Sunday, April 25, 2010

Auto Racing. For The Rest Of Us.

Back here I wrote about my unintended acquaintance with the Sports Car Club of America or SCCA. Today I attended my first SCCA event held at the Majestic Star Casino parking lot on the Indiana Lake Michigan shoreline.

My intent was not to race but to see what this is all about. I like what I saw despite the intermittent rain showers. These guys race rain or shine.

It’s generically referred to as Autocross but as a ‘brand’ the SCCA calls it Solo because it is more or less a time trial since you race against the clock, not other autos.

These activities amount to organized do-it-yourself affordable auto racing events for the unwashed masses. Take a large slab of asphalt, design a course then mark it off with orange cones and chalk. They use laser-timing devices that measure to 100th of a second. Autos are placed in class categories depending on wheelbase, body style, seat arrangement, horsepower and degree of modification for the more serious types.

When I arrived there were cars ranging from a Porsche Cayman S to a 1964 VW Beetle gathered in a makeshift paddock area. One enthusiast had a large RV and a trailer containing a competition Corvette. Someone told me the guy was an original founding member of this local club. He also has deep pockets.

All were auto racing enthusiasts from many backgrounds who just want to race even if their ride is a four door Dodge Neon that was probably driven to the grocery store by the wife that morning.

After wandering around for some time I met up with Charlie, the guy I met a few weeks ago who talked me into checking this out. He’s my age and is also a Mazda owner so we have something in common. We walked the course in what is called a novice walk where a guy named Jeff explained how to read the cones that mark the course. At first glance there are cones haphazardly strewn about. Soon I learned the secret symbolism. A standing cone with another nearby on its side marks an apex, pointing the direction to turn. Multiple cones lying down pointing in one direction was another navigational aid. There were a lot of turns and two slalom sections but not much one would call a straightaway.

What I found odd is that nobody knew how long the course was. But they told me times would be anywhere in the 50-60 range. Most cars would not be going over 50 mph so we’ll just call it a mile. Another discovery, most drivers would not go beyond second gear. Each registered participant would get 6-8 runs and the fastest time would be their rank for the day.

Charlie told me to bring a helmet. All drivers and passengers must wear a full helmet. He came up to me at one point and asked if I wanted to ride with a participant for a lap. The car was a BMW and the driver’s name was John. He explained that having a passenger in an event like this was not a minus because of the additional weight but an asset due to better stability. John sure drove his car like he stole it. I swear my vision was a bit blurred during the ride. We came very close to spinning out a few times due to the wet pavement. He didn’t hit any cones surprisingly (a 1 sec. penalty) and definitely knew what he was doing. He did the course in 55 seconds.

Skidding out twice slowed him down enough to slow his overall time by at least two seconds. It was still a thrill for a newbie like me.

Next month I am going to give this a try for shits and giggles and hopefully there will be a dry pavement. The following event occurs one week before going to the Indy 500 so I should be more fired up to drive fast than usual.

Coming in last will not be disappointing. But if I get beat by that 60’s VW don’t expect a follow-up report.


Dan from Madison said...

Did they use slicks or just the standard tires that were on the car? I would think that the tire wear would be pretty good on a course like this.

Gerry from Valpo said...

Two guys jacking up the Mazda in photo 2 were putting track tires on the car. Some others did as well but most were stock.