1996 Florida State Championship Autocross

22 September 1996
Hosted by the:

South Florida Sports Car Association

First impressions of a newcommer: I went to have fun, which is what it is all supposed to be about, but lots of these people take their fun way too seriously. There were basically two kinds of cars on the course, fast and slow - and while a great deal of it is attributable to driving skill, I also noticed that all the fast cars were running BF Goodrich Comp T/A-Rs, or Yokohama A008s, or some other "DOT legal" racing tire. My only reservation about the sport is this entry requirement, that you have to run race rubber in order to be competitive. After thinking about it a bit, and talking with the people who autocross all the time, it's really a "sticky" problem, since the race tires are actually less expensive than the best street tires, and if you didn't allow the race tires in Stock classes, people would be showing up in shaved Pirelli P-Zeros and other really expensive shoes.

It was fun, This being the State Championship, there was quite a crowd. I went the night before, signed up, paid & got tech inspected, then I walked the course twice. One of the organizers walked around with me and John (another newcomer), then John and I walked around again & drew maps. The maps weren't much help, except that they made us think about what we were seeing, and get a better grasp of what was going on "in the big picture." I had every intention of getting up early and being there by 8 or 9am, but... 8:30, I wake up. I had the car mostly prepared the night before, so all I had to do was pack the cooler, run by Publix, get some sandwiched & drinks (& sunscreen) & go. I went to Publix, but forgot the sunscreen, so that was another stop at Walgreens on the way to the course.

I finally got there around 10. I did manage to snag a spot in the shade, which is good because it was very hot. I spent the next 1/2 hour getting my bearings, and borrowing shoepolish for my numbers. John and I went to the driver's meeting together, then I headed back to the car to pump up the tires. I was finishing the fourth tire when they called my group, so I went ahead to the grid without removing the spare tire.

In the grid everything went smoothly. I kept the top up & A/C on while waiting, and I think I put the helmet on a bit early for my first run, on later runs I waited until I was 3rd or 4th in line until strapping on the full face-mask. On-course during the 1st run, I took things a bit conservatively, though I did manage to tip a cone in the slalom.

The second time out, I went at it more agressively. What I gained in speed was nearly canceled by lack of finesse, the car was sliding through over half the corners (5 year old stock rubber tends to do that...), and there were one or two gates where I had to make some time burning corrections. And again, I tipped one cone in the slalom. At the end, this run was just over one second faster than the first. By the way, removing the spare tire did not seem to make any difference.

In my third run, I think I struck a better balance, not sliding so much, but taking the gates more quickly. I was feeling familiar with the course by then, able to look a couple of gates ahead and plan for the whole sequence. I was also getting braver about coming close to the cones on the gates, proven by the fact that I tipped one on the first half of the course. Just before the slalom was a gate - wall - gate combo, and on the third run I took this with excellent speed, putting me into the slalom going too fast. I know, that's what brakes are for, but if I could take the wall that quickly... anyway, I think I ate every right side cone on the slalom. After the second one went down, I lost my enthusiasm for the run and backed way out of the throttle, but did still manage to get one more cone for good measure. Correcting for the extra cones down, this run was 0.4 faster than the second one.

I would have liked to do a fourth run (who wouldn't ?:), but the event was wrapped up at 2:30, leaving me last in my class, just behind #15 Ian, the other newcomer Miata who was also on street tires. The rest of C-Stock consisted of one late model MR2, faster than me and Ian, but far behind three other Miate who were all running on race tires. The Miate are competitive, especially when prepared beyond just race rubber, but the ultimate fastest time of the day went to a Neon, I believe in D-Stock class, go figure.

Regarding the race tire dilemma: I guess you can look at it like this, they'll let you autocross in just about anything that doesn't leak oil on the track, but if you want to compete for trophies, even in the so-called Stock classes, you've got to buy some race rubber - period. I guess that makes things even for the people who are taking it seriously. I did have fun, and I do think I'll go again, but I really prefer events like the Bay Bottom Crawl, a speed trial / solo road race held every October on Sugarloaf Key.

Last updated September 22, 1996