What is Autocross?

Written by Phil Ethier, Editor, the Right Line

Autocross: Noun. A sport engaged in by automobile enthusiasts in the USA. Called "gymkhana" in The Twin Cites during the sixties. Now the term "gymkhana" as used in the USA usually connotes a gimmick event wherein drivers have to do gimmick things. Since the seventies, the Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) has used the trademark "Solo II" for this type of event, and holds a national-championship event once a year in Kansas.

A sports car club procures a site, generally a large parking lot. Airstrips and actual racetracks are sometimes used.

A course is set up using plastic or rubber traffic markers. These are referred to as "cones" or "pylons". This course can be of almost unlimited design. Timing equipment is required, preferably an electronic timer capable of accurate timing to one-thousandth of a second.

Cars are arranged in classes. The classes used by the SCCA are the most common in the USA. The Metropolitan Council of Sports Car Clubs uses classes mostly identical to the SCCA Solo II Classes.

Each driver negotiates the course and is timed. A penalty is assigned for each pylon which is struck. This penalty is usually the addition of 2 seconds to the driver's time. A more severe penalty is applied if the driver goes the wrong side of any pylon. This is called "going off course". The penalty generally is that this "run" will not count in the scoring. This is indicated by the acronym "DNF" (did not finish).

Generally, there are several runs at an event. Each driver is awarded the best time of all runs taken, so a driver may improve the score with each run, and does not lose a previous good score if (s)he makes a poor run.

Typical cost for a single day event is fifteen or twenty dollars. The sponsoring club has expenses like site rental and insurance.

Advantages to participants include: You are competing against other drivers, but only via the clock. No one is going to try to pass you. In events where more than one car is on the course at a time, they are spaced so as not to interfere with each other. If a driver does start to catch another, (s)he is awarded another run.

This sport meets one of the basic criteria for success, in my opinion. It is easy to do, and difficult to master. Beginning, it is easier than bowling or golf. Being able to dominate the sport is a talent few have. But it is very enjoyable no matter what your equipment or skill level. Warning: for some people, autocross has been shown to be extremely addictive.

Autocrosses do not typically charge for spectators. Just go. You will be asked to sign an insurance waiver.