Fun at (Relatively) Slow Speed
By Paul Morrone CFP®, CPA/PFS, MSA
Unless you’re a part of a local car club or know someone who is, chances are you have never heard of an autocross event. Autocross seems to fly under the radar as it doesn’t have the glitz and glamour of the ‘real’ track, and often involves speeds well under 100mph. What many don’t realize, however, is that top speed alone doesn’t make your palms sweaty or your heart beat fast. Think about the last time you found yourself going a bit too quickly on a back road, you were either scared or had a smile on your face and you were probably going no more than 50 miles an hour. Either way the adrenaline was pumping. While it’s certainly fun to floor it in an uninhibited environment, I’d be willing to make the argument that you can have as much fun at half the speed and forget that you’re not seeing triple digits on the speedometer. Plus, if you screw up, chances are you won’t be smashing into a wall, or worse.
Autocross events occur in a controlled environment, and often courses are set up in a (really) large parking lot using a series of cones to define a track as few places have a dedicated autocross circuit. Participants race around the course in pursuit of the best time, all while being careful to avoid running over a cone which results in a costly time penalty. Simple enough? The goal of autocross is to provide normal people like you and I a chance to drive their car at the limit without expensive safety equipment and vehicle modifications, all while minimizing the chance that hurt yourself or someone else.
I’ve done autocross a few times, twice in a parking lot type setup and at Lime Rock Park’s autocross course, all of which are equally as exciting. The exciting part about autocross is that the tight nature of the course levels the playing field, where drivers in expensive exotic cars are not necessarily at an advantage. Because of this it’s not uncommon to see a Subaru, Mazda or Ford on the top of the leaderboard. On a full track, a Mazda would not be able to hold a candle to a Ferrari or Porsche, but a skilled driver on an autocross course can certainly give them a run for their money.
The Lime Rock Autocross series runs all summer, and currently my time of 21.11 is in the top third of the overall participants, which I don’t expect to change based upon the previous years’ results. I’m certainly not disappointed in that considering I’m driving a four-door sedan with a big, heavy and powerful V8 in front. What kills me is that I know I could do better and get that time into the mid 20’s if I don’t make some of the errors I made on my timed laps the first time. I’ll guess I’ll have to make it back before the summer is over and try to move up the leaderboard!
A side note: If you have never been up to Litchfield county or spent time at Lime Rock Park, it’s worth the trip. While it’s pretty much as geographically as far as you can get from my home in the state of Connecticut, the rolling hills, lakes and country back roads make the drive worthwhile.
PS - For those of you wondering, that is me driving in an autocross event last year at Thompson Motor Speedway in Northeast, CT. Those with a keen eye will recognize the car as a Ferrari California. Unfortunately, it is not mine!