Contributed by Jerry Bradbury
It's Sunday morning, early. Normal people are still snoozing, hours away from wakefulness. So what am I doing in the kitchen loading carbs? There's a Sports Car Club of America sanctioned Autocross today at the Oakland Coliseum and the track walk is at 7:30. I can see you shaking your head. “Oh, what now? Zooming around a racetrack wasn't good enough for you? More racing you need? Or is this going to be another car control and safety rant?” Relax. No drama. It's just fun.
I am a clueless novice so I show up a little early and try to find someone to answer my questions. Maybe this guy in the red MINI? Nope, he's some kind of official here and too busy for me. He lets me park next to his car, though. Tony takes me under his wing and tells me way more than I ever wanted to know about what to do, where to go, how to drive, when to think and so on. Brian shows up with his red Cooper S, tricked out with every go fast goodie MiniMania makes: anti-sway bars, coil over shocks, Typhoon air induction, scoop extender and a bunch more I can't remember. For his pains and my JCW kit, we both get dumped into the STX class. It's not even a real SCCA class. It's where they put cars they don't know how to classify yet, like our Cooper S's, and a gaggle of Subaru WRX's and a stray Mazda MX6 that may have gotten lost on its way to the airport. The other Cooper is in H Stock and the two classic mini's are in D Prepared (they've been prepared for racing, you see). As the day wears on, it becomes apparent that classes mean next to nothing, it's the time through the course that counts, and everybody wants fast time of the day.
So what's this about, you ask? (Auto-X vets can skip this paragraph) Before dawn a motor home pulls into the Coliseum's south parking lot and starts dropping off hi-viz orange safety cones. Course workers begin to lay them out in a pattern that will become a short road course around the parking lot. A baseball line marking cart lays chalk lines along both sides of the road and everybody here grabs a map and begins to troop along the course, looking at the corners, trying to figure out where to accelerate, where to brake, and what the fastest line around is going to be. Electronic traps are set up at the start and finish lines. There's a drivers' safety meeting. The first group is staged, helmets are cinched tight and the cars begin to roll up to the starting line. One by one, they are green flagged and off they go, trying to be the fastest around this tight 2nd gear course without going off or hitting any cones. Autocross courses are designed to reward agility and smoothness rather than raw speed. It's all over in less than a minute, which is how 244 cars can complete 3 runs through the course in one day. But that 50 some odd seconds is full bore, take it to the limit, smoke them tires, spin that Mustang, kill them cones, all out road warrior type pedal to the metal action. Did I mention the adrenaline rush? The zen-like demand for total concentration? And off track, the willingness of perfect strangers to nod tolerantly while you rave about your braking point in turn 1? The shell game of trying to find out what the best tire pressure is for your car? The thrill that runs through the crowd when a screaming yellow trailer queen of a Lotus Elise, all stripped and prepped for serious racing rolls in? Want to make friends fast? Ask any driver any question about his/her car and then listen while their eyes sparkle and their hands zoom through the air. Instant pals.
Like I said, it's fun.
We didn't do that well. Sad Arthur and I took a Sunday drive around the parking lot the first time at something over 57 seconds. Next time we managed to lose 4 seconds but ran up on that durn wheelspin again. Third run was a 52 and change. I need more practice. BPAGO (Brian) beat me by 2 seconds. Fastest time of the day was 42.564 turned by a kid up on a Rotax engined go-kart. See, that's the beauty of Autocross – it's pure grassroots, run what you brung. It could be a go-kart or the family SUV, super tweaked or showroom stock. The idea is to be safe, be fast and have fun. So I did.
Interested? There's an autocross near you.