DON’T PANIC: The First Timer's Guide to Solo Nationals

So this will be your first time at SCCA Solo Nationals? CONGRATULATIONS!!! You are about to be part of the largest racing event in the world. Over the course of 4 days, 1200 competitors will make their way through the gates of Lincoln Air Park for their chance at being the best of the best in their class, but there is a lot more to the event then just the 6 competition runs. We’ll lay out some important information for you to get ready for the big show and, hopefully, make sure you don’t miss out on all the fun that can be had.

First of all, don’t be scared. There is a lot to take in. The site is huge, there are a lot of people, and there is a lot going on all at once. If you ever have a question or don’t know where something is, ASK SOMEBODY. Everybody here is super friendly! Autocrossers are some of the best people you will ever meet, and most will go out of their way to help you. I can’t tell you how many people I have met at an autocross because they came over to me and offered to help. Also, talking to someone from your local region in advance can be very helpful.

So let’s start off with a basic walk-through of how to get setup and ready to explore...

Getting Through the Gate (There is more than you think):

Once you get to the gate, sign the waiver and get a wristband like any other event. Remember that unlike most events, you will need this wristband all week to get in and out. At Nationals, the cool part is that you’re given a rubber bracelet that works as your waiver wristband. No need to worry about keeping some nasty tyvek bracelet on all week. The gate is open 24 hours a day, just be sure to keep that bracelet close by as it is your key to the site.

Getting to Your Paddock Spot:

Once you’re in the gate, it’s time to go unload your things at your paddock spot. If you are unsure of where your paddock spot is, or need to be assigned a spot, turn left (North) as you enter the gate. The first tent you see is the Event Registration and Paddock tent. You can temporarily park your rig in front of the tent in a designated area, just make sure you aren’t blocking the way while you check in at the tent. If you picked a spot when you pre-registered, you can also find out where you are paddocked here. Each row consists of an “A” and “B” slab that are each roughly 25’ x 25’ running West to East from the entrance side. The A slabs are on the Southern side (towards main course) and the B’s are on the North (towards the practice course). Once you find your spot, go and make yourself comfortable, as this will be your camp for the week.  

Registration and Tech:

Once you have found your spot and unloaded, it’s best to get your paperwork and prep done first so you can enjoy the rest of your time at the event. Registration is in the same tent as Paddock Registration, at the entrance to site. Like all SCCA events, you’ll need your driver’s license and SCCA membership with you to check in. The wonderful people there to help you will verify your information, give you your work assignment, banquet tickets (don’t lose these!), as well as a packet of information about the event. This is also when you should make sure that you have a SCCA barcode on your helmet. If you haven’t been to a National event before, or have a new helmet, you will need to make sure you have a barcode before you begin competing. If you pull up to the starting line without one, your runs are unable to be identified and scored. Here are the hours registration will be open:

Your next priority should be getting your car teched. Without a signed Tech sticker, you will not be allowed to compete. Bring your car to tech prepared identically to how it competes, so this means completely emptied out except for your helmets, class and numbers on the car, with your competition tires mounted. If you have more than one set, you should bring them with to be inspected. Like any other tech, you’ll open the hood and trunk of your car, and hop out for it to be checked over. They will check your helmet to make sure it meets the current SCCA requirements and has a barcode (can you tell the barcode is important?). If everything is good they will put a signed event sticker on your car. For a quick read on common issues spotted at Tech, check out this link.


Where to be and When:

When you check-in they will give you a booklet full of information to help you get through the event. Included in that is the information we gave you above, the days each class is running, the order each class is running in and start times of events throughout the week. You’ll notice that there is a time noted for what time competition starts each day, but not what time each following heat starts. Depending on the flow of the heat (size, timing issues, broken cars on course, etc), the lengths can vary a lot. One heat may go great and the other may go at a snail’s pace. Never assume they will be the same length. There are a couple ways to keep track of what’s going on:

  1. Traditionally there is a sandwich board over by the Information and Big Fun Tents that indicates the heat each course is currently on. You can run over and check it out for a quick idea of where they are.
  2. You can head over to the grid you will be running and see what cars are running. Reference your event guide and you can get a rough idea of how much time you have until your heat runs.
  3. You can tune in to both courses on their individually broadcast stations throughout the week. The stations are usually listed in your event guide, but will also be posted on the rear of the trailer on each course. This is a great tool of following along with where heats are, as well as enjoying the action detailed by our fantastic announce team.
  4. The SCCA has started a new text alerts service this year that will notify you of heats starting/ending and other important information. Just text the word “SOLO” to 209-600-7222 to sign up for alerts.

All of these can help you know where to be at the right time. If you are tracking when you will be driving, make sure that your car is in grid prior to the end of the prior heat. If you are tracking when you work, make sure you are in grid and checked in before the end of the prior heat to help avoid time delays. The worker check-in person is usually wearing a red vest and is standing near the results tents on each course. Unlike local events, there is minimal down time for worker changeover between heats. There will be a break between heats 2 and 3 on each course for a course walk. The amount of time for the break is just enough to finish a walk, so don’t wait too long to get out there.

There will be a Test and Tune course setup on the North side of paddock. It is best if you can to register online in advance on this website.

You can also register on site, although the favorable time slots may be taken. TnT slots are all in 1 hour blocks and are split into two grids much like the main event. Show up a little bit before your time slot to avoid delays. You should be able to set-up in the opposite grid that is currently running, but if you have any questions there is usually at least one person with a clipboard running grid. You can also check with the people at the open window in the timing trailer. If you are talking to the trailer, make sure not to interrupt them if they are talking to someone as they are trying to keep everything running smoothly.

