn. Do not leave your car.
  • Once you pull up to the front of the line, turn your car off, pop the hood and the trunk and exit the vehicle.
  • The people at tech will go around and check several things, including how well your tires/wheels are attached to the car, your battery tie down, the strength of your brake pedal, and that everything is out of the vehicle.
  • If you have a new helmet, or this is your first time, take your helmet with you to tech. They will check to make sure it is at LEAST Snell 95 and then will place a sticker on the helmet to indicate that it has passed as well. If you don't have a helmet, loaner helmets are available, and you will pick one up right before you run.
  • If you pass (which you should if you checked all this stuff the night before) they will place a sticker at the top left hand corner of your windshield (every region is a little different).
  • Get back in your car and pull back to your spot.

Morning Operations - Course Walkthrough
  • Take your map and proceed to the indicated start of the course.
  • If you can't figure the course out, ask someone if you can walk with them!
  • Walk it as many times as you can.
  • Just before drivers meeting there will be a Novice Walkthrough. ATTEND! The Novice chief and/or Instructors will lead this, and give you advice as well as answer any questions. This is highly valuable, and even though I'm not a Novice anymore, I will probably still attend.

Morning Operations - Driver's Meeting
  • ust after Novice walkthrough is the Driver's Meeting. It is NOT optional.
  • Here you will recieve a run down of the way the event is going to happen, receive the safety talk, find out a rough estimate of how many runs you are going to get, etc. They will also announce what run group will be up first, and what run group will be working first. Again, this is NOT optional.

986 Girl 03-30-2007 07:21 AM

The Event!
  • When it is your turn to run, drive SLOWLY into grid, which will be marked by cones into two or three lanes. During Novice Walkthrough you may be told that one lane will be specifically for Novices. Go into that lane! This is to help instructors know which cars are in need of them.
  • Sit patiently in your car until you are at the front of the grid. There will be a grid worker directing cars to the start line. Do not proceed until they tell you to go. Please also help make their job easier by giving a nod to the instructions they give you. By this time your helmet should be on, so it's hard for them to know if you have seen them or not.
  • Cars with multiple drivers will typically have a lane all to themselves as well. So if you see a Silver S2k on the course several times while you are still waiting in grid, do not worry. It's different drivers, and multiple-driver cars get priority in grid.
  • When it is your turn, pull up to the line until the stoplight turns red. Do not keep inching forward after it turns red. Do not be afraid to put it in reverse and back up to try again.
  • Only go when the start worker at the line tells you to go. They will be watching the car that went before you, and will wait until they reach a certain point in the course so that both cars will be safe on the course at one time. Sometimes there can be three cars on the course.
  • When the light goes green, you do not have to floor it. Your time does not start until you pass the timing lights several feet out in front of you, so you have some room to gain speed. This is not a drag strip. As you get better you will learn to perfect a launch, but your first times through don't worry about it.
  • Use your first run to learn the course. Going off course is MUCH worse than taking the course at a fairly low speed (not too slow, this isn't a sunday drive). You are not going to win with your first run, so better to figure out where you need to go and then speed up on your next runs.
  • Do not stress about hitting cones. It happens. It'll buff right out. There is a common saying, "If you aren't hitting cones, you aren't going fast enough." EVERYONE hits cones at EVERY event. If it's a choice between hitting a cone and going off course, HIT THE CONE.
  • Just for reference, hitting a cone does add 2 seconds to your time. However, going off course gives you NO time. Better to have an extra 2 seconds than to get no time.
  • If you go off course between cone 1 and 2, if you go into reverse and come back onto the course by going right back through cone 1 and 2 (ie, you don't miss a gate in the course), then you are not considered off course.
  • Also, if you go off course, do not just drive back to the parking lot by cutting the rest of the course. There are other courses running at the same time, and you could risk getting hit! Get back on course in the shortest manner possible, and finish your run.
  • You might see white chalk lines helping to indicate the correct course. You can go over these lines as much as you want and not be considered off course. They are nothing technical... they are just there to help you visualize the correct way to follow the course.
  • At the end of your run, slowly and carefully drive back to your spot in the parking lot.

  • Just before you pull up to the start line, a strange person will most likely jump into your car. Do not be afraid, this is your instructor! Yay!
  • Instructors are there because they love events, and they genuinely want to help new people. Feel free to actually TALK to your instructor. If you know that having them talking to you during a run will make you nervous, simply ask them to not talk. If you would like them to watch one certain thing while you are driving, ask them to watch that. They cannot help you unless you tell them what you need. DO NOT BE AFRAID TO TELL THEM WHAT YOU NEED.
  • If you get the chance, ask an instructor if they would drive your car for a run. Seeing what an experienced driver can do in your vehicle is AMAZING and very eye opening. This is NOT a waste of a run as it will only help you get better.

