First time participating in an autocross event?
Don’t worry we can walk you through everything you need to know.
Pre Event Setup
There are two things that are absolutely necessary to having a great day of autocross. You need a car and a driver. Neither of these things need to be perfect but there are a few areas where both need to be prepared for the task.
The car ….
Remember your car is your partner for the entire day. Is your partner ready for the event? All fluids on your vehicle should be checked for level and fluid life. If you are unsure what is acceptable level/life is, your factory owner’s manual is an invaluable resource. Good rule of thumb is if it’s the wrong color or smells bad it’s probably suspect. Your partner also comes with a couple of really great best friends (brakes and tires/wheels) that need a little bit of attention before heading out to the cones. When was the last time you checked in with your buddies? Proper tires/wheels and brakes are ESSENTIAL to having a good day. If any part of either of these systems are not up to extra strains of autocross it could mean the end of an otherwise great day. Check tires and pads for wear levels especially if they have not been changed recently. If some of this is lost on you any qualified mechanic or a good knowledgeable friend could help you probably for a few bucks, dinner, or a sixer. If your plan is to do this often these basic maintenance steps are absolutely necessary.
Is your car modified from its stock form? Maybe it’s time to check some stuff a little better.
Battery-properly tied down, positive terminal secure and covered to prevent shorts.
Wheel Bearing/Steering- give your wheels a good tug to be sure nothing is moving that shouldn’t be. If you feel some movement/hear some noises give these areas a good check.
Suspension- Hear any noises…look around it could be anything. Check coil over lock nuts, sway bar end links, and any adjustable points especially any metal ball joints. Did you change something recently? Nut and bolt checks are essential to keeping things working properly.
Got Boost?- Turbos/superchargers=more parts, if you have one you know that it just means more things to check and more maintenance. Check any problem areas often.
Your car needs attention but you do too! Here are a few things to make everything a little easier on yourself.
Sign Up – Make sure that you go onto www.MotorsportReg.com and let us know that you are coming to the event.
Study – Don’t worry there won’t be a test. A simple way to learn what to expect from the upcoming event is to simply search for a video or two of an autocross event. Searching for CART will almost always show you something of interest. Any autocross video will show you small clues as to what a course looks like and the different obstacles you may find in one. This can go a long way when you show up at the lot in the morning to find a sea of cones before you.
Classing - This isn’t too important for your first event but it is good to think about it earlier rather than later. At CART you always have the choice to run you first three events in our CN (CART Novice) class. After that you will be thrown to the lions in your normal CART run group. Wait you didn’t know about the lions…… CART uses our own classing system derived from the SCCA Solo classing that is most common. We have broken down these classes (found here) into groups of different classes but with similar times based on SCCA PAX. Each “C“ class contains many SCCA classes and provides a larger group possible competitors in your potential future class. Check these sites to see where your car belongs if you have questions someone will be able to assist you at registration as to where you belong.
Numbers – Odds are you might not be able to use your dream number. A perk of being a club member is the right to reserve your own number. We always try our best to accommodate if you have numbers but it’s a great idea to bring some painters tape to add/remove numbers on your door. All cars need well displayed numbers to run at our events.
Sleep!!!- Don’t spend all night in the shop before and event!! Get your car prepared early and get a good night’s sleep. Ask us how we know….. Really….. ask any of the regulars. There is a lot of new information that gets thrown at you real quick at your first autocross event. A good night’s sleep and some breakfast can only keep your brain ready for the experience.
ARRIVE EARLY. Get to the event early in the morning. Our autocross event registration starts around 8am. You’ll want time to get your bearings and see how things work. This will give you the time to tape up your car and hopefully meet a few people. Walk around and see the other cars. Look to see where the grid is. Watch what the other racers do. Absorb it all.
Once registration is announced, head over to the timing trailer. As part of your registration, you will get your work assignment and which timeframe you will assist in making sure the event runs properly. This will be shown on both a band given to you as well as a gridded sheet on the back of the timing trailer. Duties could include assisting in the pit working through the run groups, or out on the course calling in penalties and replacing cones. The work session is one hour throughout the day for everyone.
At some point, the course will open for walking. WALK IT A COUPLE TIMES. You need to get a feel for where it goes and how you want to approach each of the turns. The more familiar you are with the course, the faster you will be. We utilize a novice walkthrough. Anyone who wants to join can walk with a group led by someone with a lot of experience. The guide will talk through each of the corners and how to approach them. Just talking through the track with an experienced racer makes the time commitment worthwhile.
Once you’ve walked the course a couple times the event will begin with a driver’s meeting and safety brief. They’ll tell you what’s going on today, some important safety information, and anything else you need to know. Once finished, they ask the workers for the first heat to report to their work assignments and the event gets underway.
When you checked in they gave you a work assignment, right? If you’ve never done this before you’ll probably be on cone duty. This assignment is self-explanatory, pick up and reset the cones that get knocked over by racers. Simple, but with a few more details:
Each cone will have a little chalk box around the base. This indicates where the cone is supposed to be.
If a cone is knocked completely out of the box, grab it and return it ONLY WHEN IT IS SAFE TO DO SO. You will have to radio the cone into the timing people so they can add the penalty to the driver’s time.
If any part of the cone is still in the box, then it’s safe, no penalty.
Do all of this while making sure you don’t get hit by the next car coming around the corner. They space the cars out enough so there’s time to do this safely.
Congratulations, you know how to shag cones!
Maybe you don’t have the best ankles to be running around on. Luckily, there are other roles that need filled.
This is the fun part. When it’s your turn to race you’ll pull your car into the first run line. All our novice drivers run together at the start of the event with a CART instructor to make sure they make it through the course. Right now, the idea is to remember where you need to go to finish the course properly without any penalties.
After you will do it again in the second run line. At the end of this run, you will pull off back into the lot and park your car. It will be about an hour maybe less until your next pair of runs, specified by the flagger working through the lot. Great time to look over the car and make sure everything is good to go!
Think about how it felt and what you think you did right. Your first event isn’t about laying down the fastest speed, it’s about learning how this works and feeling it out. Eventually the flagger will come back to you, and you’ll head off on your next two runs. How many runs you get each event depends on the number of vehicles entered. Fewer competitors, more runs. At your first event just try to improve your personal time with each run.
As the day comes to an end, there will be an award ceremony for the winners in each class. If you won, congratulations! If you didn’t win, congratulations on making it out to your first event. There’s no doubt that autocross can feel intimidating, especially for first timers, but it gets easier.
Autocross is a great way to experience the capabilities of your car. It gives you the chance to safely understand how it handles, accelerates, and stops. Better still, it offers the chance to meet other people who are as into cars as you are. Don’t be afraid to meet folks and ask questions.