So Many Ways to Compete with, and Otherwise Enjoy, Your Car!
There are many types of sports car racing events, and other ways to enjoy your car. Since I’m familiar mostly with Autocrossing and Hillclimbing, I discuss those in detail in posts I’ve written (or will write). Other types of racing events – drag racing, rally, track racing (road course or oval), ice racing, mud racing, rallycrossing, and others – I will leave the detail description to others, whose articles are much more informative than anything I could write. My experience in those types or racing is limited or, in the cases of drag racing and rally, zero.
Many types of racing can be done in a stock, or near stock car, and with a small investment in personal safety gear. Others require sophisticated, and often expensive, modifications.
Another type of competition enjoyed by many owners is showing their cars, either at large general car shows which typically attract many types of cars – hot rods, antiques, etc. or at marque-specific concours events.
Here’s a brief description of the types of sports car racing you can find to participate in almost anywhere in the United States, as well as many other parts of the world. Europe, Australia, South America and Africa host many very interesting events.
This type of racing is done on a closed track, usually a road course, which typically includes turns of different radii in both directions, straight stretches of varying lengths, and usually some climbs and descents. It can be done on a simple oval, but the varied road course is more common. Some layouts include a portion of an oval track in combination with the other unique elements.
When the cars run individually and compete for the best times, the event is known as a time trial. More than one car may be on the course at one time, but the idea is that the cars run traffic-free and complete for the fastest time. Time trials test the drivers’ skill at handling his/her car and negotiating the course. They include none of the strategy and jockeying for position that happens in “wheel-to-wheel” racing.
Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) Club Racing is wheel-to-wheel track racing where the performance potential of the eligible cars is limited to a fairly narrow range. Other wheel-to-wheel events may have different entry rules and more widely varying performance of the cars that run together. The cars start in a grid, similar to the format you’ve no doubt seen in NASCAR. The competition here is to be the first to complete the specified number of laps, or occasionally, to be leading at the end of a specified amount of time. The interaction between drivers and competition for desired positioning to enter turns and other elements add many dimensions to the drivers’ tasks compared to the relatively “sterile” environment of time trials.
Many cars in club racing run in “formula” classes, where the cars in the class are, as nearly as possible, mechanically identical.
While I’ve done a few track events, detailed description of these events and tips for preparation and driving are best left to others, whose articles I will share as I collect them.
This is the simplest form of racing. The only things that matter here are keeping the car traveling in a straight line and accelerating as fast as possible, usually on an eighth-mile or quarter-mile strip. Usually two cars run on parallel strips, and there may be an elimination style of competition, or the competition may be strictly for the lowest time. Times and terminal speeds are always recorded.
Since I have virtually zero experience in drag racing, I refer you here for an excellent description and history of this branch of racing, which can include anything from the family sedan to purpose-built behemoths with thousands of horsepower. Here’s a link to some great video of a drag racing event.
Autocrosses are usually run on near-level large expanses of pavement. A unique-to-each-event course is laid out using traffic cones in various configurations to define the course. A typical autocross course will consist of very tight turns (of various radii) and other complicated elements. The course design usually limits speeds to “highway” speeds – 70 MPH +/- maximum. Cars compete for the fastest times in their class or class group.
Although the speeds are not high and there’s no wheel-to-wheel element, this is one of the more demanding types of racing from the driver’s point-of-view. 90+% of the time the car is in some transition among maximum acceleration, maximum braking, and maximum lateral acceleration (turning). The transitions change with a frequency unknown in any other type of racing. It’s an excellent pursuit for learning precise car control and quick, far-ahead, thinking. It’s also among the least expensive types of racing.
See my post “Autocrossing – An Inexpensive and Fun Way to Begin Racing” for a detailed description of event organization and tips for preparation and driving.
A unique relative of autocrossing is “drifting”, which has become quite popular in recent years. A drift event is run on a fairly open autocross-type layout. The drivers strive to have the car sliding, and the drive wheels spinning, almost all the time. This is never the fast way around a course, but it is great for learning car control – how to maintain forward progress and a semblance of directional control while the car is almost out of control.
It obviously uses up tires very rapidly so many drifters buy used tires very cheaply.
Rallycrossing is very similar to autocrossing, except that it’s done on an unpaved, often totally unprepared, course. Conditions can vary widely, from dusty to muddy to snowy and icy and there’s often much more “up and down” than in autocrossing. These events can present unique challenges for drivers and are great fun.
