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© 1999 Brian F. Schreurs
Even we have a disclaimer.

Long-haired hippies and industrial shop fans: make some popcorn and pull up a chair.

Old Dominion Speedway, Manassas, Va.

Autocross: Sunday, April 25, 1999

Our first autocross. Wow. What a rush.

But this was no average autocross. This was Sibling Rivalry, the annual duel between the Northern Virginia Corvette Club and the Mid-Atlantic F-Body Organization. NVCC has access to Old Dominion Speedway, a racing facility with a 3/8-mi. oval and a 1/8-mi. dragstrip. They run their autocrosses on the oval.

That's right, for those of you who think of autocrossing as a parking lot event, NVCC does autocrossing on a banked oval. Cool!

Negotiating a gate in turn four of the oval.
Drivers must bring their cars to the infield before the event begins. Then each driver signs up for a heat and a car number. Kara and I wanted to see how an autocross worked before trying to run it, so we signed up for the second heat, sixth car. That made mine Car 26, pronounced Car Two Six.

The track was set up so that the straights were free of obstruction. Yep, that means you can stomp on it. But the corners were riddled with coned gates that you must drive through. Each gate felt like it was barely wider than the car. This is where driver skill comes into play -- negotiating the gates without whacking any cones. It's trickier than it sounds, especially coming in hot off the straights.

Autocrossing has different demands on the driver and car than does bracket racing. Both car and driver must be able to handle tight corners with poise. The course tests the driver's judgment of braking distances and the car's ability to meet them, especially after the brakes heat up. In essence, whereas a dragstrip asks you how well you know your car's acceleration, an autocross asks you how well you know your car's handling.

Except here at Old Dominion Speedway, where, thanks to the straights between corners, you must be able to do it all.

This course is noted for occasionally putting an overdriven car into a wall, but fortunately we didn't see any of that. 20 Corvettes and 10 F-bodies took to the course, one at a time. Each car had one lap to pick up speed, then three timed laps. Everyone ran the course three times.

It's great seeing Corvettes being driven hard. Too many Corvette owners ascribe to the wax-on wax-off school of car ownership. Not these guys. These cars were runners, and they ran 'em hard. And it goes without saying that MAFB merrily flogged our cars, trying to keep up with our "older brothers" (since the Corvette line started a good 15 years before the Camaro/Firebird).

The Firebird a mere instant before crossing the finish line.
As Wayne Edelen said, "They may be faster, but our cars are louder." Several F-bodies ran barely-muffled or even uncapped. No doubt the NATO guys in Washington that weekend knew when the F-bodies took to the track. We sounded faster, dammit!

Three cars spun: Wayne and two Corvettes. No harm seemed to come to any of them. It was the first time Wayne spun his car and he collected little souvenir grass bits all over the inside of the car to remember it by.

When my turn came, I ran the warmup lap through the cones even though you don't have to, just to get a little practice in. Then I mashed it down the straight (that part's pretty familiar) till I got to the start/finish line, when I hauled on the brakes like everyone else to run the cones. It's tough! My first time through didn't seem too bad but I ran a very unimpressive 1:51.

On my second run I braked a little later and turned a little harder. This made the course much more difficult. The brakes were burning up from the hard work [add to shopping list: race-grade brake pads] but I got my time reduced to 1:43 for both my second and third runs. A big plus: I didn't hit any cones or miss any gates.

I was pretty happy with this time until the final results came in. The next slowest guy in the field ran a 1:23. We, uh, must'a took the scenic route. This impressive 20-second lag left us holding the bag at an unimpressive 30th out of 30.

We'll attend some more autocrosses during the season and hopefully will be more competitive next year. See you guys then!