How Shall I Prepare Before Coming to an Autocross?

Make sure that you have proper directions to the event site, as many autocross parking lots are located in obscure and/or remote locations. The Peachstate Region's favorite venue is Atlanta Motor Speedway in Hampton (about 30 miles south of city center) because the parking lot is very large and they provide security. See the Autocross Checklist article for a complete list of items to bring. If nothing else, bring water, comfortable clothing appropriate to the weather, sunglasses, a hat, light energy snacks, and a tire pressure gauge.

Make sure that your car is in good technical shape. Peachstate Region PCA will perform an informal and brief tech inspection including. 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. It is your responsibility to ensure that your car is safe to compete in an Autocross event.

What Do I Do When I Arrive at the Autocross Site?

Arrive early in order to get your car and mind ready without rushing. Upon arrival park your car in the PADDOCK (general parking area) and go straight to SIGN IN / Registration. At Sign-In you will be given your run group and work assignment. Return to your car and empty/clean out your car of all loose objects, including floor mats, sunglasses, coins, etc. Once your car is cleaned place your numbers on the car and move your car to the correct run group parking area on the GRID. You are now clear to walk the track if it has been open.

The Peachstate schedule is generally as follows:

  • 7:30am Gates Open
  • 8:00 am Registration opens
  • 8:00am Course open for walking
  • 9:30am Mandatory Drivers Meeting.  If you're late you won't run.
  • 10:00am First car out (immediately after drivers meeting)
  • 3:30pm Everyone tears down the course and heads home

Early arrival will give you time to get oriented, walk the course, visit the little auto crossers room, and help out the event organizers (this latter is always appreciated.)

In particular, by helping out with course setup on Saturday afternoon you may get to listen in on course design, driving line and learn how the designer visions driving the course.  Contact Rich Armstrong for more details.

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. Each cone will have a chalk line drawn around the base, which allows the cone to be replaced correctly if it is disturbed,. This also allows 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 (Workers still need to put it back into the chalk box.)

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. The gated course is the method that Peachstate Region uses in Autocross. 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. Remember it is important to stay 1 or 2 gates in front of your car as you drive.

Am I Going to Be Asked to Work the Event?

Yes, Peachstate Region, like most clubs who put on autocross events, expect drivers to work. Just as another driver is working the course in order for you to drive your runs, you need to do the same for that worker. If you want to be a well-rounded auto crosser, you should try and learn various different work tasks. Tasks include registration, sign in, corner working, starting, grid, tech inspector, safety officer, time assistant, and timing and scoring. The heaviest requirements are for corner workers, 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 group is finished, it's OK to take a minute to check your tires and drink some water, but don't get caught up socializing - because the next run group is waiting for you to get to your work position so they can start their runs. Get to your work station as quickly as you can.

When the event ends all drivers and workers should help with breaking down the course. Stack like cones together in your general area, (small on small, medium on medium and larger on large). Once cones are stacked they need to be loaded in the Autocross trailer with all the other equipment. Canopies need to be taken down and rolled up. All equipment needs to be loaded back into the trailer for the next event and your help in getting this done is very important. This is a great way to show appreciation for the individuals that set up the event and the hours they put into making this event possible for you.

How to be a Corner Worker

As an Autocrosser you will inevitably spend some time standing out on the course watching the cars and cones - everybody does. It's not wasted time; take advantage of it, observe what is going on around you. 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. And determine if a 2 second penalty needs to be called in.

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 via radio to timing and scoring.

Is it OK to Talk to the Timing and Scoring Workers?

“NO”. 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 corner workers; and communicating is clear, so when it is safe, the next car can be released 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 more volunteers!

What Does the Starter Do?

The starter controls the modified traffic light that we use to signal drivers when they are clear to run the course. A RED light means move into starting position but do not go. Once the light turns GREEN the driver is clear to run the course. He coordinates with the timer and the corner workers to ensure the course is ready and in a green condition. A GREEN course means that the course is clear and safe for the next car to run

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. In the PIT, PADDOCK and GRID area the fastest speed a car should travel is at a WALK, no faster. 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 (Everyone is a volunteer) - 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.

Two Driver Cars

If you come to the autocross with two drivers and one car expect to be placed in two different run groups. We do not allow two driver cars to run in a single run group due to the time delay and confusion.

Article Adapted from Richard Welty's "So You Want to Autocross, Part I"