Autocross is a form of competition; a sport of maneuvering your car through a series of pylons delineating a defined course. The object is to do this faster than your opponent(s) without hitting any of the pylons. Vehicles of all types from the small family car through sporty coupes or sedans, even open wheeled vehicles similar to Indy cars and specially built vehicles designed specifically for performance may be found competing at parking lots or unused airports around the country on any given weekend. Autocross is a performance motor sport available to anyone. No special skills are required to begin participating and it doesn’t take a lot of money to continue or maintain a competitive edge. There is no real danger to yourself or your car from this form of motor sport. Perhaps the best aspect of this sport is it is one of the safest ways to test the limits of your car and yourself and a way to improve the skills that someday may prevent a serious traffic incident or even save your life.
Autocrossing does not involve head to head contention. Multiple vehicles are not trying to out maneuver or pass each other in an attempt to cross a finish line ahead of the competition. A typical autocross course is constructed from specifically placed pylons. These cones form what appears like a small, tight, road racing course. Something similar to Mid-Ohio, or Nelson Ledges in miniature, laid out on a very large parking lot. The object is to negotiate the course in the least possible time. Events are won or lost by as little as 1/1000 of a second. Displacing a pylon results in a two-second penalty; therefore, drivers avoid them at all cost. Autocrossing does test a driver’s ability to negotiate a course that varies in difficulty and is different at each event. Autocrossing doesn’t usually expose the driver and car to hard barriers such as concrete walls of a NASCAR event nor the unknown dangers of a rally where one is racing through unknown territory, not knowing what is around the corner or over the next rise in the road. If you do make an error in judgement or you overtax your skills slightly, chances are there are no trees or other unmovable objects to hit. Speeds are relatively slow, rarely exceeding highway speeds. Most autocross courses are designed for speeds around 45 to 55 MPH. The average car rarely gets out of second gear.
There are different classes for all types of cars. An owner of a 4-cylinder economy car can compete at that level without worrying about being trounced by a performance built V8 muscle car. Additionally, there are many levels of competition available for the enthusiast. Regional events occur all across the country. There are divisional series and national events. There is even a Pro series for the consummate autocrosser.
Safety is the key operating principle of an autocross event. Speeds are relatively slow, barriers or other dangerous objects are avoided, and usually only one car is on the course at a time. While some courses are long enough to permit two or even three vehicles on the course, they are always a safe distance apart to prevent incident. Don’t let the slow speed dishearten your enthusiasm. Experienced autocross drivers can do some amazing things with a performance car, even in a low gear. Imagine driving down your home street at 35 MPH and immediately turning into your driveway with only a short stab of the brakes and a quick flick or the steering wheel.
Autocross is a family oriented sport. It is friendly. It is a social event. It is adventure from the word go! It is always friendly competition. The people you meet are always willing to help with anything from teaching you proper hand position on the steering wheel, to keeping an eye on your kids or even rebuilding a broken part. They will even loan you their car so you can finish the day’s competition, even if you are in the same class. It’s a known fact amongst autocrossers that a borrowed car is always faster than your own vehicle. You can even leave your personal belongings undisturbed by your paddock location all day without fear something may walk off assisted or unassisted.
Above all, autocross drivers are better drivers. They are experienced in handling their vehicles at the limits of its performance in all aspects of operation, acceleration, cornering and braking. They are confident in their abilities and rarely panic in a surprise situation. Autocross driver’s are typically more polite on the streets and highways and are rarely involved in “road rage” incidents.
In short, auto-crossing is just plain fun!