So it’s Your Heat to Run!:

Great! As mentioned, make sure to get to your grid spot before the prior heat ends. The grid spots are listed in a tent positioned between the 100’s and 200’s grids on both the East and West course. Once you have your vehicle in grid, go ahead and bring over any tools or spare parts you think you’ll need. Also make sure to bring a jack and jack stand. It is required to have a jack stand under the vehicle if you are working with it off the ground. After you have taken your 3 runs, you will head to impound. The good news is, Impound is in your grid spot! If you are running in a class that has a minimum car weight (any Street Mod, Prepared or Modified classes), you will be directed to the scales prior to returning to your grid spot. Once you’re back at your grid spot, the general rule of thumb is to open your hood and trunk for other competitors to inspect if they wish. You may be directed by the impound officials (in blue vests) to do a more specific compliance check. Things that have been required range from pulling a wheel off (see that jack stand comes in handy!), to taking measurements of specific parts. Not all classes will be required to do something specific, but keep it in mind. Now is a time when you can feel free to socialize with your fellow competitors and check out their cars. As with anything else, respect their cars and ask before doing anything more than looking in from the outside. Once the results are audited in the trailer, an impound official will bring them out to the class for approval. Once everyone has had a chance to look at them, if there are no concerns, the impound official will announce that class released from impound. You can now pack up your stuff and move it back to your paddock spot. Unless your car is running in another heat (ladies drivers or running two classes), you’re now done running. Depending on the heat you are assigned to work, you may be done for the day and be able to start relaxing.

The Fun Stuff:

So you’re done running (or maybe it’s prior to your run days), now what to do? Everybody does Solo Nationals a bit different. Some like to go back to their hotel/trailer/van down by the river, relax and go to bed early. If that’s not you, then you are in for a treat! There are so many other things going on throughout the week put on by different groups that you will surely find something to your liking. Very little of these are actually put on by the SCCA, in fact most are put on by individual regions just looking to bring a little extra fun and originality to the event. Here are a few things you can see and enjoy on site:

The Monday Night Welcome Party has been a tradition for years. Until recently it has been held at Speedway Motors where all the guests are welcome to roam the amazing Speedway Museum filled with all kinds auto racing history. In 2014 the party moved back to site in the form of Tacos and Talent put on by Heyward Wagner and a group of volunteers. The talent show portion was a Solo National tradition up until a decade ago when it was discontinued. The show is now back and in full swing. Bring out your special talent and get up on stage just for fun or to compete for prizes.You can even get in on the act as a region and play “Region Feud” and try to guess the most popular answers from across Solo Nation.

Road Trip Racing Team (RTRT) out of Texas has become known for Big Wheel ProSolo in the back rows of paddock (usually row 19 or higher on the West side).Relive your childhood by racing another adult on a full size big wheel through mirrored cone courses. First one through the finish gates is the winner. You can also hang out in their Biergarten complete with 3 trailers for wind break, a canopy with lights to keep you dry/visible, good people to talk to, and kegs of homebrew supplied by Nick Gruendler.

Atlanta Region (aka, The Alpha Tau Lambda Brotherhood) has made a tradition of Craigslisting couches and putting them under a giant circus tent. A flat screen TV seems to always end up under there, as well as some form of food. One year was an industrial grill, and the next a pig roast. They always seem to have something cool going on, and top it off with a non-stop game of 4-square all week. Yes, you read correctly, they play the kids game 4-square. What started out as a rivalry between ATL and the Texans turned into a competition of skill, hand eye-coordination and beer. This phenomenon has made its way around the autocross world and can be spotted at events from coast to coast. At any given time of the evening you could see between 10 and 100 people lined up to play. Various other shenanigans go on there as well, so keep an eye on the ATL tent.

The Hyman’s margarita parties have become a staple of Solo Nationals. Every year Eric and Laurie Hyman travel from Seattle (and now recently Austin, TX) with enough tequila to make customs agents question their intentions. They set-up shop, unload their insane 900whp GTR, and then unload the blender. On any given night you can hear the blender running from rows away and know there is some tasty nectar nearby in need of consumption. Stop on over, meet some new people from all around the country, and have a drink that tastes like it couldn’t possibly have alcohol in it, but surely has plenty.

The Craft Beer Exchange is one of the newer events at Solo Nationals. PJ Corrales has done his best and put together a fun group of people coming out each year to enjoy some good craft beer from around the country. Come out, bring a 6-pack of something tasty local to your area. Once you make your “donation” to the group, you can feel free to sample some new-to-you beers. It’s a great way to meet new people who share your same love for tasty suds.

Respect and Courtsey:

As with anywhere, respect of other peoples stuff and area needs to be the highest. Solo Nationals is a very relax atmosphere and we hope it forever stays that way. Autocrossers are some of the nicest people you will ever meet, and most are willing to loan you tools or help you out, but please make sure to ask before touching anyone’s stuff. This includes their cars, tools and trailers. A lot of people have hundreds of hours of labor into their cars, and some can be a bit fragile. If you ask, most people are more than happy to show you around their vehicle if they have time.

Also keep in mind that everyone here is volunteering their time to make this event happen. We couldn’t have Solo Nationals without everyone doing their part. This also means that if/when tempers get flared with people working the event, stop for a second and think. There are about 10 people actually getting paid to be here, the rest of them are doing it out of their love for this sport. Everyone should be treated with the utmost respect, because without all of them, this event doesn’t happen.

Wrap it up already:

So if there is one thing to take away from all this, it is “You’re going to have fun!” As awesome as these courses are, it’s 6 minutes of driving. Autocross is a social sport with a lot of amazing people. Go out and introduce yourself to some new people, have some fun and we hope the experience is everything you expected.

Story by Mike Brausen

Photos by Perry Bennett and Rupert Berrington