We are excited to announce Karen Babb as the 2018 SCCA Solo National Championships East course designer. Babb is from Renton, Washington, and first started autocrossing in 1979 when she bought a RX-7 as a college graduation gift to herself. She is a member of the Northwest Region and is currently serving as a Board member at large. Being a multi-time National Champion in the Ladies class, Karen made the move to the open class in 2006. She has also served as the Solo Nationals Chair for the last three years, along with her husband, Ron. We sat down with Babb to get some of her course designing background, and to talk about the philosophy and processes behind her designs. We also asked her for her thoughts on the current state of course design overall.
JH: Which year or years have you designed a course at Nationals?
Karen Babb: Oh, wow. I first started in the ‘80s. Honestly, I can’t recall all the specific years. I know I have done both the East and West side at Lincoln Air Park.
JH: When did you start designing courses, and what led you to wanting to do that?
Karen Babb: Well, I started autocrossing late 1979 when I joined the Boeing Auto Sports Club, and started designing courses shortly thereafter. As an engineer, I was interested in technical aspect of the course design. So, I put together a course, got some advice from some of the tenured region members, and submitted it. I have been doing it since.
JH: What would you say is the philosophy behind your designs?
Karen Babb: I really try to approach each design with no agenda. My approach is to focus on making the course balanced, challenging and easy to read. There are many classes where you can have cars with different strengths, and I really try to keep the course balanced so that the focus is on the driver and their ability, and not the car itself.
JH: Can you walk us through your process when designing a course?
Karen Babb: I begin with a completely clean slate. I start with the flow first. While working on the flow, I keep in mind the location of the corner stations, ease of getting to the scales from the finish, and so on. Once I have the flow down, I add in the elements to match. Then I go back to previous courses to make sure I don’t repeat any mistakes I believe I made on those. I do probably three or four different courses for Nationals. One I really like, one as a backup, and then two more just to make sure I have something that will work with the site as it might have changed since we were there last time.
JH: Lastly, I am sure some have noticed that courses seem to be getting faster in terms of average speed on the course. What are your thoughts on that? Is it a function of the cars themselves being that much better, or has there been an overall philosophical change in course design? Or both?
Karen Babb: I believe some of it might come from perceived marketability, as Howard Duncan would say. I think there is a belief that fun is directly linked with velocity, which isn’t really the case in my eyes. I am, personally, not in love with a Street Class Corvette hitting 80 mph on course. But I am also not a fan of any car needing to ever downshift to first. I do try to make sure that I put together a course that works within the current state of course design. In my eyes, a course that provides a great challenge is one that provides content that requires the drivers to look ahead without making people go slow.