American Autocross

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This article is about the sport as practiced in the United States. For similar competitions in other countries, see Autocross.

In the United States of America, autocross events are usually held in large paved areas like parking lots or airfields. Typically, new courses are created for each event so drivers must learn a new course each time they compete. Courses are designated by a series of traffic cones set out to create "turns" drivers must navigate. Prior to driving, each competitor walks the course, takes mental notes and develops a strategy to be refined upon subsequent runs. National organizations such as the Sports Car Club of America (SCCA)[1] and National Auto Sport Association (NASA) sponsor autocross events throughout the United States, and many areas have independent autocross clubs. Automobile manufacturers and their associated clubs (e.g. the BMW Car Club of America) sometimes hold marque autocross events, although many of these events are open to any car owner provided they first join the club. Each local club has its own membership rules.


One of the primary attractions of autocross is that it is an inexpensive way to get involved in motorsports. The potential for car damage is low because of autocross' low average speeds, lack of physical obstacles, and lack of wheel-to-wheel racing. For this reason, most autocross participants compete in "daily drivers", which is not the case in most other forms of motorsport. Many clubs further reduce the barriers to entry by including classes and instruction specifically for novice drivers. A helmet is required, but most hosting organizations offer loaners for novice attendees.

The SCCA has ladies classes for autocross which share the same rules as the open classes but limit participation to women. It is common for husbands and wives, boyfriends and girlfriends, brothers and sisters or even two unrelated drivers to share the same car, but run it in their car's open class and its corresponding ladies class. Women are not, however, prohibited from running in the open classes if they desire and many do so quite successfully.

Autocross For Novices[edit]

If you have never seen or heard of Autocross it's a good idea to go to a local event and watch how the event works. At most local events participants must also "work the course" as a corner worker. This means spending time when you are not driving helping to put cones upright and back in place after a driver hits a cone, as well as other more specialized jobs that help the event run smoothly. Many local events last a whole day with up to 100 drivers taking part. For larger events, you might get eight to ten "runs" driving the course against the clock. with a run lasting between 30 and 90 seconds depending on the course length, you will get around ten minutes of driving for a whole day of work. This may seem like an unfair trade-off, but for many it's a trade-off worth making because of the adrenaline rush. To navigate a course quickly takes seat-time and it's unlikely you'll be posting fast times in your first year. Many clubs insist on novice drivers taking an instructor with them to help them navigate the course. It's very common for novices to get lost the first time through a course - it takes time to make sense of what looks like a sea of cones, the instructor will visually point out where the driver should be going so that they can focus on driving the car. Many people love autocross for the camaraderie of the community as well as the fun learning to improve your driving skills.[2]

Cars and classing[edit]

Classes and rules vary from sanctioning body to sanctioning body, but typically the majority of competitors run lightly modified or unmodified (stock) vehicles. SCCA classing, which is also adopted by many independent clubs, has a variety of Street (formerly known as Stock) classes which range from Super Street for cars like the Corvette Z06 (either the C5 or C6 variants) and Lotus Elise, to H Street for Honda Civics and Mini Coopers. The Street classes allow very little change from how the car was originally manufactured; most items that can be changed are the normal wear items (filters, street-legal tires, shocks/struts, ignition wires). Just beyond Street, there are Street Touring and Street Prepared classes which allow mild modifications, such as those to suspension (wheels, springs, shocks), external engine parts (intakes and exhaust manifolds), and interior (replacement of seats, not removal).

At the other end of the spectrum, the most significantly altered production vehicles that are mostly still street legal are the Street Modified cars, which retain production-based bodies and motors but little else that is stock. Street Modified cars often produce in excess of 350 WHP, can reach 60 mph from a standing start in less than 3.4 seconds, and can corner in excess of 1.7 transient lateral Gs. Prepared class is for production-based full-on race cars with stripped interiors, major suspension changes, heavily modified motors, and true racing slick tires. Typically, Prepared class cars are no longer legal for street use and are trailered to events. The SCCA D- and E-Modified classes also have production car backgrounds, but extend the Street Modified and Prepared allowances to silhouette level, allowing any automotive-based engine, total suspension redesign, and complete replacement of the body (typically with lightweight alloys or composites) as long as the general shape of the original car is still recognizable.

There are usually classes for purpose-built race cars imported from other series (including Formula Fords, Formula Atlantics, Formula 500s and vehicles similar to American oval-track stock cars) but most autocross cars are based on production cars.

The fastest autocross cars are purpose-built "specials" (A Modified in SCCA Solo) with small lightweight bodies, sticky tires, wild wings, powerful engines, and short gears. While their top speeds are typically limited by gearing, their transient cornering capabilities far exceed those of vehicles not expressly designed for autocross use.

Related motorsports[edit]

In the United States the sport described here is commonly known as autocross (it is also known as "Solo," the SCCA's brand name for it) but other regions of the world have different names for it. Certain parts of Canada and Eastern European countries (Russia, Ukraine, Moldova), for instance, call it autoslalom. In the United Kingdom it is known as autosolo and autocross refers to a similar sport that is held on unpaved surfaces like grass and dirt (also see SCCA RallyCross). In Southeast Asia, countries like Malaysia and Thailand refer to the sport as autokhana.

Motorkhana (as it is known in Australia and New Zealand) and autotesting (UK and Ireland) are related sports. With speeds rarely exceeding 40 mph (60 km/h), both motorkhana and autotesting are slower than American autocross, require handbraking, and have sections that must be negotiated in reverse. On the other hand, autocross speeds can reach over 60 mph (100 km/h) and courses that would require the driver to enter reverse are generally prohibited in autocross. Handbraking is also not usually necessary on a typical autocross course.

These are similar to the Japanese gymkhana, another type of handling competition. Gymkhanas are even tighter than motorkhanas and autotests, with numerous 360-degree turns around cones and courses that loop back upon themselves. Fast times require a lot of sliding and the end result ends up looking similar to a cross between autocross and drifting. Gymkhanas do not usually require entering reverse gear.

In ProSolo, an SCCA-sanctioned variant of autocross, two cars run side-by side on mirror-image courses after starting at a "Christmas tree" starting system similar to that used in drag racing.

Further reading[edit]

  • Watts, Henry (January 1990). Secrets of Solo Racing: Expert Techniques for Autocrossing and Time Trials. Loki Pub. Co. ISBN 0-9620573-1-2.
  • Turner, Richard (1977). Winning autocross solo II competition: The art and the science. National Academy for Police Driving. ISBN 0-932522-01-7.
  • Pagel, Jim (1972). How to win at slalom & autocross. ISBN 0-87112-053-4.


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