Autocross (also called "Solo", "AutoX") is a timed competition in which drivers navigate one at a time through a defined course. It is a form of motorsports that emphasizes safe competition and active participation.
Autocross differs from road racing and oval racing in that generally there is only one car on the track, driving against the clock rather than other cars. As an entry-level motorsport it provides a stepping stone for drivers looking to move into other more competitive and possibly expensive forms of racing (such as rallying, rallycross and circuit racing).
Autocross courses are typically less than 1 mile long and tend to place demands on car handling and driver skill rather than on engine power and outright speed. Courses also tend to be different from event to event, even courses held at the same site, so you have the unique challenge of figuring out the best driving lines from one event to the next, even with the same club.
Due to the nature of a typical course, speeds can be slower when compared to other forms of motorsports, usually not exceeding highway speeds, but the activity level (measured in discrete turns per minute) can be higher than even Formula One due to the large number of elements packed into each course.
Events typically have many classes that allow almost any vehicle, from economy sedans to purpose-built racing cars to compete. While "Street" classes tend to be the most popular classes (stock or some minor bolt-ons), others do bring purpose built cars. However, you can expect to see many vehicles you wouldn't expect, including certain trucks, or even a 450+ HP Volvo Station Wagon.
All you really need is a car in general working order, to figure out which class you're in (more on this later), and to register! Some clubs only offer walk-up registration, but most clubs also offer online registration as well, usually at a discounted rate! Event fees typically range from $25-$45 for local events.
If it's your first time, not everything below is required to bring - but if you have them, it'll go a long way and make for a better day. Some good items to bring include the following:
1. Make sure you have everything you need in your car. Also, leave everything at home you don't need. Maybe stop at a gas station - you'll want at least 1/2 tank of gas (and definitely no less than 1/4 tank), check your fluids, air up your tires, grab some snacks, water, etc.
2. Arrive! Earlier the better. Once you arrive, you'll want to Register/Check-In. There will typically be a timing trailer at each venue where you'll want to register/check-in. Even if you registered online, you'll need to go up to sign the waiver and "check-in", many times this is a shorter line since you've already pre-paid. Also, if you're not sure of your class, the registration folks will be able to help you determine that. You can typically pick any number you want as long as it hasn't already been claimed. They'll also fill you in on when the driver's meeting will be, if/when the course opens for walking, and other important details.
3. Empty all loose objects of your car, including the trunk and passenger floor mats (driver's too if not secured by a hook/latch). This is required to pass tech inspection. However, you will want to keep your helmet (if you have one) in the car with you. Also, put your Numbers and Class Letters on your car, and re-torque your wheels, as these are also required to pass tech inspection.
4. Get Tech'd. Drive your car up to the tech inspection area. Unsure of where that is? Just ask! Most of the other drivers will be able to point you in the right direction. Once you arrive at tech, they'll typically ask that you leave the car running, pop the hood, and open your trunk.
5. Walk the course. After you re-park in your space, relax a bit and head up to the starting line of the course. It's not a bad idea to try to partner up with someone, especially if they're experienced. If you tell someone you're new and you'd like their help, they'll either help you themselves or find someone more knowledgeable to help. Some places also have novice walkthroughs of the course right before the driver's meeting where an experienced autocrosser (or even the course designer for the day) will take you through the course explaining various elements, as well as explaining what certain cones mean. This way you'll be less likely to get lost on course while also figuring out key strategies and driving lines so you can properly attack the course once competition starts. Victory loves preparation. You can walk the course as much as you'd like while it's open. Some people are one and done, while others will walk it 4 times or more.
6. Attend the driver's meeting. They'll give you information about when you run, work, rest, radio station to listen to announcers, website to look at live timing and scoring, and all sorts of other pertinent info for the day.
7. Have fun! Make sure before you run to check your tires, make sure you've turned those pesky nanny controls off (traction control, stability control, etc), and that you have enough time to get your car warmed up to temp before you make your first run. DON'T do tire warmups - it's a good way to get kicked out. Your tires will quickly warm themselves on the course.
Talk to people. Attend driving schools. Trade ride alongs. Prep your car to the limits of your class allowances. Read articles (like www.beyondseattime.com) or listen to podcasts. Get involved on the Pittsburgh Autocross Facebook Group.
Don't be afraid to ASK QUESTIONS!!!
Everyone starts somewhere.
Any seasoned veteran or trophy winner has spun out, hit cones, turned their windshield wipers on, beeped their horn, or done all of thee above simultaneously. It's a rite of passage. We all start somewhere, and there will almost always be someone faster than us. The autocross community is incredibly supportive of helping drivers find whatever they need to improve.