SCCA – From Racing Photographer to Racing Driver

Ok, maybe I’m reaching with the moniker “racing driver”, but I did compete in my first motorsports event. After photographing a few of the Kansas City Region SCCA Solo Events, and seeing how much fun everyone was having, I decided to finally give it a go myself. I was fortunate enough to get in at the last minute to the Solo School the club held the Saturday before the event and received some much needed instruction, correction, and experience driving an autocross course. Thirty students signed up and were divided into three groups to run the course in heats. Ten instructors were assigned to one student in each heat, so the students received direct one-on-one guidance.

My instructor for the day was Nate Green, who in addition to being a skilled driver was also an excellent educator, patient and perceptive. During the morning heats, we had about 5-6 runs with directed instruction following each run, followed by lunch and instructor runs during which us students could ride along with experienced drivers to see how their techniques and lines differed from ours. I had the privilege of riding along with my instructor as he drove my Focus. It was very enlightening, and I’d like to think that I was able to apply my observations of Nate’s driving to improve my own. After a quick grab-n-go lunch of hoagie sandwiches, chips, and soda/water, there was an interesting and challenging exercise inflicted upon us by the Solo School Chair, Doug Hitchcock. Blue painter’s tape was applied to our windshields to force us to look at least 10 meters down track. One of the consistent themes behind all the various advice that was given on Saturday was to look ahead. The tape on the bottom portion of the windshield forces you to look ahead, because you have no other options.

All of this instruction and practice is, of course, in preparation for racing competitively in SCCA solo events. Therefore, the final task of the day was to have a mini, two-run autocross competition between us students. The real test, though, came on Sunday when many of us competed in our first autocross event. I ran in Heat 1, and over the four runs through the course, I was able to improve on my time with each run. I still think I left about a second of time out on the track, perhaps even a bit more, but regardless I was happy with my inaugural performance. I won my class, H-stock novice, and was P2 in H-stock overall with three competitors in my class and five in all in HS! In novice PAX, I was P3 out of 16, still not bad, and was 49th out of 104 competitors in overall PAX. Considering that I was racing my beat up, 217k-mile Ford Focus with a leaky #4 cylinder and all-season tires that were shot, I’ll take those results!

So now I’m hooked! The next solo event is on October 7th, and yes I will be competing again, followed by a rallycross event the next weekend, and the final solo event of the year the week after that. Yes, October will not be kind to my tires, and I don’t care! I am completely hooked and can’t wait to get back to the track!

In-Car video from my best run of the day

This is my fourth run, which was my fastest and cleanest, at my first autocross event. Ran my 2005 Ford Focus ZX3 SES which is unfortunately an automatic and has tires that are on their last legs with minimal tread. Left the transmission in 1st for the entire run and was close to the redline in many places, and perhaps I should have run in 2nd. I liked having the better acceleration out of the turns that 1st gave, though, even if it made the car a bit more twitchy requiring more delicate throttle control. (one of my banes) My final time was a 59.047s. It was my goal to get under 60.0s, so I was pleased with the final time. For those of you who are experienced autocrossers, I would really appreciate any criticisms of my driving that you can offer. I’m always looking for ways to improve.
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Photos from the Kansas City Region SCCA Solo Event #9

Of course, what first got me to an autocross event was the opportunity to photograph cool looking cars being driven at speed. Even though I was competing in this event, I still had two heats in which to head out to the course and take photos. Unlike previous events, I wasn’t able to capture all of the competitors (sorry Heat 0 & 1 drivers). I do believe I got most everyone in Heats 2 and 3.

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One Thought to “SCCA – From Racing Photographer to Racing Driver

  1. Brian McKay

    And now a moment of silence for all the fallen cones ….
    … I hope to someday have a stripped Miata to autocross.
    Have fun, Doug!

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