What is an Autocross event?
Autocross/Solo II events are low to medium speed auto racing events; they are often run on parking lots and airport runways, although street events and events at Go Kart tracks sometimes take place. Generally a course will be defined using traffic cones. One driver at a time negotiates a course laid out with the cones, or pylons, testing their skill against the clock. Time penalties are charged for disturbing cones. In most regions, the penalty is 2 seconds per cone, although in some places it may be 1 second.
There is an upper speed guideline for Solo II which is intended to keep speeds in a domain that most drivers might have encountered on the streets and highways; the fastest cars at a Solo II should not get much over 70mph.
Generally, each driver takes three or four runs at an event. A driver is awarded the best time of all runs taken.
Are there other names for Autocross?
Solo II is the term the SCCA (Sports Car Club of America) uses to refer to SCCA-sanctioned autocross events.
Gymkhana was the term used in much of the USA during the sixties. Now the term "gymkhana" as used in the USA usually connotes a gimmick event wherein drivers have to do odd things.
Autoslalom is the term used in Canada.
Most autocrossers are driving/racing enthusiasts who enjoy motorsports competition. In fact, a large percentage of participants do not even own a "racecar"! They race the car they drive on the street. Some autocrossers are serious road race drivers who want to practice technique. Most are like you and me: laypeople with an itch for speed!
Autocross is an inexpensive, safe way to experience racing. It helps you discover your car's capabilities and limitations, making you a better, safer driver on the road. And it develops your own driving ability. Many would-be race drivers use it as a jump point into the sport of road racing. But probably the greatest thrill of autocross is the challenge of beating your own time. It's fun!
How much does it cost?
Costs vary widely around the country. Typical cost for a single day event is probably ten or twenty dollars. The sponsoring club has expenses like site rental and insurance. Costs for insurance are not insignificant in lawsuit-happy America. Keeping safe courses and speeds is important to the survival of the sport.
How do I join in the fun?
It costs almost nothing to start autocrossing, and since other cars are not on the course with you, there is almost no risk of damage to your car. To get started, just go to your nearest event. Ask questions, and if you brought your car with you, you might even be able to register and race right then and there! To find out where your nearest event is, subscribe to the mailing list, and post a message with the subject line "Hometown, State Events?" You should get at least one lead.
Can I watch for free? Can I bring a friend?
Autocrosses do not typically charge for spectators. Just go. You may be asked to sign an insurance waiver.
Do I have to join some club?
Membership in the organizing club is required in some places, but not necessary at most of the local events in the country. Check with the sponsoring club. However, membership has its benefits; event fee discounts, newsletter subscriptions, etc.
Do I need an SCCA license?
For autocross/Solo II events, no SCCA licence is necessary.
At the regional level, Solo II is very much a grassroots sport, but a few large SCCA Regions (San Francisco for one) require SCCA membership to participate. Check with your sponsoring club. At the Divisional and National level, drivers must be SCCA members> to compete.
What kind of car do I need?
Almost any car (or truck) will do, as long as it passes the tech inspection. Certain "tippy" vehicles such as Jeep Wranglers or Suzuki Sidekicks are not allowed because of the increased risk of rollover. People autocross everything from modified Porsches to stock Toyota Tercels to Lincoln Town Cars!
What are some guidelines of etiquette that I should follow?
Here are some dos and don'ts for autocrossers, rookies and veterans alike.
What do I need to bring?
If your car is stock, and you intend to race it on your street tires, all you really need is your car, ahelmet, a tire pressure gage, and your entry fee. (Loaner helmets are usually available, and you can probably borrow a gage.) The very first time you go, you will probably want to bring some of the stuff listed in this checklist. Some people like to be prepared for anything. ("Do you have a welder I can borrow?") Depending on your involvement in the sport, your needs will vary.
Check out this CHECKLIST compiled by Mike Cormack. There is much advice to be gained from Team.Net! Several of these items are hypertext links to some of that advice regarding that item.
What kind of helmet do I need?
For Solo II, SCCA and most autocrossing organizations require any helmet with a Snell M or SA sticker from the current, and two immediately preceding standards. In 2002, that would be Snell 2000, Snell 1995, or Snell 1990. The helmet can be full face, open face, or open with a chin guard.
M = Motorcycle. These are more commonly available and less expensive. Purported to be designed for one big hit. May have more padding on top, I don't know. You can buy an open-face in the USA for as little as $75. Not required by governments as a standard.
