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AutoCross Beginners Guide




 What is an autocross?
The SCCA holds events both locally and nationally which are called “Solo” events.  These events generally fall under the catchall name "autocross".  Basically, an autocross is a relatively low-speed competition driving event in which one driver at a time negotiates a twisty course. Maximum speeds on course are approximately 60 MPH in production-based vehicles.  The course is defined using traffic cones to make gates which define slaloms and sweeping turns. Scoring is usually based upon raw times within classes of similarly equipped vehicles.  Runs are timed to the thousandth of a second using sensors at the start and finish.  Autocross is often best described as a competition of precision driving.
 

Your First AutoCross - Walkthrough Video


Where are autocrosses held?
The course is generally laid out in a large parking lot or airfield free of obstructions.  The Washington, DC region uses the large parking lots surrounding FedExField.  The cone positions are marked with boxes of chalk, drywall, or large crayons on the course.  Courses are specifically designed to be both entertaining and safe.  The course usually takes about a minute to negotiate at speed.  Before driving the course, all competitors are given the opportunity to walk the course to familiarize themselves with the design.  Almost no two autocross courses are the same, and learning the course is part of the challenge.

FedEx Field


 
What if I hit a cone?
Cones are counted as a two-second penalty added to the run time for each cone hit.  A penalty is applied only if the cone is knocked down or displaced from its marking on the pavement.  If the cone is hit and any part of the base of the cone is touching the marking box on the pavement, no penalty is applied.
 
Will the cones hurt my car?
Generally, no.  The cones are constructed of soft plastic, and they deform when hit.  They will occasionally leave slight marks on the paint and wheels which can be removed easily with car polishes. 
 
Do I need a special license to autocross?
No.  Most local events are open to the general public, and only a current state-issued driver’s license is required.  Some specific clubs will limit entrance only to current club members.  Most SCCA events are open to the public, and many of them offer a discount to current SCCA members.
 
Do I need to wear a helmet?
Yes.  Insurance regulations require that all autocross participants wear seatbelts and Snell-approved helmets during all runs.  Helmets must either meet the current or two previous Snell standards.  These standards change every five years.  As a result, helmets with the 2010, 2005, and 2000 Snell standards are currently acceptable.  Loaner helmets are available at many autocrosses, including the local WDCR SCCA events.
 
Is my car ok to autocross?
Most vehicles are acceptable for autocross.  The exceptions are vehicles with a high center of gravity, such as SUVs and tall pickup trucks.  Virtually all types of vehicles, from station wagons to open-wheeled racecars, are welcome to participate in Solo events.  Vehicles competing in each event must pass a general safety inspection and must be emptied of all loose items.
 
Is there anything I need to do to my vehicle?
At very minimum, the vehicle needs to be in good running shape.  No leaking fluids are allowed, the suspension and steering should be tight, the tires should be in good shape, and the brakes should be solid.  Before competition, all loose items (including the driver’s side floor mat) need to be removed from the interior, and the tires should be inflated to about 5-10 PSI over the usual street inflation pressure.  Some clubs (including the Washington, DC Region SCCA) have an air compressor available on site.  Many competitors bring their own portable air tanks to adjust tire pressures on site.
 
What if my car isn’t modified for autocross?
All the better.  Modifying your car will often place you in a more challenging class.  Autocross is primarily about driving, not about modifications.  Modifications can make your vehicle perform better, but it is ultimately the driver that will make the car faster.  Knowing which modifications are legal for which classes is beyond the scope of the average person entering the sport, but you can find all the details in the Solo rulebook or on the National SCCA site (http://scca.org) if you’re interested.
 
How much does entrance cost?
Entrance fees for running most local events range from about $25 to $50, depending upon the club, the number of runs, the quality of the venue, and the format of the event.  Entrance fees can cover the cost of insurance, lot rental, trophies, and the cost of the equipment for running the event.  For Washington, DC region events, the entry fee is $45 for SCCA members, and $55 for non members. Each competitor receives four runs.  Non-competitors are admitted free of charge.
 
