Musings of an Autocross Novice

by Howie Finn

I never took autocrossing seriously. After all, my boss got into it after his quadruple bypass procedure. His post recovery, second childhood Miata was his weapon of choice. How exciting could it be? It was his incessant taunting about my "Poor-she" never having seen the "orange in the eyes of the enemy", (inanimate cones needless to say), that bolstered my resolve to try it.

When the notice first appeared in the Nor'easter this Winter I signed up for the whole nine yards. I wrote out and sent off my check for the drivers Ed event and all five autocross competitions. I did this not to benefit from the significant cash discount over paying individually, but because I knew that if I didn't get the days blocked off in the family calendar on the fridge, I'd get pre-empted with kid activities.

I read the rules, surfed the net for info and theory and priced helmets. Managed to pick up a fairly new, only crashed once, helmet for a fair price from a coworker and was set to go!

I showed up for the first event and unloaded my car on the sidelines, noting as I did, what was on the piles of debris in front of the cars to either side and following suit. I struck up an acquaintance with a couple of other first timers and together we headed out on foot to walk the track and attempt to commit to memory, the layout of the course. Getting back to my car, which had been lined up in the middle of the "paddock" area for the tech inspection, I discovered that my battery wasn't affixed to the car and I wasn't going to pass inspection! So with 20 minutes to first car off, I shot off to the local hardware store (just outside the gates), and purchased sufficient bungee cords to immobilize the battery and get my tech approval sticker.

Finally, after gathering for the drivers meeting, getting our work station assignments for the day and being assigned to the first drive group, I donned my helmet and lined up, nervously awaiting to be signaled to the starting gate. One of the suggestions from the drivers meeting was to look ahead a "few" gates as we negotiate the course. I'm sitting in my car though, trying to recall how the entire course is set up, where I'll have to brake hardest and when I can hit third gear.

Finally I was given the OK to go when I was ready. I revved up the engine, popped the clutch and dove into a sea of cones! (Recalling later that my boss had once emailed me a photo of a license plate " C-O-CONZ".)

I somehow made it through the course without missing any gates, though I did send a couple of cones into orbit, (at a cost of 2 seconds penalty each). Boy! Did my adrenaline level increase!

Later, when I had the opportunity, I checked my time on the posted score sheets. I wasn't the last in my class, and I did finish, but my name was a long way from the top of that list. Fortunately, there was a large black "N" next to my entry, signifying that I was in the novice category for that class along with several others, all with comparable times. Even though my car wasn't equipped with strut braces and sticky "Hoosiers" tires like the seasoned veterans sported, there still existed viable competition among the ranks of the novice!

Coming up on the last day of autocrossing before the Rumble, (which I will definitely be attending!), I have calmed down, tightened up my turns, look ahead a "few" gates at a time and still take out cones. But next year, hopefully armed with my own "Hoosiers", I’ll be back!