Getting Started in Autocross: A Novice Guide for the Arizona Region SCCA Solo Club
This guide was written for anyone in the Phoenix area who is interested in getting involved in Solo (by yourself on course) Autocross. It contains a lot more information about the club, autocross in general, and how to get started in your first event. If you're not the type that likes to read a whole lot and you would rather just jump in and drive at the next event, read our QuickStart guide and you will have no excuses.
Welcome to AZSolo, the Phoenix area Arizona Region SCCA Solo Autocross club. If you’re looking for information about getting started in Autocross, you’ve come to the right place. This guide was written for people with little or no experience in Autocross. It includes all of the basics you need to know to get started and helps you sort through some aspects of Autocross that can sometimes be confusing. We recommend that you download the official "Introduction to Arizona Autocross", print it, read through it from beginning to end, and then keep it handy for reference. At the end of the guide there is a form you’ll want to complete that will help ensure that you’re ready for your first day at the track.
What is AZSolo?
AZSolo is the Phoenix-area "solo" (another word for Autocross) Club. The Solo club coordinates autocross events for the greater Phoenix area and is one of many in the Sports Car Club of America’s (SCCA) Southern Pacific Division. Other Regions in the Division include the Arizona Border (Tucson), California (near Bakersfield), San Diego, Las Vegas, Guam, and Hawaii.
What is Autocross?
Autocross is a competition driving event that just about anyone with a car and a license can participate in. When you attend an event you’ll see people with driving skills that range from beginner to advanced. You’ll see cars from Mom’s grocery getter to $100,000 race cars complete with all the cool stickers. Autocross is a chance to drive your car to the track and test your skills and your car’s capabilities in a closed environment. Events are organized and run by volunteers. The AZ Region’s current home is Firebird Raceway, with events nearly always falling on a Saturday or Sunday. The cost is usually between $20 and $40 per event.
If you’re truly interested, you should check out an event to see what goes on. It costs nothing to observe and you’ll learn a lot. Here are some of the things you’ll want to know and that you will observe once you get to the event:
An annual schedule of events is always available under the Event Details menu on the web site. Usually the gates open at about 6am and the event ends around 4pm. If you’re coming to observe, you can show up any time you like between when the gates open and the event is over.
Unless otherwise posted on the web site, the events take place at Firebird Raceway on Skidpad #4. To get to Firebird, take the 10 west from Phoenix or East from Tucson, exit 162 (Wild Horse Pass) and follow the signs to Firebird International Raceway, entering at Gate 3.
When you drive up to the entrance, you will be asked to sign a liability waiver. You’ll also have to wear a wrist-band proving that you signed the waiver. Minors (anyone under 18) will need to be accompanied by a parent or bring a notarized Minor Waiver Form for admittance. If you bring a child 12 or under, they will have to stay out of the active Grid area.
Paddock and the Grid
The area where most of the cars are parked is referred to as the paddock. You can park anywhere in this area but try and park somewhere away from trailers and tools. A driver on the course or preparing to go on the course may have been parked near a trailer or tools and will want to return to that spot. Another area marked by cones is called the “Grid”. This is where cars line up before going out onto the course. Don’t park in the Grid.
The cones on the large lot make up the course for the day. As an observer, you can watch from the paddock or designated spectator area. Use common sense and try not to hang out against the fence.
All entrants are split up into run groups (or “heats”) that run for about 50 minutes. In that time, each car gets three or four runs. Once those runs are done, the drivers park their cars back in the paddock area and usually get out on the track to work. Later, those drivers that signed up for “Time Only” runs will get another round to drive the course. These are runs where the times are recorded but they do not count as part of the competition (more on that later).
The people in green or orange vests standing at various points along the track are out there to pick up the cones that are run or bumped over. If you enter an event, you’ll most likely be one of those course workers when you’re not driving. Everyone that drives also works an assigned position during one heat, but working the course is easy, rewarding, and explained in more detail later.
Event officials and coordinators will be in a trailer. This is where the scorekeeping and announcing is done. It’s best to leave the folks in the trailer alone, but don’t hesitate to approach them for anything important. If you have questions about the event, cars, classes, etc., someone in the paddock area or anybody else that isn’t driving should be able to answer them for you. Most of the people at the event are drivers.
Once you’ve been to an event and seen the action, you will probably want to learn what you need to do to get started. You need to learn about your car, how to register, and many other basics.
There are several entrant categories depending on experience and other factors. Those who are new to Autocross start out in one of the “Novice” categories. Since this is an actual category, you should get used to that term when referring to yourself with other drivers. Use Novice instead of rookie or newbie or beginner. You’ll move out of Novice and into an Open class eventually but don’t worry about that right now. For the time being, you are a Novice.
Cars and Classes
It is very important to know which “class” your car belongs in. All cars participating in autocross do so in their respective “class”. A stock 1999 Mazda Miata, for example, is in “C Stock” or CS for short. The SCCA publishes a guide that indicates the class to which every make, model, and year of car that is eligible to Autocross belongs. If you have not made any performance modification to your car, you can download the SCCA stock car list and determine to what class your car belongs. The list is available in the Solo section of the SCCA site under “Cars and Rules”.
You can and make performance modifications on your car and still be in the stock category but be careful to stay within the rules of the stock category. Even minor modifications can put your car in a class where, as a Novice, you probably won’t be competitive. Fundamentally, if the rulebook doesn’t say you CAN do a specific modification for a specific class, then you accept that you CAN’T.
If you have already made performance modifications to your car, you should check to see if the changes put your car in a class other than stock. The best reference is on the AZSolo web site here. Print the guide and highlight the changes you made to your car. If any of them are outside the rules of “Stock” modifications, you should probably make a complete list of your car’s specifications and mods and post them on the AZSolo bulletin board and ask someone to help you determine where your car belongs. At a minimum, check Ben Clement’s Modification Guide (PDF).
It’s important to know what class your car is in and to be accurate. When in doubt, ask.
Is that it?
Not even close! Now that you've learned most of the basics about getting started, we recommend you check out the bulletin board and introduce yourself. You’ll find that autocross attracts a lot of good, helpful people.