Frequently Asked Questions
that you have proper directions to the event site, as many autocross
parking lots are located very obscure and/or remote locations. Be sure
to bring the proper equipment, such as a tire pressure gauge, a
compressed air tank or cigarette lighter plug powered air compressor.
Bring your safety-approved helmet, your car numbers, a folding chair,
and plenty of water to help you stay fully hydrated. See the Autocross
Checklist article for a complete list of items to bring. Also, visit PCA National's excellent autocross page here.
Empty out your car of all loose objects, including floor mats,
sunglasses, coins, etc. You may also want to bring along a tarp or a
box or something to keep all your belongings together. Make sure that
your car is in good technical shape. Peachstate Region PCA will perform
an informal and brief tech inspection including spot-checking wheel lug
nut torque. Make certain that your car does not have a loose battery,
loose wheel bearings, bad ball joints, or tire treads worn too thin, or
worn timing belts. Looking after these things will give you the best
chance at having a trouble-free autocross experience.
What Do I Do When I Arrive at the Autocross Site?
Arrive early in order to get your car and mind ready without rushing. Registration usually opens up an hour or more before the main event starts (at events with a first car off scheduled for 10AM, the organizers may be there before 7AM, and registration may open at 8AM.) Early arrival will give you time to get oriented, walk the course, visit the little autocrossers room, and possibly help out the event organizers (this latter is always appreciated.) In particular, by helping out early on, you may get to listen in on course design in progress, and thereby learn something.
How Are Time Penalties Awarded?
Autocross courses are laid out on a large area made of asphalt or
concrete, or sometimes a mixture of both. The course is lined with
cones. A box is chalk-drawn around the base of each cone, which allows
the cone to be replaced correctly if it is disturbed, and to allow
corner workers to determine if a driver has disturbed it enough to
acquire a 2 second penalty. The rule of thumb is that a cone knocked
over on its side results a time penalty of 2 seconds. A cone that been
knocked completely out of its box is also results in a time penalty of
2 seconds. However, a cone that is bumped, but still touches its
chalked-lined box is not penalized at all (but the worker does need to
put it back into place.)
What Should I Look for When Walking the Course?
There are two primary autocross course layout philosophies. One is the
use of lots of cones to wall off the course; these are relatively easy
to learn to drive. It is much more common to see "gated" courses, where
pairs of cones are scattered over the course and you need to visually
trace the path from one gate to the next. If the course designer is
good, this kind of setup is not too difficult to follow. But if he
makes the mistake of setting the cone spacing so you can't distinguish
a gate from another gap between two cones, these courses can be tough
to learn. Just walk the course carefully, memorizing the line you want
to take, and don't be afraid to ask questions of other drivers or of
the Autocross Chairman.
Am I Going to Be Asked to Work the Event?
Yes, Peachstate Region, like most clubs who put on autocross events, require that drivers also work a shift. Just as another driver is working the course in order for you to drive your runs, so also do you need to do the same for that worker. And by the way, if you want to be a well-rounded autocrosser, you should try and learn various different work tasks. Tasks include corner working (aka "cone shagging"), starting, and timing and scoring. The heaviest requirements are in cone shagging, so expect to become expert in this first.
There are two important issues here: don't blow off your assignment,
because we really do need everybody, and make sure that you report to
your work assignment promptly. After your run, it's OK to take a minute
to check your tires and drink some water, but don't get caught up
socializing - because somebody is out there shagging cones who probably
needs to prepare for his next run, and he can't do it because you
haven't reported yet. And after the event ends, each driver should help
with breaking down the course and loading the Autocross trailer. This
is a great way to show appreciation to your Autocross Chairman for the
tens of hours he put into making this fun possible for you.
How Do I Shag Cones?
If you start autocrossing, you will inevitably spend some time standing
out there watching the cones - everybody does. It's not wasted time;
take advantage of it. You can watch the different drivers and start to
see what some are doing that makes them consistent winners. Observe the
lines they take through corners, look at when and where they brake, and
when they get on the gas. But don't forget your job: when somebody
takes out a cone, you need to restore it before the next car comes
along. Replacing cones is not important enough to risk your life! The
basic rule is: never turn your back on a moving car. Wait for a
safe interval, go out and check the cone, and put it back in the box if
necessary. If there's a penalty that should be assessed, report this
information in to timing and scoring using your walkie-talkie.
Is it OK to Talk to the Timing and Scoring Workers?
These guys are usually very busy, so it's best not to speak to them
unless there is an emergency. Their constant duties include ensuring
that the timing system is operating properly; that they have the
correct downed cone counts from the cone shaggers; and communicating to
the starter when the course is safe to release the next car onto the
course. Their job is sufficiently complicated that the Autocross
Chairman will be pretty picky about who they allow to run the timing
station. But don't be afraid to volunteer for anything; we always need
What Does the Starter Do?
The starter must
coordinate several items: usually, they have to watch the cone shaggers
to make sure that the course is clear, safe, and ready; they have to
line up the next car at the start line; they have to tell timing and
scoring what the next car number is; and they have to make sure that
timing and scoring gives them the OK to let the next car go.
What is Proper Autocross Behavior?
Autocross sites are tough to find and tough to keep. Because of this,
it's very important that autocrossers be on their best behavior at all
times. It only takes one person acting like a jerk to ruin things for
everybody. When you're not on course, drive safely and courteously. If
you need to drive on a public road to get to/from the course, make sure
that you obey all traffic laws. Don't be an ugly autocrosser; help the
sport - don't hurt it. Make sure that you pick up all your trash and
leave the site better than you found it. Don't yell at any of the
workers (all of whom are volunteers) - be kind and respectful to
everyone. Be a good sportsman. Respect other driver's pit locations and
belongings. Share your tools and stuff with others; you never know when
you'll be the next one in need. Be friendly and helpful to newcomers.
Article Adapted from Richard Welty's "So You Want to Autocross, Part I"