Sometimes in the car hobby, people forget that cars are meant to be DRIVEN! Sure we all love to look into mile-deep paint, or polish the classic curves of a vintage car, or just hang out on a cruise night with our friends. But even better is the roar of an engine and squealing tires sliding through corners as you shave seconds off your time through a race course!
Wilwood has built brakes for race cars since day one, but we also encourage owners of street cars and classics to drive in low-risk/high enjoyment competitions like autocross.
To encourage everyone to get out and drive, Wilwood is sponsoring different autocross competition classes with SCCA, NMCA West, and Goodguys. At Goodguys All-American Class events, held Sunday at most Goodguy's shows, any 1988 or newer model year car or truck from an American maker or with an American powerplant is welcome. Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) prides itself on having a class for anything and everything with four wheels at their club events, but most interesting is the new Classic American Muscle (CAM) challenge series specifically for modern and classic American performance vehicles and sports cars. The National Muscle Car Association (NMCA) started out sanctioning drag racing (and still do) but added autocross years ago as pro-touring became popular.
What is Autocross?
Autocross is racing against the clock on a coned course set up in a big parking lot. Because cars run one at a time, there isn't much to hit, and speeds are reasonable (though fast for a parking lot), you hardly need any safety gear, and almost any vehicle can run.
You're flagged off or given the green light from a dead stop, and proceed through a series of left and right turns and short straightaways. You aren't likely to need anything but first and second gear. Because of the tight course size, any wasted input or changes in direction will make you slower. It is not unusual for a small, agile car to put up a time better than a bigger, more powerful vehicle.
Autocross is a great way to dial in your car's suspension and brakes, and hone your driving skills, because small changes can mean a big difference in your time. You'd be amazed what something simple like five psi of air pressure or a half degree of camber can change. A series of autocross events will allow you to set up your shocks and springs much better than just setting it as stiff as possible without blurring your vision at freeway speed.
NMCA West Autocross
If you live in Southern California and want to autocross your car or truck, the NMCA wants you at their Fontana, CA events. Officially known as the NMCA West Auto X Series, the six autocross weekends at California Speedway are open to any street-legal production vehicle. There are few eligibility rules besides running on pump gas, valid registration, proof of insurance, and DOT tires with a treadwear rating of more than 200.
While NMCA originally was just for Mustangs, Camaros, Chargers, GTOs, and other traditional and modern American muscle cars, they welcome all makes, models, and years at autocross. If you have a Miata, 350Z, Impreza, GTI, BMW, or even Dodge Ram, they will find a class to put you in. You may not be competitive against the top cars in your class, but in the end, you are just racing against yourself and the clock.
Wilwood sponsors the NMCA West Auto X with awards to the top finishers in each class at the end of the year. The lap timer doesn't stop until you cross the finish line, so good brakes are vital, because you don't want to have to slow down until that last fraction of a second.
CAM Challenge Series Powered by SCCA
SCCA has been running autocross events almost since its founding after WWII, and many of their regional divisions have monthly autocross meets under the Solo banner. The CAM Challenge includes three Classic American Muscle classes: CAM C for contemporary 21st-century vehicles, CAM T for traditional post-WWII cars and trucks, and CAM S for lighter (sub-3300 lbs) sporty cars and trucks. There are seven CAM Challenge events around the country, including a Challenge Championship Finale in Lincoln, NE, held with the rest of the SCCA solo national championship events.
Since SCCA has been running autocross longer than anyone, they have more rules than anyone. But most of their rules are more pre-emptive than anything - they want competitors to be in modified street cars, not purpose-built 3/4 scale race cars that look like a Mustang if you squint. There are rules on finished interiors, body modifications, aerodynamics, etc., but if you show up with a safe, street-legal car on DOT tires with a 200 rating or higher, you can run. No SCCA official is going to take a tape measure to the height of your rear spoiler.
Wilwood is a Tire Rack CAM Challenge Series Powered by SCCA event sponsor for 2021 as part of our continued support of the old car hobby, and our belief that cars ought to be driven hard, not just looked at.
Goodguys All-American Sunday Autocross
If you haven't been to a Goodguys show in 10 years, you would be surprised at how popular their autocross events have become. Anyone who enters their vehicle in the car show portion gets free entry into the autocross event held that same weekend if they want to race. Goodguys runs autocross at 15 events around the country throughout the year, with points being awarded toward a championship at each event.
Any American car or truck (or American powered vehicle) made in 1988 or later can run on Sundays (both days at Pleasanton events). If you own a pre-1988 classic, there are autocross classes on Friday and Saturday, but Wilwood isn't sponsoring those.
Of all the autocross events mentioned here, Goodguys has what appears to be the most straightforward rules - tires are limited to the maximum factory offered width available, and 200 treadwear rating or higher. Other than those limitations and it being a safe, street-legal vehicle, modifications are very open. You can read the whole rule book here: Goodguys autocross rules.
Winners will get a certificate and prize package full of Wilwood gear for the fastest time at each event. The overall championship winner for the year receives a $500 credit toward any Wilwood Disc Brakes products.
Preparing for Autocross
You might be surprised how much effort it takes to be fast at autocross; neither you nor your car will ever work harder to drive less than a mile than you do on an autocross course. That being said, there are no significant changes you need to make to be ready to work the cones; you are most likely going to be going slower than you were on the freeway on the way to the event. But there will be a simple tech inspection to ensure you and your car are not a danger to yourself or spectators.
In order to pass tech/safety:
- Clean any loose items out of the car and trunk
- Make sure to bring registration and proof of insurance
- Check seat belt is securely mounted and functions properly
- Check under the hood for leaks and top off all fluids
- Bleed and fill brake fluid if more than a year old
- Check the condition of belts and hoses
- Make sure battery and cables are secure
- Check throttle spring and linkage
- Check tire wear, condition (no cracks or bulges), and inflation
- Check wheels for excessive play in suspension, wheel bearings, and steering
- Remove hub caps (if there is a chance they can come off on the track)
- Remove or secure spare tire (sometimes it helps traction to leave it in the trunk)
- Brake lights work
- Exhaust not overly loud (sorry, no open headers or straight pipes)
- Make sure the fuel filler cap is secure and seals properly
The complete NMCA West self-inspection form can be printed out here: 2021 tech card.
Goodguys has inspectors that will check your car the morning of the event. Their list is on page 4 of the rulebook here: Goodguys Autocross Rules.
SCCA uses a tech inspection list very similar to the one NMCA West uses, though it is buried on page 37 of their 380-page rule book. Here is a simplification of it: Solo Tech 101
The only piece of safety gear you will need is a helmet of recent manufacture (typically Snell 2010 or more recent), but it does not have to be an SA-rated motorsports helmet. Full-face motorcycle helmets or karting helmets with a Snell rating are perfectly acceptable.