Event organization is similar to autocrossing. Car preparation, especially with respect to tires, can vary enormously depending on expected (or unexpected!) conditions. I’ve seen courses where we started on hard frozen ground in the morning and, by afternoon, it was a mudbog.
Rally can refer to various types of events:
Gimmick rallies – essentially a several hour cruise incorporating something akin to a treasure hunt with cryptic clues for carfuls of people to figure out. Various twists, such as %-age of items found, time to complete, and shortest distance driven can be incorporated. It’s more like an interesting cruise than a “race”.
Time-speed-distance (TSD) rallies – The organizers determine a time and distance between checkpoints that is achievable within speed limits and other constraints, and teams compete to come as close as possible to the specified time and distance. Going too fast is penalized just as much as too slow. The competition is to come as close as possible to the exact time and distance prescribed. Sophisticate timing and distance measurement equipment is used by professionals in such competition.
Stage rally – a flat-out race over a course which usually includes many unpaved roads and sometimes some off-road sections. Cars are often very specially prepared, including roll cages, sophisticated suspension modifications, and tires specific to a particular course. Each course is unique. A general and much more detailed description of this branch of racing can be found here, and a full description of the New England Forest Rally in Maine is available at other parts of the same site. Information about other stage rallies can be found with on-line searches by event name, geographical area, etc.
Closely related to autocrossing and rallycrossing, ice racing is usually done on a frozen lake, so the course is level. Conditions can of course vary enormously through a day and from one event to the next depending on snowfall and temperatures.
Event organization and conduct are similar to autocrossing. Preparation depends on conditions. In ice racing radically studded tires are often used. This of course changes the car’s class – most classes include studded and non-studded subdivisions.
This type of racing can be pretty much what the organizers define it to be. Sometimes it’s a fairly level course, sometimes it’s a steep hill-climb, or other interesting twists can be added. With rare exceptions DEEP mudholes are featured – sometimes deep enough to bury a vehicle. The term “sports car” is stretched a bit here. The vehicles are pretty much all four-wheel-drive SUV’s and trucks. Of course massive deep-lug tires, and major “lifts” and other suspension modifications, are common.
Most sports-car hillclimbs differ significantly from other types of hillclimbs, such as motorcycle-only events, which are often very steep, narrow and winding to the point of being impossible for cars to negotiate. Actually motorcycles sometimes compete in sports car events, so terms can get a bit mixed up.
The hillclimbs I’m discussing here are run on paved (mostly – Mt. Washington, NH, and doubtless a few others, have unpaved portions – can make tire choice an interesting dilemma!) scenic tourist roads from the base of a mountain to it’s summit, or sometimes a portion of that distance. The road is closed to the public for (usually) a weekend, and timing and communication arrangements are installed.
The cars run one at a time, though sometimes multiple cars are on the course at the same time, a mile or more apart. Careful arrangements are always in place to stop a car which is in danger of catching another one. Competition is for the fastest time.
Unprepared cars can run in most events, though roll-cages and full personal safety gear are typically required of a car-driver combination that runs faster than a “break-out” time specified for each course.
Mt. Washington, NH (The “Climb to the Clouds”) and other more arduous courses, such as Pikes Peak, CO require fully caged, and otherwise prepared, cars and full personal safety gear for drivers and other occupants of the cars, such as navigators (or “co-drivers”) in cars run in “rally” class. Here’s an exciting drivers-view video of Travis Pastrana’s record-setting run at Mt. Washington in 2017!
Since the courses are always steep (15-20% grades are common) driving techniques differ from many other types of racing.
Usually, after a group of cars have reached the summit, the competition is stopped and the cars “parade” down the course for whatever’s next in the day’s sequence of events. A few locations have the luxury of a return road that is completely separate from the competition climb – this can speed up the event considerably.
Soon I will post a more detailed description of hillclimbing.
Showing your car
If you have a car you’re proud of (What car enthusiast doesn’t!?) and would rather show it off than drive it competitively, or in addition to driving competition, take it to a car show. Locations and times for car shows can be found on line. Local trade publications such as you find in grocery stores, drug stores, promoting real estate or general “stuff for sale” often list car shows.
In most cases there will be an entry fee, and often a higher fee if you’re offering the car for sale. These events are often run by service clubs (Rotary, Lions, etc.) or by car clubs. The Aviation Museum of NH, with which I was associated in Manchester, NH, runs an annual car show, and this is typical of these types of events.
As I gather more and better information I will from time to time update this page – WATCH THIS SPACE!