5 Things Drivers Need in the Paddock at an Autocross

One of the things I love about SCCA® Autocross (otherwise known as Solo) is the extremely low barrier to entry. Do you have a car? I do! Do you crave adrenaline? For sure! Then let’s go play with cars! It’s literally that simple.

Autocross allows anyone the opportunity to find the extreme limits of their vehicle around a coned course in a very controlled environment. Yes, you can slide your car around a corner with a smile on your face and Johnny Law actually can’t turn on that dreaded red light. In fact, police officers have been known to participate.

Even though the barrier to entry for autocross is about as low as it gets for motorsports, there are a few items every autocrosser can use as they head to their favorite parking lot or airport runway to compete. This list is by no means all-encompassing, but what’s on it will help you survive your weekend of #funwithcars.

1. Helmet

SCCA’s Solo Rules require that every driver (and passenger) utilize a helmet that holds an approved safety rating. For most, that means a helmet meeting Snell requirements, which right now means a 2010 rated helmet or newer.

What’s a Snell rating? It’s a certification from the Snell Memorial Foundation that tests the viability of crash helmets. You’ll find a small Snell sticker with a year (the ratings come out every five years, so 2010, 2015, 2020, and so on) placed on the inside of a rated helmet. For SCCA Autocross, most people will utilize a Snell “M” or “SA” helmet. “M” rated helmets (generally used for motorcycles) are usually less expensive than “SA.” An “SA” (Special Application) rating is used for road racing, but is also allowed for autocross.

(Photo by Andy Howe)

For those new to the sport, don’t be frightened by the requirement of a helmet. In the 30 years I’ve been playing in parking lots, I’ve seen more helmets age out than be damaged – and those incidents where a helmet is damaged were usually caused by the helmet rolling off a vehicle or toolbox in the paddock and hitting the ground.

In other words, treat your helmet with care and it’ll last you a long, long time.

2. Tire gauge

The most important part of a car (besides the nut behind the wheel) is the tires. Those round rubber donuts are the only thing between your car and the racing surface that you’ll be using to accelerate, brake, and turn. They’re also the best performance modification you can make. It’s little hyperbole to say that tires are everything.

Since tires are vital to success, it’s crucial that the air pressure in those tires is optimized for performance. Too little air, the tire can de-bead from the rim. Too much air and the car will slide around and feel skittish. What’s the right pressure for your car? There’s no simple answer for that – but to consistently maintain that correct tire pressure once you find it, you need a tire gauge.

A simple pen gauge will work, but a nicer dial gauge with a bleeder valve will make adjustments between runs much simpler, and be more accurate.

A portable electronic air pump is also extremely handy to have in case you find the need to add air.

3. Car numbers/class (or blue painter’s tape)

Autocross is a competition (hence the adrenaline), which means the folks in the timing trailer needs to know which car is on course in order to log your official time.

Stickers or magnetic numbers and class designation (minimum eight inches tall for the car numbers and four inches tall for the class) help the folks running the event keep track of everything. But, if you don’t have fancy magnetic numbers, simple blue painter’s tape and some moderate artistic ability can get the job done.

Blue tape will not hurt the finish of your car, although when event photos come out online of you exiting a corner with the tail out, you’ll probably wish you upgraded the blue tape for some sharp looking magnetic numbers so you look more like Max Verstappen.

(Photo by Andy Howe)

It’s also notable that for some Regional autocross events, the organizers will supply numbers printed on paper that you then tape to the side of your car – in which case, you’ll need painter’s tape anyway. Also, class designations aren’t always needed, depending on how the Region operates its events.

4. Sunscreen, hat, umbrella...and yes, shoes

Because Solo events are held in large parking lots or airport runways, there’s generally little to no shelter, which means you need to bring your own shelter with you. Whether it’s raining or shining, you should probably bring a good hat and an umbrella – plan on packing sunscreen for sunny events and a rain jacket when it’s going to be damp.

(Photo by Jay Bonvouloir)

The reason autocrosss events are so affordable (in many cases, around $50 for a day of fun) is because it’s a work/race format. You get to drive around the course fast while (hopefully not) smacking cones –and you get to stand on course while other people drive around fast while you pick up their knocked over cones. Consequently, there’ll be a decent amount of time spent on your feet, so wearing good shoes is wise (per the rules, shoes must cover the entire foot).

5. Snacks and water

Autocrosses are rarely held in the hustle and bustle of a shopping strip – they’re held at the kind of places that don’t mind if we drive cars around cones like maniacs. That is to say, fast food is usually not nearby. Autocross events are also porta-potty land (speaking of which, bring hand sanitizer just to be safe).

These events don’t usually have a long enough break for you to leave to grab a meal at a Michelin rated restaurant. Will food trucks be on site? It depends on the Region, but I wouldn’t count on it. So bring a small cooler with snacks and a meal to help get you through the day without getting hangry and wanting to chew off your own arm.

Make sure you bring water, too.

I’m by no means a nutritionist, so don’t look to me for dietary advice. Apples and bananas? That’s probably not a bad idea – but keep in mind that the person offering this advice starts every one of his competition weekends with donuts.

(Photo by Andy Howe)

For water, a rule of thumb for hikers is to bring one liter for every two hours on the trail. Extrapolate that to an autocross, and packing a gallon of water is likely a good idea.

About the author: Rob Krider is a national champion racer, the author of the novel Cadet Blues, and is the host of the Stories and Cocktails podcast.

Lead Photo by Andy Howe