The Midfield Report: Observations from an Autocross Apprentice

mike hinton headshot 2011
by Mike

 Hinton, Redwood Region Secretary, June 2012

Ah, the income tax due date finally came and went, which means that some of the pressure is off at work. That gives me more time to fiddle around with cars, and to prepare for the many Redwood Region events. For me, the autocrosses are the most important, and soon enough, it was time to prepare for the third event of the season, which was on May 19.

I was truly looking forward to the May event, for a couple of reasons. First, a good friend of mine, Bob Werle, drove his 1971 911T Sportomatic all the way from Manhattan Beach to participate in our event! It seems that his region down South doesn't sponsor any autocross events, and he was anxious to try it for himself. Second, the May event would be the first 2012 event where Chris Harrell and I could renew our "fierce" midfield rivalry. This time, I had my not-so-secret weapon - Barney! Chris was able to counter with nice new, sticky tires for his 1973 hot rod, aka The Beast. Let the fun begin!

Grady Carter, one of our instructors, volunteered (I think!) to design our course. His course featured a "Chicago Box", which essentially is a very narrow lane preceded and followed by very sharp turns, with plenty of cones to massacre. It looked fiendish enough on the track walk, and would prove to be quite challenging at speed, with "speed" being a relative term - the entrance and exit had to be taken fairly gingerly. At first, I didn't care for the Box, but as the day continued, I warmed up to it, because it gave great satisfaction if driven properly. The remainder of the course was reasonably straightforward, and we noticed that the gaping pothole in the "go-kart" section of the track had been repaired (thank you ESCA!) since our April 14 event.

Due to some unforeseen scheduling conflicts, the number of drivers was less than we had had for our previous events, which meant that everyone would have to work both shifts, and we would only have one course worker per station. The good news was that with smaller run groups, everyone gets to make more runs than usual. After getting our worker assignments and instructions at the drivers' meeting, it was time to give Grady's course a try.

Immediately, it became apparent that the Chicago Box was challenging for most drivers. It seemed like during every run, the drivers were knocking down cones at the entry to the Box, or on the exit (or both!). I felt sorry for the folks that patrolled Stations 2 and 3, as they were constantly replacing deranged cones. In fact, we had to re-chalk one of the cone locations because so many cars ran over it! Otherwise, the runs proceeded without incident, and quickly enough that we were able to fit in 8 runs before lunch! I've attended autocross events where I've only made 8 runs in an entire day! I could hardly wait to get out there....

Since this event is only my third event with Barney, it still takes some time to remember exactly how the car behaves. One thing I forgot was that the tires need at least one run to develop useful grip. On my first run of the day, I felt like a rally driver as the car slid around seemingly at will. Fortunately, by the third run or so, the grip returns, reducing the "white-knuckle" factor. My times gradually improved throughout the morning, and I managed to dodge all of the cones!  We'd see about the afternoon...

The afternoon played out much the same as the morning through 7 additional runs, but I did flatten at least a couple of cones in the afternoon. As the t-shirt says: "No cones, no glory!" The weather warmed up, which seemed to make the course a little more slippery, and made it difficult to improve my times. All too soon, we were done for the day. Chris and I compared our times'll have to check the results to see where we landed. Let's just say that it was close!

My friend Bob had a fantastic time at his first autocross. Here's an excerpt from the e-mail he sent me after he got home: "What a blast. Please pass my thanks and appreciation for accommodating my participation to all of your colleagues in the PCA Redwood Region; and thanks for encouraging me to take the trek up north in one of my sportos." So thanks to all of you who helped my friend have a good experience. We have the best members in our Region!

Our next event is the Zone 7 event on June 23 and June 24. The Zone events are perhaps a bit more serious than our normal events, but are great fun as well. Again, if you haven't already done so, please follow the link on the autocross page of the Redwood Region's website to classify your car. Doing so will make you eligible to participate in the "hard-fought" battles for bragging rights!


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