Palm Springs Autocross Mar 2011

by Daryl Weber

Who knows how an addiction begins, but we think the first inkling we had was when the COTV group went to Vettes on the Rockies in July 2010. One of the events that Jim Sommars, Ron Rich, Norm Luckuck and Rob Weber entered was Autocross. Doug Glenore did not enter his car, but caught the bug anyhow as he walked the course, took photos and ran the times to the drivers.

For those who don't know what Autocross is, here is a definition:

"Autocross is a form of motorsports that emphasizes safe competition and active participation. An autocross is a timed competition where drivers navigate one at a time through a temporary course marked by traffic cones, rather than racing on a track with multiple other cars, as in road racing or oval racing. Autocross tends to place more emphasis on car handling and driver skill than on sheer horsepower, and events typically have many classes which allow almost any vehicle, from economy sedans to purpose-built vehicles, to compete. Speeds are slower in absolute terms when compared to other forms of motorsports, usually not exceeding highway speeds, but the activity level (measured in discrete turns per minute) can be higher than even Formula One due to the large number of elements packed into each course. Autocross courses are typically 40 to 70 seconds in length, with speeds limited to 70mph for insurance purposes. In addition to being a national-level motorsport in its own right, autocrossing is a good way to learn skills that transfer to road racing, as drivers learn vehicle control and club ethics."

Autocross events are usually held in large paved areas like parking lots or airfields. Typically, new courses are created for each event so drivers must learn a new course each time they compete. Prior to driving, a competitor will walk the course, taking mental notes, and developing a strategy to be refined upon subsequent runs. National organizations such as the Sports Car Club of America (SCCA)  sponsor autocross events throughout the United States.  In Fontana, and other SoCal tracks,  Speed Ventures holds AutoX events.  The California Sports Car Club (CSCC) also holds local events.

One of the primary attractions of autocross is that it is an inexpensive way to get involved in motorsports. The potential for car damage is low because of autocross' low average speeds, lack of physical obstacles, and lack of wheel-to-wheel racing. For this reason, most autocross participants compete in "daily drivers", which is not the case in most other forms of motorsport. Many clubs further reduce the barriers to entry by including classes and instruction specifically for novice drivers. You will need a helmet, but most hosting organizations have loaners for the novice attendee."

As you can see, Autocross has nothing to do with flat out racing. Speed and the power of the car are secondary to how well you can navigate the course. Last October, Doug, Jim and Rob participated in the Fall Autocross event put on by the Palm Springs Corvette Club. They have run a Spring event to benefit ALS (Lou Gherig's disease) for 12 years now and started a Fall event to benefit the Boys and Girls Club a couple of years ago. Since they have supported our Car Show, it was a great idea to test some COTV cars on their course at the Indio Fairgrounds. We all got rooms at the Fantasy Springs Casino/Hotel and set out to spend a day in the sun and see what cars turned up.

To our amazement, there was everything from '60s vintage Ford trucks to Chevy Impalas to little souped up Japanese "racers" to, of course, Corvettes of all vintages. The track was challenging and it took several runs before our drivers got a feel for how to maneuver through the turns without hitting any of the cones (fortunately, the cones are soft enough to spring right back, even if they get caught under a vehicle and there is rarely any damage to the cars.) The PSCC track is set by the members and times range from the low 40 seconds for the speedsters to a general range in the 50s to 70s. The vintage trucks careen around, almost on two wheels, and are in the higher times. Cars are rated by class: for Corvettes it is C2-4, C5 and C6; sports cars; muscle cars; trucks; and open class, which encompasses a wide range of miscellaneous vehicles. So cars of the same type have their overall times (a combination of actual time and additional seconds for cones dislodged or knocked off course) compared against others in their class. Trophies are given at day's end, but the real winners are the drivers who beat themselves each run. ........... After a day of this, the addiction was in place.

Since October, Doug and Rob have been to events at the speedway in Fontana and in March went off again to the PSCC Spring event. Since this event has been in place longer, there are some more serious competitors who attend. "More serious" means that they have modified their cars for this specific event. This more often than not includes using "racing slicks" which provide a stickier tire surface and can provide an advantage of several seconds over standard tires. Others may modify steering or other components.

At each of the two events Doug and Rob have attended there is a "racer" named Bobby who actually drives for a living and brings an ovals "stock car" that looks like a junker but roars around the track sometimes he makes it and sometimes he takes out half the cones. Fortunately, he does not compete with any of the Corvettes, but he is exciting to watch. Again, there were Porsches, BMWs, an Infiniti sedan, an Impala, a Mercedes sedan, our favorite yellow '56 Chevy vintage truck, several Shelby Mustangs and lots of Japanese cars, small and speedy.

The day provided a fair amount of excitement and again, no accidents or damaged cars, except perhaps Bobby's, which always looks like it is falling apart and has, in the past, tended to self destruct. In October, he blew up his engine, so he drove his mother's Ford Fiesta around the course at top speeds (for a Fiesta) and provided lots of entertainment.

Doug and Rob have more Autocross dates on the calendar and are willing and happy to share this addiction with all their COTV friends. There are even trophies to win at the PSCC events and charities to support the best of all worlds, fun and good deeds wrapped into one. Don't forget, this is not a race against others, it is an opportunity to challenge yourself and hone your driving skills. It is the driver who shaves a few seconds off each run who has the most fun you can hear them cheering themselves on as they cross the finish line. Doug and Rob are having an excellent adventure and want you to as well.