SA = Special Applications. A different, ostensibly more severe, standard than M. The helmet is supposed to be rated for multiple impacts and also must have a fireproof liner. Rumor has it that many manufacturer's helmets differ between M and SA only by having the fireproof liner, for which the price goes up at least $100. Since motorcyclists and snowmobilers are unlikely to purchase these things, they are made in smaller numbers, not as commonly available and much less likely to be seen in local shops at low prices.
The USA Department of Transportation has their own, less severe, standard called, not surprisingly, DOT. I think the standard is called Z.90.1.B. SCCA Solo II does not permit helmets with only the government standard Z.90.1.B. Snell tests for the effects of non-standard coatings like stickers and new paint on the helmet material, but the Z.91.B standard does not include these tests.
Pay special attention to fit. The helmet should not be so tight it brings on headache, but it should not rattle, either. Put it on and shake your head. Your skin should travel with the helmet. The idea is that your head does not get a running start before hitting the padding.
Who will I be competing against?
Your car will be grouped in a class of comparably equipped cars to make for relatively fair competition. If you are a novice, some events will report handicapped times so you can see how you fared against other novices no matter what they drove.
What are the different classes of competition?
These cars are fairly close to cars that are driven on the street, and are usually dual purpose automobiles. Permitted modifications include any DOT-approved tire, any shock that attaches to the stock mounting points, any exhaust from the catalytic converter back (subject potentially to local sound control), any brake pads, any front sway bar, any wheels of stock dimensions and offset, and addition of a race harness.
Cars prepared to Road Racing Showroom Stock rules are permitted to run in Stock, but are not permitted to "mix" rules between the two classes.
The stock class is split up into sub-classes organized by performance. They are lettered A thru H, in an approximate order of descending performance. There is also a class called Super Stock (SS). Examples of cars in A-Stock (AS) include: Porsche 911's, Turbo MR2's, etc. The most populated class appears to be C-Stock (CS), which includes Miatas and many BMW's. At other end of the spectrum, H-Stock (HS) includes cars with relatively low power-to-weight ratios like the Toyota Tercel and Honda Accord. F-stock is a class that is generally populated with the "pony cars" such as Camaros, Firebirds, and Mustangs.
Street Touring (ST)
This is a new category of street cars modified more broadly than allowed by Street Prepared rules. It includes 4-seater sedans with specific displacement limits, aimed at cars modified using common suspension, engine, and appearance parts which are fully legal and compatible with street use anywhere in the country. Street Tires are required (DOT wear rating of 140 or better).
Street Prepared (SP)
Street Prepared cars are allowed significant modifications over stock, but many are still dual-purpose cars. Some of the permitted modifications are: any legal modification in stock; any springs that fit stock attachements; any sway bars; any wheels & DOT-approved tires; any induction for the engine (except that cars that were originally normally aspirated must remain normally aspirated); and any exhaust including headers. Compression ratio and camshafts in the engine must remain stock.
Cars prepared to Road Racing Improved Touring and American Sedan rules are permitted to run in Street Prepared, but as with Showroom Stock, rules "mixing" is strictly prohibited.
Prepared cars are allowed very substantial modifications; Prepared cars are rarely licensed for street use. Interiors may be gutted, cams and pistons are free, and suspensions may be significantly modified.
Cars prepared to Road Racing GT and Production rules are permitted to run in Prepared.
Street Modified (SM)
Street Modified is a new category for streetable cars modified beyond Street Prepared allowances. The rules are simple, and almost anything goes. Cars must be legally registered for the street
The Modified category is split into parts. A, B, and C Modified consist of purpose-built racing cars, usually Formula Cars, Sports Racers, or "Specials". Usually these are open-wheel, single-seat cars without fenders.
D and E Modified are for very heavily modified production cars. In these classes, basically anything goes except that you must retain the original floorpan and driveline layout (a front-engined car cannot become a rear-engined car). D Modified is for cars with engines less than 2 liters, and E Modified is for cars with engines greater than 2 liters.
Most clubs offer a separate class in which women can compete in addition to the overall competition. This is signified by the letter L being added to the classification on the car. For example, CSP-L.
Street Tire (ST)
Many clubs offer a separate class in which cars fitted with street tires (as opposed to Racing based, or R- tires) can compete in addition to the overall competition. Cars from any, or at least most, open classes compete together and their times are handicapped using some indexing scheme. A common index is the RTP/PAX index, and this sort of indexing is sometimes called PAXing. This is signified by the letter ST being added to the classification on the car. For example, CSP-ST.
