Oct 19, 2009

Affordable Racing

Written by Benjamin Hunting

Not everyone is happy to just use their automobiles to go from point A to point B and then back again. An entire industry has sprung up around servicing those who ask their vehicles to serve as chariots of fun as well as workhorses and daily commuters. Motorsports in general have developed a reputation as being the type of activity that requires a fat wallet in order to participate, and for some forms of racing this is certainly true. However, there are a number of grassroots ways to get involved in competitive and just plain fun automotive activities that won’t drain your savings account or risk putting undue strain on your car.

One of the easiest and inexpensive motorsports to get involved with is autocross. Autocross takes place in large parking lots, local airport runways or old industrial yards across the country – essentially anywhere that offers a large and clear paved space. A track is laid out with pylons, creating a very technical drive that involves slaloms, gates, and other specific types of obstacles and maneuvers. The courses are generally low speed, with most vehicles rarely shifting out of second gear, but they are very challenging to navigate in a clean and quick fashion. In combination with a well-balanced system of vehicle classes, this enables people with completely stock automobiles to compete against those driving other stock cars of similar power and handling characteristics. In addition to having a good time out amongst the pylons, autocross events usually provide all participants with access to instructors who can help them not only improve their driving times but also teach them to be safer and more skilled drivers – skills that transfer out into the real world at the end of the day.

While any car can be fun in autocross, the tight corners and low course speeds tend to favor smaller and lighter cars. Compact cars and roadsters are especially well suited to competing in autocross. One of the most popular autocross vehicles is the Mazda Miata, thanks to its combination of a low curb weight and excellent handling characteristics. Following close behind the Miata are the BMW 3 Series, the Honda Civic, Acura RSX, and the MINI Cooper. Each of these automobiles combines a mixture of sporty driving with excellent road holding and a generally small form factor, making them very tossable out amongst the cones.

For those worried about possibly damaging their car during an autocross event, there isn’t much cause for alarm. All autocross courses are laid out in very open areas so as to minimize or completely eliminate the chances of hitting something accidentally – even in the event of a spin. The low speeds involved in autocross also make it very difficult to tip a vehicle over, no matter whether control is lost when rounding a corner. The only real items on a car that could wear out as a result of constant autocross participation are tires and brake pads, but this is largely a factor of how heavy your car might be.

Autocross remains the least expensive and arguably the most fun way of learning more about your car and your own driving skills in a controlled setting that encourages interaction with both instructors and other like minded drivers.

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