How long does an event last?
Most autocrosses are full-day events.  The majority of the competitors are present for about half the day, but some choose to stay at the event to watch or work.  The Washington, DC region events are split into morning and afternoon sessions, and most competitors are present for half the day. 
 
What should I bring to an autocross?
As you will be there for a while, bring gear appropriate for weather conditions.  If rain is predicted, be prepared with umbrellas, tarps, etc.   If it is sunny, bring sunscreen and drinks.  Bringing food is always a good idea, although some clubs offer on-site food sales.  Folding chairs are always useful.  Cameras are allowed at most venues. 
 
Does my vehicle need numbers?
Virtually all autocrosses require easily visible identifying numbers for each vehicle.  At WDCR SCCA events, large visible numbers and class letters on each side are mandatory.  Bigger is better, and good contrast is important for visibility.  Most competitors use magnetic numbers and letters applied on the sides of the vehicle.  If you don’t have magnetics or have a non-metallic vehicle, be creative.  As long as the numbers and class letters are visible during the runs, you’re fine.
 
Absolutely!  It is highly recommended that you attend at least one event to learn the basics before participating.  You can see how the event flows, watch some runs, walk the course, and talk to the competitors.  Depending upon the club managing the event, you may even be able to take rides with the competitors!
 
How do I sign up for events?
Most clubs now offer an online pre-registration system.  Some have online payment available.  Online registration for WDCR Solo events is available at http://www.wdcr-scca.org/calendar.
 
How do I know what to do when I arrive at the event?
This is where attending an event beforehand can be helpful.  Regions differ in the format of their events, although most are relatively similar.  In the Washington, DC region, you begin by signing a liability waiver at the entrance.  After that, you go to a registration area to sign in, show your driver’s license, and receive your worker assignment for the day.  Next, you should get your car ready and go through the vehicle safety inspection (often called “Tech Inspection”) and move your vehicle to a gridding area.  You will need to walk the course a few times to become familiar with the layout.  More time spent walking is always better to learn the course fully.  Finally, you will take your runs and perform a work shift, although not necessarily in that order.
 
I already paid for the event. Why do I have to work?
Autocross is a true “grassroots motorsport”, meaning that the entry fees are intentionally kept low to make it accessible to everybody.  Much of the cost savings are realized by employing the competitors as workers.  If paid workers were required for every position at an autocross, the entry fees would skyrocket.  At most events, the competitors are only required to work for an hour or two, and many different types of work assignments are available to suit individual abilities.
 
Are pets and children allowed at the events?
Pets are not appropriate at autocrosses.  If you absolutely must bring your pet, make sure they are comfortable and either fully supervised or secured well away from the action of the event.  Young children should obviously be supervised at all times, and older children should be instructed about safety at the event.  Insurance regulations require all minors to have a parent or legal guardian sign a minor waiver at the entrance.  Safety is always a paramount concern at all autocrosses.  If in doubt, please make alternate plans for caring for the kids and pets for the day.
 
What do I win if I drive well?
Most local autocrosses offer some form of trophy (plaques, engraved mugs, T-shirts, etc.) to the top drivers in each class.  Some even offer small cash prizes.  Don't expect to get rich by autocrossing, though!  Serious prize money and awards can be obtained by finishing well at some national level events, but this is often offset by the cost of entry fees, travel expenses, and equipment purchased for the vehicle.
 
I’m hooked. Now how do I learn how to get faster?
Practice.Then, practice more.  Unless you have Mario Andretti’s DNA, you’re probably not going to be the fastest driver in your class on your first day of autocross.  There’s a learning curve to every sport, and autocross is no different.  But, there is a way to get tons of practice without spending years autocrossing.  Go to school.  There are autocross schools available, and the DC region has a great program geared toward many different skill levels.  With a school, you can get an entire season’s worth of autocross runs in a single day, and skilled instructors can help you find the best way to negotiate the course and get the most out of your own car.
 
Like any sport or hobby, you will learn the ropes through direct experience and time.  Feel free to use the wide knowledge of the competitors and committee members to learn more about Solo.  We hope you can join us at one or more of our events at FedExField!
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