At the Autocross Event

On the day of the event, arrive early to register and get ready for the day. If you live in a northern climate, it seems that especially in the beginning of the year, after everyone has been going through winter racing withdrawal, events are extremely well-attended. It won’t be much fun if you got to the event just to find out that it is sold out. While registering, ask if there is a novice class and if there are instructors available to help novices. Clubs typically have a novice class and “course walks” to explain the basic techniques. It may also be possible to have an instructor ride with you until you feel comfortable. I would highly recommend taking advantage of this. As a part of the registration, you will be asked basic information about the car you will be driving, such as the year, make, model and what modifications you may have done to it. This information will determine in which class your car is placed. Cars entered in the event will be put into different classes based upon the vehicles’ performance potential. So no matter if you have a Porsche 911 twin turbo or a very old Honda Prelude, you will be competing against similar cars.

For novices, many clubs utilize a PAX index system which handicaps vehicles to allow a comparison of lap times for cars that are not in the same class. The index is built upon a large national database of SCCA autocross results. The goal of the PAX index is to take the driver out of the equation and compare only the car’s performance potential. Your vehicle’s PAX index is multiplied against your run time to provide you the PAX time. By using this PAX index, you are able to compare your times against other people who are driving cars that would normally be in other car classes. It is a nice way for you to compete against other novice drivers.

While at the event, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Most experienced autocrossers enjoy helping others, especially people new to the sport. When registering, ask about the work assignments. Yes, typically each entrant has to work a little during the event. The “work” simply involves being at one of the corner stations and calling in car numbers that knock down cones, as well as putting them back in their marked box. The amount of time that you have to work varies from club to club, but on average you will work one or two ½ hour shifts during the day. Ask if you can work as early in the day as possible so you can watch other drivers and how they approach the course. After registering, begin to prepare your car for the tech inspection. For the most part, each club will check for the same basic things to ensure you have a safe day.

Some of the common things tech inspectors look at are as follows:

  • Check to make sure that your helmet meets the club’s requirements.
  • Verify that all loose items are removed from the car (usually includes floor mats). Can you imagine how distracting it would be to have stuff flying around the interior while out on the course?
  • Inspect your wheels and tires to verify that they are in decent shape. If someone pulls on the tire and it wobbles due to bad bearings or whatever, it is not exactly safe.
  • Verify that the engine compartment has no major leaks and that the battery is secure.
  • Car numbers and class must be visible. Since clubs typically don’t provide you numbers, this is one place where the white shoe polish is very handy. Check the registration packet to determine what number you are assigned. Use the shoe polish to make your numbers on the rear side windows. The shoe polish will easily come off your glass windows with a standard window cleaning solution. Don’t be silly by putting it on the paint of your car! It will be very difficult to remove and may damage the vehicle’s paint. Another alternative to using shoe polish is to use painter’s tape.

You may also want to take out your spare tire while at the event, although it is usually not a requirement to pass the technical inspection. There is no reason to lug around that extra weight when it is so easy to take out. After having your car teched, it is time to walk the course a few times. If there is a novice walk through, I highly recommend that you participate it. During the novice walk, an instructor will give some advice on the recommended driving lines, where to brake, and other overall driving techniques to be applied to the course. If you have time before the novice walk through, you should walk the course a few times. While walking it, visualize where you should be driving the course and actually walk that line. It is also helpful to crouch down a bit in various areas to get to the approximate height you will be looking at the course from the driver’s seat. While walking the course, focus on looking ahead. If you can’t see two or three gates ahead, there is a good chance you will get lost when you drive it in your car. If you just go and simply walk it just for the sake of doing so, the only thing you will gain is some exercise. Before doing your first run, you should use the handy-dandy shoe polish again. This time you will be putting a small line on the tires from the tread down the tire a little, as shown in the pictures. What you are doing here is using the shoe polish to provide feedback on your tire pressures. In the beginning, you most likely won’t be using the tire to its full potential. At this point your primary objective is to make sure that you don’t need to add air to the tire. After a few runs, when you have increased your speeds a bit, you should look at the shoe polish line a bit closer and adjust the tire pressures accordingly.


If pressures are correct, the line of shoe polish will be worn off right around the end of the tread and just before the sidewall. Many tire manufactures put an arrow on the tire to indicate where the tire should optimally contact pavement under cornering. If the line is not apparent past the tread and a little way down the tire sidewall, you need to add more air before your next run. If there is shoe polish on the tread still, you should decrease the tire pressure a little bit. Before making any tire pressure adjustments, write down the starting and ending pressures for the next time you do an autocross event. At least this way you will have a reference point to begin with. Oh, and don’t forget to lower your tire pressures after the event if you raised them beyond the normal recommended pressure indicated on your vehicle’s door jam.