Novice (N) aka Rookie (R)
Again, most clubs offer a separate class in which newcomers can compete in addition to the overall competition. This is signified by the letter N being added to the classification on the car. For example, FS-N. Most clubs also rank the novices' driving performance using a handicap-like system that tries to account for differences in car performance.
How should I prepare my car for a race?
Your car should be well maintained at the very least. Keep up with oil/fluid changes, brake inspections, valve adjustments, etc. One particularly important part is the timing belt. Make sure it has been changed within the recommended service period. The high revs your engine will experience in a run are likely more than an old belt can take. Check your fluid levels.
Clean out your car. Remove everything that you won't need, and take out everything you brought with you before you race. As part of the tech inspection, officials will make sure there won't be anything flying around your cabin while you're on the course. You also might want to wash your car and the engine compartment if you haven't done so in months. Embarassing!
Just before you get to the autocross site, stop at a service station and pump up your tires to 42 psi or so. It sounds high, but you will need extra air in those tires to prevent them from rolling over onto the sidewalls during hard cornering. When you get to the site, as a novice you might ask someone who looks like (s)he knows what (s)he is doing how much air you'll probably need. Then let out the air until you've achieved that pressure. It's easier to let air out than to pump it in! (Some events provide air via a compressor or air tank/bubble.)
What do I do when I get there?
Most areas have a similar procedure for participating in an event. Ask anyone to help you if you don't have a clue. Try to ask someone that doesn't look extremely busy at the moment, and you'll probably get the most attentive assistance. The most important thing you need to do, though, isARRIVE.
What is a "Fun Run"?
Fun runs are non-competition runs, generally available at a reduced cost after all competition runs have been completed. Fun run policy varies widely from region to region as to availability, cost, passengers, and eligibility.
Cost can be anywhere from free to full entry price (essentially allowing a driver to enter twice), and in some regions, fun run drivers are expected to stay and help break down the course.
Usually both driver and passenger (if any) must be eligible to be regular entrants: valid drivers license, signed waiver, helmet, and seat belts. Cars must also have passed tech.
As far as passengers, the rule book says you only allow passengers in a "school" situation, where a novice is paired with an experienced driver to aid in his learning process. This receives various interpretations. In some regions passengers are only allowed in real solo schools. In some, passengers are approved on a case-by-case basis, always with an experienced driver in one of the seats. In others, experienced drivers are allowed to ride with or drive novice drivers around at their own judgement. Often, media types or potential new members will be given a ride with an experienced driver to acquaint them with the sport. Rarely, if ever, will a region allow two novices in the car during competitive or fun runs.
What is a tech inspection?
A mandatory pre-race safety inspection of your car.
What can I expect at a tech inspection?
Cars are checked for safety at each event before your first run. Generally, this task falls to an experienced autocross driver and the inspection is friendly. Your car must have a working seat belt, a good return spring on your throttle linkage, working brakes, a securely fastened battery, tight lug nuts, well-packed bearings, no excessive play in your suspension, and an interior free of loose articles. Street tires must have measurable tread depth and no cord showing. Any street car in reasonably good condition should pass this quick inspection without any trouble.
Often, cars are inspected ("tech'ed") at a specific tech area before being allowed on the starting grid, but occasionally cars are tech'ed on grid. Very often cars in the first run group of the day are tech'ed on grid for efficiency.
SCCA is experimenting with a program allowing experienced drivers to have their cars tech'ed annually, with re-inspection after any accident or major change to the car.
Where can I learn more about autocrossing?
There are also a few books and videotapes available about autocrossing, especially at the introductory and instructional level.
Books on Performance Driving
- "Secrets of Solo Racing", Henry A. Watts, Loki Publishing, 1989, ISBN 0-9620573-1-2
- "How to Make Your Car Handle", Fred Puhn, HPBooks, 1981, ISBN 0-912656-46-8
- "Going Faster", Skip Barber Racing School
- "Driving in Competition", Alan Johnson, Norton
- "Bob Bondurant on High Performance Driving". Bob Bondurant
- "The Front-Wheel Drive High-Performance Advantage", Jack Doo, Motorbooks International, 1988, ISBN 0-87938-298-8
About this FAQ?
This FAQ was developed by collecting information freely available from websites and years of experience in Autocross. It is consistintly being modified and added to here on SCCAForums.com.