The best way to get started is to simply come to an event and try it! All you need is a drivers license, a technically sound car (i.e. the wheels aren't falling off), some enthusiasm, and about $25-30 (exact pricing may vary per event).
IT'S THAT SIMPLE!
A SNELL 95 (M or SA) or newer helmet is also required; but if you don't own a helmet, don't sweat it! You should be able to grab one at the event, since free loaner helmets are on-hand at most places. Helmets with only a DOT rating (no SNELL certification) are not allowed, due to our insurance requirements.
You have to be at least 16 years of age and have a valid driver's licence to participate. Also if you are less than 18 years old you will need to either have a parent or guardian present or have a completed "minor waiver form" on file signed by both parents (or one in the case of single-parent households).
This page is broken up into several sections, so click on a link below to jump to the section that interests you most:
WHAT IS AUTOCROSSING?
Have you ever turned on the TV and seen a road-race and wished you could be competing in a race like that? Well, there's a way you CAN - without buying a racecar, running into other cars, or hurting your automobile!
Autocrossing, also known as "Solo" or "Solo II", is kind of like downhill skiing - with a car! A course is set up with traffic cones, usually on a large paved lot (fairly flat; unlike downhill skiing). Competitors then drive through the road-course one at a time, each trying to be the fastest person to complete the circuit. As with skiing, electronic timers record laps down to the thousandth of a second; and each person gets 3 or 4 tries at the course.
Drivers who go off-course or bump the cones are given time-penalties for that lap, to reward clean driving. Each driver's single best lap-time is used to figure out the winners. Speeds range from 20mph to 60mph so its a pretty darned safe sport; but tight courses make things seem fast! Being an "amateur" event (i.e. not professional racing), there is no prize money - but you'll have so much fun that small trophies and bragging rights are reward enough!
You can see some video clips of cars running autocrosses here.
IS THERE A NOVICE PROGRAM?
Yes, there is! There are Novice Instructors to help answer questions or coach you through your first time and novice car-classes so you can run against other first-timers! Before each session there will be a driver's meeting, where instructors are introduced and basics are discussed. Look, everyone gets nervous or intimidated their first time out; but you don't have to be! Almost everyone at these events is curteous and friendly; and you can always get help or advice from experienced folks - as the old adage goes, "there's no such thing as a stupid question!" And no one's going to laugh or make fun of you if you don't take 1st place - Autocrossing takes skill and practice; and we ALL started out going slow! The only pressure at an autocross is the pressure you put on yourself (or the bets you make with your friends *grin*)!
WHO PUTS ON THESE EVENTS?
Two main groups sanction Autocrosses in the greater Seattle / Puget Sound area: The Western Washington Sports Car Council (WWSCC) and the Northwest Region of the SCCA (NWR-SCCA). The two groups are attended by a lot of the same people; but have slightly different rules and operating methods. The SCCA is a nation-wide organization, with the NWR being just one regional chapter that abides by their rules and regulations. The WWSCC is made up of several different smaller clubs that operate here around the Puget Sound. Each WWSCC club puts on their own event but all of them adhere to WWSCC guidelines, and each one is a part of a year-long series championship for the WWSCC. In addition the Bremerton Sports Car Club (or BSCC) although it is a WWSCC member club puts on it's own 8-event series under it's own rules. Competitors are also required to help work at the event; which usually is an easy 30-60 minute task like cleanup, or resetting course markers when drivers hit them.
Both the WWSCC and the NWR-SCCA try to put on about 8 championship events each during the racing season; which runs from around March until October. The WWSCC also puts on a 3-event "Slush Series" in January and February for the truely hard-core. Additionally there are extra practices and schools that are outside of each groups' championship series. Autocrossing clubs exist in other parts of Washington state as well, see the links page for more info. If you're new, don't worry about the championship points or anything - just come to whatever events you can come to, and have fun! All "normal" events are open to anyone that wants to try it out; and those very few "closed" events will be clearly marked as such.
WHERE AND WHEN ARE THE EVENTS?
I'm so glad you asked! This website maintains a handy calendar page that can tell you what's going on around Washington (and sometimes around the country. BOLD events are local)! Upcoming events will have an event info page along with directions to the site. Events usually run from 7:30am to 5pm - with the day split in half (so you don't need to be there all day). Typically "stock" cars will run during one half of the day, while cars that have been "modified" will run during the other half. Novices can participate during either session (but not necessarily both). Drivers must register and attend a driver's meeting before they compete. Registration is usually from 7:30 to 8:30am and 11:30 to 12:30pm, for the morning and afternoon sessions respectively. See the info page for each event for the exact details and times. Be aware that many events offer pre-registration and that in some cases that is manditory.
