The Midfield Report: Observations from an Autocross Apprentice

mike hinton headshot 2011
by Mike

Wendy cones

Wendy Strobel scaring some cones in her Boxster
(photo by Barbara McCrory)

Anita smoke

Anita kicking up a little smoke in the 914
 (photo by Barbara McCrory)
 Hinton, Redwood Region Secretary, August 2012

The Redwood Region hosted two autocross events in July, which is an unusual occurrence. The first event was held on July 7, and was designated as a "Ladies' Day" event, with flowers, special prizes, and a novice-friendly course. The second event, on July 21, was our regularly-scheduled event. For dedicated autocrossers, July would be a great month!

I was asked to arrive early at the first event, since our Autocross Director David Bunch was attending the Porsche Parade in Salt Lake City and the autocross team needed help setting up. Fortunately, other members, including our Past President Greg Maissen, stepped into the breach and enabled the setup of the event to proceed smoothly. As the time for the drivers' meeting approached, it was apparent that attendance was going to be sparse. Those of us who were there were asking ourselves where is everyone? and will we have enough participants to actually run the event? The situation appeared dire, but in the end, enough people arrived, and it was time to start the event, albeit with a somewhat skeleton crew among course workers and timing and scoring personnel.

Our current President, Vern Rogers, designed a relatively fast, flowing course to challenge the drivers. The course featured the usual slalom sections, and the typically bumpy ride through the go-kart section. As our Vice President Chris Harrell and I walked the course and chalked the marker cones, we tried to develop strategies that would lead to fast times. Much of the decision-making was taken away, as the slaloms featured pointer cones that dictated the path to be taken. One less thing to think about!

There are advantages to small participant groups. The main benefits are that everyone gets to make many runs, and there is very little down-time between runs. The short time between runs can be challenging if you've progressed to the stage where you monitor your tire pressures between runs, however. You'll need to keep your tire pressure gauge handy, and you'll want to remove your valve caps to speed up the process. Obviously, the disadvantage to a small group is that everyone has to work both sessions and, often, you'll have to man a worker station alone, which requires more concentration.

Chris and I were in the same run group this time, and it would be interesting for us to compare times. For the first time, Chris brought out his 1972 914, which is classified in the same group as Barney (AX16, the slowpokes!). We were both looking forward to seeing how we and the cars would compare. Vern's course design proved to be popular among the drivers in our run group, as it did not include any crushingly slow sections, and seemed to flow well. After a couple of runs to warm the tires, we got down to business. Unsurprisingly, Chris and his 914 clocked nearly the same time and Barney and I. Overall, of course, we were mid-pack, but we were both pleased with our cars and maybe even our driving! All too soon, our morning runs were complete, and it was time to work. The small group meant that there was non-stop action, but it also meant that the work session was short. After no time at all, we all gathered for the bench-racing session that passes for the lunch break at a Redwood Region autocross.

After lunch, Chris and I were set to renew our battle out on the course, but the 914 wouldn't start! Chris was able to quickly diagnose the problem, which was caused by a nearly-disconnected negative battery terminal. Unfortunately, the problem was caused by the battery breaking its hold-down mounts and sliding out of the battery tray, so Chris couldn't run in the afternoon. Guess he was driving that car pretty hard if he was able to break the battery loose from its mount! THAT would explain why his time was so close to mine, despite a 45 horsepower deficit!

My afternoon runs were mostly uneventful until later in the session. The "back" portion of our course is popularly known as the "skid pad," because in certain configurations, the course is set up such that you make a complete circle during one run. I actually think it's called the skid pad because the asphalt is always slippery through there, even when it's dry. In any case, I'd had some success by going through that section with the back end sliding just a bit. On one of my final runs, I was sliding just a bit more, thinking it's ok; I've got this. Suddenly, it was oh ****, I DON'T have this, and around I went! It was a pretty simple spin, and there was plenty of time to remember to depress both the brake and clutch pedals as I went around. Nothing was bruised, except for my ego (and my time)! It was another good learning experience.

I'll report on the July 21 event in our next newsletter, since I won't be able to attend the next event scheduled for August 11. The attendance has been a bit light at our last three events, so I would encourage all of you, rookies and veterans alike, to test you and your car against our challenging courses. A good time is guaranteed!


Click here for detailed results from all Redwood Region autocross events.