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What is autocross?

Autocross is a racing event which truly distinguishes driver capabilities and the limits of cars. Unlike traditional racing where vehicles reach excessive speeds and risk crashing, autocross events are a safe and legal way for automotive enthusiasts to compete.

Circuits are usually about one mile in length and are normally established in vacant parking lots or air strips. The course is composed of numerous turns and slaloms identified by traffic cones, so there is no need to fear of walls or barriers. Due to cone arrangement, it is rare to see speeds of more than 60mph, but that does not make competition easy!

The goal is to set the fastest time through the circuit without knocking over any cones. It is a race against the clock and only one car will be allowed on the circuit at a time. This is where driver skills shine. Horsepower and torque make a car fast, but minimal tire squeal, properly hitting apexes, and controlled braking will win the race.

Who can autocross?

Anybody with a valid drivers license has the opportunity to throw their cars around an autocross circuit. While there are annual competitions, just like any racing series, autocross can easily remain a occasional activity for the whole family to enjoy.

Driver experience ranges from the complete novice to the professional racing driver. If it is your first time out, numerous programs suggesting pairing you with a skilled driver to talk you through the circuit. Often times, experienced autocross drivers may even let you ride shotgun to gain an understanding of how they conquer the course.

While the competition can become fierce, it is a fun way to enjoy the weekend with friends and rarely costs more than go-carting or playing golf.

Where can I autocross?

Autocross events are held around the world; it is likely there is an event in your area. Generally hosted by car clubs or associations, participation is simply a matter of joining the host's group and showing up.

When are autocross events held?

Because autocross is designed for the average-Joe to have spirited driving fun, most events are held on the weekends throughout the year. Unless weather poses a dangerous threat, the race continues rain or shine.

There are even similar style ice and dirt racing events for people to experience the thrill of rally.

Why subject my car to abuse and myself to potential embarrassment?

Once you see an autocross event in person, you will understand. Autocross is more than just burning through gasoline and tires. It is an opportunity to learn the limits of your car and hone your driving skills. Anyone can drive their car on public roads, but very few people are comfortable with handling their car at the absolutely limits.

While track time teaches valuable skill for controlling a car, it also discourages people from partaking in illegal street racing. Autocross is a relatively safe and legal way to compete with your own car.

Will I my stock Jetta be competing against a fully build M3?

In autocross, it is understood that the varying types of cars make for an uneven playing field. Therefore, participants will be divided into classes depending on their drive train, engine size, modifications, tire classification, etc.

Any car may be entered in an autocross competition. It is actually more fun to compete in a slow stock car, rather than a high performance tuned machine. However, your car must pass safety inspections before taking the track. Detailed safety requirements vary with each club and country.

How to prepare your car for Autocross:

  • Check tire pressure. You may want to add a few extra pounds of pressure to the tires to discourage any sidewall tire roll in the turns. Be certain not to over inflate your tires, as they will get quite warm after your first run.
  • Check your wheel torque. The last thing you want is for your wheels to come loose.
  • Make sure your fluids are topped off and not leaking. Just like preparation for a road trip, you want to make sure your car is in top operating condition. If there are any fluids leaking, you may be prohibited from participating.
  • Empty your car of trash and free floating items. You will be pushing the car through corners harder than it has ever been pushed before. Loose items will fly around the cabin and cause a distraction.
  • Cut weight! Remove your spare tire, emergency jack, box subwoofer, first aid kit, etc. You will be on a closed circuit just a few feet away from your belongings; there is no need to take everything with you.
  • Try to fill up with good fuel before the event. With each run only lasting about 1 mile, you will not need a full tank. In fact, to save weight, you may only want to have a half a tank of gas.
  • Remove the floor mats, it is dangerous to have anything which might hinder pedal motion. Most clubs will also require wearing closed toe shoes.

Items to examine after an Autocross event:

  • Check your tires and reset the correct pressure for road driving. Most people drive their cars to and from events. Autocross can take a toll on tires, so it is important to make sure your car is still road safe.
  • Check your wheel torque. If you were thrashing your car around the corners, it is smart to double check your lugs/bolts before driving home.
  • Check your spark plugs. During autocross, you will be driving at high rpms and shifting near redline. Examining spark plugs is always a good idea after spirited driving, but it will also be an indicator of if your car was running too rich or lean.

Is there a danger to autocross?

The biggest danger is to your wallet; autocross can easily become an addictive hobby. What originates as a fun weekend quickly turns into a challenge of shaving time off your previous runs. Luckily, FCP Euro can provide you with the best prices on many of the performance parts that you will "need."

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Written by :
Michael Hallock

Michael lives in Dahlonega, GA where he works full time as manager of an accounts receivable department. Despite a bachelors in New Media Arts, his true passion is in modifying and maintaining the cars that he and his wife own; Volvo for life. Many in the Volvo community might recognize his screen name, MyNameIdeasWereTaken.

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