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On autocrossing, club racing, HPDEs and the SCCA
This was was written by a local autocrosser and sent to our Solo II mail list. I think it's worth repeating.
Please regard this as you might regard a magazine article or
editorial--simply some observations to share with friends in an
Autocrossers and Club Racers
I heard it again at a local autocross the other day--that SCCA
wants to modify some elements of Solo-II classing to encourage
drivers to "progress" to club racing. There was also an article
in the SCCA magazine about the new time trial program, and how
it would give enthusiasts a step by step progression into (you
guessed it) club racing.
Is SCCA still primarily a bunch of wheel-to-wheel racers who see
club racing as the logical goal of anyone with an interest in
performance driving? If so, I can only conclude that SCCA
doesn't "get it." Car classes for Solo II should be designed
only to serve the best interests of people who participate in
Solo II. Car classing is difficult enough without any secondary
agendas, thank you.
Here's a little story to illustrate:
My good friend Alan Kefauver has been a car type since I met him
at college. I mentioned him in an article last year as an
illustration of how NASA brings drivers through the ranks from
HPDE events to wheel-to-wheel racers.
Alan was driving a white V-8 Falcon when I met him, terrorizing
the backroads around Boonsboro, MD on the weekends. Over the
years, he went through Alfas, Volvos, and an SHO Ford Taurus.
Alan bought a new Mustang Cobra convertible in 1999 and got the
itch to compete. After enjoying Brian's autocross schools, and
running a few autocrosses, it became clear he was in the wrong
sport. Alan is just not the kind of guy who gets his speed
kicks in short, intense spurts. He's more of a "fast and long"
SCCA didn't want anything to do with Alan's convertible, so Alan
started doing HPDEs with NASA, as well as time trials with EMRA
(Eastern Motor Racing Association), and every "open track" event
that would fit into his schedule. Eventually, he got his NASA
competition license. By that time, he was tired of having
bodywork done to the Cobra from off-track excursions. He said
the Cobra was too nice a car to use up on a race track, so he
bought a much rougher Mustang from the early '90s and built it
into a bonefide, eye-sore green, trailer-only race car.
Alan and I have been close friends for a long time. Someday
I'll tell you the story of our ill-advised, side-by-side, foot
on the floor, two in the morning, 110+ mph romp along the length
of the Jones Falls Expressway in Baltimore (think GW Parkway in
D.C.). I have been an autocrosser since those days, but Alan
never seemed to take to it. Likewise, I have run a few track
days with the Washington Mazda Club over the years, but never
got hooked on it the way Alan did.
Needless to say, as Alan became more and more active at Summit
Point, VIR, and Beaver Run, he started leaning on me to come
along and join the fun. I finally ran out of excuses and took
the RX-7 to an EMRA time trial at the new Shenandoah circuit
last week. I have to say it was a blast. Between seven in the
morning and about 3 in the afternoon I had one instructed 20
minute session on track, two 20 minute uninstructed sessions,
and the time trial itself. I was home by around six, and on
Sunday I ran the morning session of the SCCA event at FEDEX.
Monday morning, Alan came to my office with an expectant look on
his face. "So, David, did you run the autocross on Sunday? How
did you like it compared to the time trial on Saturday?"
Maybe I was imagining things, but I swear I could see a hope in
my friend's eyes that I would be forever hooked on the open
track--having finally realized that autocrossing was "kiss and
tell," while track events were each the equivalent of a romance
novel. SCCA would probably agree, ergo the "time trial"
approach to recruiting track racers.
What is it with these people?
The EMRA time trial was highly unusual in that it was on a new
track, so the best lines were still a matter of exploration and
discussion. Usually when you go out for a track day, you are
being instructed by an expert who knows the right lines to take,
and who has hundreds of laps at that track for experience. As
the student, you have to memorize the instructions, and you are
a success or failure based on how well you can execute them. In
other words, it is an exercise based on memory and repeatable
Autocrossing certainly involves memory, but getting the car to
go where you want it to go is not gained from hundreds of laps
of practice. We are involved with a different art form. In
terms related to my musical world, we are more the jazz guys who
make music on the spot with whatever materials we are given.
The track folks are the ones who take pride in playing
Beethoven's 5th perfectly, time after time. The club racers
don't really care if they play the notes right. They just want
to get to the end first.
My point here is not only that these are different sports, but
that those who enjoy them are different sorts of people.
For instance, at the EMRA event, and at every track day I have
attended, I was mentally finished after the first two 20 minute
sessions. The only things I learned from the 3rd session last
Saturday were that the car was about ready to overheat, and that
my autocross brakes were getting a little scary. Sure, some
laps were better than others, but you reach a point of
diminishing returns in the learning curve, and you end
up...well...driving around in circles, pushing harder and
harder, using up the machinery, getting tired, and increasing
the risk of an off track excursion.
Alan, on the other hand, had attended the Friday open track day
associated with the Saturday time trial (There was a wheel to
wheel race scheduled on Sunday.). He was stoked because he had
driven about 90 miles on track that Friday. More is better.
Faster is better. Doing 40 laps is twice as much fun as doing
That's my buddy, Alan.
The autocrossing equivalent to the 2-day open track or club
racing event is, of course, the national tour. People drive
hundreds of miles to get to one, then camp out for two days
of.....of.....um.....about 3-minutes of on-track time per day.
Now, you'd think that people with that level of dedication, and
that amount of time on their hands, and that amount of
development invested in their cars and equipment would be prime
candidates for club racing.
It ain't necessarily so.