WHAT KIND OF CARS COMPETE?
This is an easy one to answer: ALL KINDS! Seriously, we've had just about every car ever made come autocross with us over the last 30+ years. You don't have to own a sports-car, a muscle-car, a dragster, or anything special! Cars are broken into classes depending on their typical performance and any modifications they have, so you'll always be competing against cars that perform like yours. And people can have fun autocrossing just about anything: From a 1972 VW Truck, to the "Phantom" - a custom-built car that can handle as many gee's as the Space Shuttle pulls during takeoff! Even Neons and Honda Civics make great autocross cars; since the emphasis is on handling and driver skill - not horsepower or raw speed. In fact, the large majority of cars that autocross are just normal un-modified everyday cars that people enjoy driving hard!
HOW IS TIMING / SCORING DONE?
Cars are timed via an infrared beam system that is accurate to 1 / 1,000th of a second. No special equipment is needed, and we have posting boards and announcers to help you figure out your lap-times, as you're competing. Your raw times (also called "scratch" times) can be modified, however, if you incurr a penalty. Typical penalties include deviating from the course (or "missing a gate"), or hitting a course marker (traffic cone). A "cone" will add 2 seconds to your time, while a "gate" penalty costs you 10 seconds - so driving the course in the proper manner is much more important than blowing through it at top speed recklessly!
HOW ARE EVENTS RUN?
Events vary, based on the organization and time of year; but most are run on Sundays and follow a very standard format:
- After a few weeks of planning, arranging for volunteers, etc., a setup crew will go out (usually the night before) and set up the course.
- Around 7:30am people will begin taking registrations for the morning session. People register, get work assignments (a short work session is required for ALL competitors), and get their car inspected by a tech. worker (for safety).
- After completing all of Step 2, competitors can go walk the course - to get a preview of how it will look as they drive it.
- Shortly after registration ends, a mandatory driver's meeting will be called. The meeting will go over safety issues, general rules and conduct, and any special instructions for the day.
- All drivers for the session will be split into 2 or 3 "run groups". The first of these groups will go put their cars in grid and get ready to run, while people that aren't running go to their work assignments.
- Cars from the first group run in the order they lined up in, running 1 lap each, cycling through the grid lines 3 or 4 times.
- Drivers and workers switch off, and the second group begins.
- Repeat steps 5 to 7 if necessary for a third group.
- Lunch break. Afternoon registration begins at 11:30pm. Trophies are awarded to the morning group during this time.
- Steps 2 through 8 are repeated for the afternoon session.
- Cleanup of the site and tear-down of the course is done.
- Afternoon trophies are awarded.
- Anyone that stays goes as a group to a nearby restaurant or bar and has dinner and/or drinks to celebrate a fun-filled day of racing!
HOW CAN I HELP?
There are many many ways you can help autocrossing in the Puget Sound area - and most require very little effort on your part! Here's a list:
- Become a member of a WWSCC club! This may give you discounted entry at the event your club puts on, as well as helping you get involved with supporting the WWSCC and your club!
- Become an SCCA member! Not only does this give you a discount entry fee for SCCA events, it gets you Sports Car magazine and a whole host of other cool things. It also helps us show the national SCCA office a more accurate census of who's autocrossing out here!
- Come to the general meetings! The WWSCC and SCCA Solo meetings are clearly marked on the calendar page. They each only happen once a month - its a nice way to have some dinner with your racing friends, as well as to help with new ideas and input into how the clubs will handle current issues, and run upcoming events!
- Volunteer for a "special" position at an event! This is not recommended for your first event or two, but after that, your help in any and all areas is greatly appreciated! These take the place of "normal" work assignments; and you're going to be there racing anyways, so why not help make things run smoothly and be fun? Just a little extra help goes a long way for everyone!
- Keep your eyes peeled for potential sites! Right now we're in a bind trying to locate appropriate areas to Autocross at. A flat, paved (concrete or asphalt) area with few or no obstructions at least 6 to 8 acres in size is the minimum requirements (about 650 ft. by 650 ft., 500 x 800 ft., etc.). If you spot a potential site, please e-mail Dick Willy at
. PLEASE DO NOT contact the site owners or operators yourself; as we have information packets and presentations that we'd prefer to present to them.
Autocrossing only works if people are willing to help it all function - your support is greatly appreciated, especially by the few people that are constantly volunteering in order to keep things running well!
Here are some other resources to help you get started:
Check out The Novice Handbook put together by Kate Hughes of the Glen Region of the SCCA. Most of this will apply to our NWR, but keep in mind, all regions do things a little different.
To find out more on upcoming events simply visit the Puget Sound Autocross Calendar for more information on where and when the next SCCA or other sanctioned club event is.