Work Shifts
  • After you park, grab your water, apply another coat of sunscreen and then report immediately to work. The longer you wait to report, the longer the people working have to be out there. And trust me, when it comes to be your time out there, you will wish people were reporting faster too, especially on the hotter days out at Seneca.
  • During the Drivers Meeting you will be told/shown who the Chief of Workers is. This is the person to report to for work. He will ask your car number/class. Tell him you are a Novice and he will pair you with an experienced worker. This is a great time to get to know another driver, so take the opportunity to talk, ask questions, etc.
  • If there is a particular place on course that you either don't understand, or want to watch other people navigate (both good and bad), ask the Chief of Workers if you can work in that area. He will do his best to get you there. It's not ALWAYS possible, but it can't hurt to try, and this is just one more thing you can do to improve your run times. You do not improve in your driving JUST from seat time alone.
  • When you get to your station there will be a radio, a red flag and possibly some extra cones. Your job is to watch cars as they go through your designated area, and call in any off courses or any cones.
  • A cone is only counted if the "Down and Out" rule applies. Around each cone's base will be a box marked in either chalk or a special type of spray paint. If a cone gets moved, and you run out there and see that the base of the cone is still touching the box in any way (even by a sliver!) it is not counted as a penalty. If the cone is completely out of the box, or if it is knocked over (regardless of if it is touching the box or not) it is a penalty and you will call that in by giving the car number, class and the number of cones. If they go off course, you will call in the car number, class and that they went off course.
  • There will almost always be two people at a work station. While one person is running for a cone, the other person, with the red flag, should be actively watching the cars on course to make sure their partner is in no danger. If at any point it looks like a car might come too close while your partner is out fixing a cone, WAVE THE RED FLAG, and wave it big. Do not hesitate to use this flag, as it is better to be safe than sorry. No one will ever yell at you for using it, unless you blatantly abuse it. You can use this flag if you see a car break on course, if a car comes to a stop for some reason, if a dog wanders on course, etc. For WHATEVER reason you feel that to be 100% safe the cars need to come to a stop, get that flag out there and wave it.
  • Alternatively, if you see someone waving a red flag, you start waving yours too no matter what. Don't spend the time to ask what might be going on, or look around the course for what the reason is. A driver that is driving correctly will most likely not see the red flag waving that is closest to him/her, because they should be looking forward in the course to know what is coming up. Therefore, they are much more likely to see the NEXT stations red flag then they are the current stations.
  • If you are on course and see a red flag being waved, come to a controlled stop wherever you are on course and wait for further instructions. DO NOT just start driving off the course as you have no idea why a red flag was waved.
  • If a red flag is waved on one of your runs, don't worry! You will get another run for free to make up for it. So sometimes seeing a red flag is to your benefit because you know that you will get to try again! This is another way to remember that being the person to wave a red flag is not going to get people pissed off at you. They are excited to get another run!
  • After a while other drivers will come to replace you. Hand off the equipment and proceed safely back to the parking lot.

Down Time
  • After your work time you will most likely have a bit of down time. There are plenty of things you can/should be doing during this time. Check your tire pressures, watch other people run, eat and drink, reapply sunscreen, etc.
  • The three best things you can be doing are watching people doing runs, asking more experienced drivers questions, and getting rides with people when they run.
  • The only people explicitely allowed to take other people for a ride with them are instructors, so remember who it was that rode with you, and ask them if you can ride with them once.
  • Non-instructors may be given the okay to give you a ride, but you MUST clear it with the safety steward, who will be introduced at the Drivers Meeting.

  • Throughout the day scores will be updated on a board near the van (varies with region).
  • Classes that are comprised of multiple types of cars (such as Novice, Road Tire, and Ladies) are ranked by PAX index. PAX is a way of comparing times between people as if they had been driving the same car. Timing and Scoring will take your run time, multiply it by your classes PAX index, and will give you a final time which will be used to figure out first, second, third, etc.
  • For a list of the PAX numbers, check out http://www.scca-chicago.com/solo/indexes/rtp2007.html

  • DO NOT just leave after your last run, the event is NOT over. Do your part and help clean up afterwards. It's nothing more than collecting cones, putting stuff into the van, etc. It's not strenuous work if more people help.
  • If you don't know what you can do, simply ask someone else that is helping.

  • After cleanup are awards. This is pretty self explanatory. Stay and appreciate the fine driving everyone has done that day!

Ronzi 03-30-2007 07:58 AM

Ahh, reading that was like a trip in the way-back machine.

I spent many a hot weekend on concrete airport aprons and asphalt parking lots autocrossing a Formula 440 and, later, a Porsche 914. I have a small pile of china cups for the effort, all of them won by my son. He showed who needed to be the driver when his first run in the 440 was 12 seconds faster than mine.

Autocrossing always struck me as about as much an exercise in course memorization as it was driving. That part of it gets easier as you gain more experience, however.

There were several SCCA national champions in this area at the time, and I always had to shake my head at how really GOOD they were at it.
Have fun.

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