They are among the most dedicated autocrossers, and while some
may migrate to club racing later in their driving careers, most
have already settled into the kind of motorsports that suits
them. Future club racers are most likely already spending their
weekends attending open track days and dreaming about getting
their competition licenses. I doubt you will find many at a
national tour autocross event.
Now, you'd think that people who spend their weekends doing open
track days would be itching to get out there and mix it up in a
Well, maybe some of them. Still, the "open track" community is
an end in itself. Those who elect this corner of the sport are
happy driving their streetable machines around the track for the
shear fun of it. Besides, if you have ever hitched a ride in
the instructor's group, it gets pretty intense. I'm guessing it
might be like a race for historic cars where there are no "type
A" personalities who think sheet metal is negotiable, and
winning is worth some added risk.
While some of the open track types have developed their cars
especially for track stresses, few that I know did so in
accordance with SCCA classing rules. They just want to drive
their cars on the track with their friends.
Different types of people for different types of motorsports.
If club racing is not growing as fast as SCCA would like, it is
not because people don't currently have an opportunity to get
into the sport in a step by step fashion. It is because these
days you can get your speed fix with greater safety than club
racing, with less time committed than club racing, and with a
fully streetable car. You can do it at a tenth the cost of club
racing, and still hang out with the terrific group of people you
find at a local autocross, time trial, or open track days.
My friend Alan now has his dedicated race car, but he has not
gone out for an SCCA license. Why? Well, frankly, he can race
with EMRA and NASA and get his wheel to wheel kicks in an
atmosphere where the rules are simpler, and where the idea is
mostly to have fun. Let the high dollar hot-shots duke it out
for a national title.
My more serious friends enjoy the Spec 7 and spec Miata classes
within SCCA, but I don't see them chomping at the bit to
"progress" to the production classes. That level of competition
is generally beyond their means. I have an E-Prod friend who
was discussing what the latest threatened rule change would cost
him if it went through. It was something more than an entire
If SCCA wants more club racers, they need only to look at their
own success with the spec classes. Making it less costly and
confusing for those who want to do wheel to wheel racing is a
great approach. If SCCA wants a training ground for club
racers, the need only look at other wheel to wheel variants of
the sport like karts. If SCCA wants bigger club racing fields,
it would be wise to interview those who quit due to the
intensity, politics, and money involved. People leave when a
sport stops being fun.
What you don't want to do, though, is to pervert one sport in
the service of another. Let SCCA stand for the top level of
whatever motorsport it represents--the best autocross series,
the best time trial series, and the best club racing series.
People will be drawn to SCCA events because of their excellent
management, thoughtful classing, preferred venues, and because
the best drivers are with SCCA. If you want to grow club
racers, do it with uncomplicated, fun, less costly club racing
events. Those who aspire in that direction will be there from
The rest of us who are fighting budgets, time, jobs, family, and
other pressures to be the best autocrossers we can; or who
simply select solo driving because it is the best fit for us,
deserve nothing less than the same dedication to our sport--not
as a stepping stone to "bigger" things, but as an art form in
OH NOES!!!!!1 MY CAR HAS T3H UND3R5T33R5555!!!!!!1oneone!!!!11
What are you gonna do?
it sums it up for the people who fit the mold, however there are plenty of people who don't fit the mold
sometime's you can't be everything for everybody it's a many faceted situation, there is no simple or even correct solution
Yesterday's history, tomorrow's a mystery, but today is a gift; that's why it's called the present
Interesting. Since I do autocross, and enjoy it. I do track days, and enjoy it. I race, and enjoy it.
It is interesting the comments about the high dollar and such. The two biggest SCCA Club Racing classes (by number of cars, race after race) is Spec Miata and Spec Racer Ford. They both field large numbers of cars (last year at a two day Regional at VIR SRF had 44 cars, SM also had 40 some).
But look at the track time (and costs) for a Club Race weekend. Last year for a double Regional you had a Thursday open practice. Cost extra $200, but 5 30 minutes sessions in the day. Not a bad value. For your $300+ entry fee, you got two 30 minutes qualifying sessions on Fri. One last chance qualifying session on Sat, plus one 30 minute (10 lap in an SRF) race. On Sunday you got 1 30 minute race. In a Spec class you will get the whole weekend (and sometimes many more on a set of tires). In Prod, or other classes, you may go through 2 - 5 sets of tires. It takes a dedicated car (maybe for fun you can run a Spec Miata and drive it to/from), plus trailer and tow vehicle. So for 5 session, not including running the open practice, you spend at least 3 days at the track and have to get there and come back.
Typical track weekend, you get 4 30 minute sessions each of two days for a similar $300+ . You will most likely get several weekends out of a set of tires, and you can drive your car to/from the track. You CAN trailer and use a tow vehicle, but not required. You spend two days for 8 track sessions, plus coming and going.
Autocross, runs the gamut from people who drive up, clean out their trunk and run street tires, to the multi car Totter home transporters you see at National Tour events. For local events, you get up and drive out that morning and are home sometime in the afternoon. MUCH less impact on home and family.
Lots of chocies, for lots of different people.
And I don't see that there is really a path, the choices are out there, you do what suits your time, budget, and desires.
And I agree, that screwing with classes to make this "upgrade" path is likely to cause more trouble and possibly reduce the number of participants in some of the events.
'95 Alpine M3 LTW
'00 Dakar M Roadster
'02 Topaz M3
Red/White SRF #4 (Chassis 561)
Thanks for sharing the post from your mailing list, Clyde... definitely worth the read. I think an event should be run in the best manner it can, for it's purpose, not to push to a different venue. That is plain wrong. People find their own natural progression, if that path exists. Don't force paths.
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