Sunday, July 16, 2023

July Autocross Report: North Carolina Style

zMAX Dragway in Charlotte, autocross in their huge parking lot. 

If you're a BBQ fan like me, the phrase "North Carolina Style" probably has your mouth watering for the NC version of the world's greatest food. While I don't want to touch any hot button topics like religion or politics, I will go into some hot debates when it comes to BBQ! Lucky for you though, this is our car blog, and not exactly a Michelin fine dining review, so we'll just say we love BBQ, and let's talk autocross! Besides, Michelin makes tires, and I don't worry too much about their restaurant reviews.

Adding some lines to help drivers stay on course.

NMS-North returned to autocross action with the Central Carolina Region of the SCCA on July 15th, and it was overall cloudy and not terribly hot for July! There were 153 drivers on the big (and hot) parking lot at zMAX Dragway in Charlotte. Entered in B Street, the #77 managed to finish in the top 2 for the class! Oh yeah, by the way, there were exactly 2 cars in the class! More specifically, NMS took 1st place! 

The "N" is for Novice class. Almost any car can autocross!

Beyond that, there are a BUNCH of fast drivers in North Carolina, which I think explains why I was in 79th on overall PAX time, and 88th on RAW time. Like a lot of things in life, you could look at this in at least two ways. One, I was slower than about half the drivers, so I could be unhappy.  Second, and on the other hand, I was faster than about half of the field too! Plus, I had as much fun as anyone, didn't hit any cones, and didn't go off course, so it was a ton of fun on a big course! I ran into some autocross friends from my time in Virginia, talked to a bunch of new folks from North Carolina, and did I mention it was fun? One other good thing, on my way home I drove into a huge rain and lightning storm, so at least we all stayed dry during the event. 

Central Carolina's Region timing trailer

This was my first event with the CCR folks since I'd left South Carolina in 2014, so it was a good welcome back to the south. I learned that they had a few different ways of running things than some other clubs, but the day ran smoothly, and things kept moving. With 160 drivers, the field was split into 3 run groups. This meant that each person would drive one session, have the next session off, and then work the following session. Some clubs run it differently, but in the end it ends up being the same. The bottom line seems to be how many runs can you give everyone from about 10am to 3pm or so, which varies on total entries, how big the course is, and if there are any weather or technical issues. My last event in NY gave us 9 runs, so only getting 4 yesterday was less chances to make improvements, but for the huge field that's the way it works out. 

On a hot day, some drivers park up under the grandstand to keep cool and dry.

As drivers approached the start line, the timing trailer folks have you stop at a stop sign so that they can make sure they have your number and car entered in the computer correctly. Not only that, but the trailer also has a little digital display that gives you a green check sign that they've got you all set. From there, you wait your turn to pull up to the start. 

This VW Rabbit is a well-known autocross car, the famous Lamborbunni!


At the start line, most clubs have a person who is the starter that tells you when you can go. The CCR has an actual red light that tells you to stop, and two more indicator lights that come on as you pull up that little bit more. This ensures everyone is starting from the same spot. In a sport where timing is down to the thousandth of a second, every little foot counts. This was the first time I'd seen this, so after the starter told me what in the wide wide world of sports was going on I was all set for the day. 

Another fun thing of any activity from bowling and bingo to sky-diving I suppose is that you meet plenty of other people that have the same interests. At this event I spent time talking to a couple of young guys during the day, some not so young guys, as well as folks I already knew from autocrossing in Virginia Beach in the. By the way, they just got married, so it was nice to see Brian Wells and Stephanie Humphries, two drivers that are way faster than me. 

The other side of the trailer, where the timers can see the cars at the start and make sure they are tracking the right cars in the right order. When the check mark lights up green, the driver knows that their info is in the computer for the next run. 

I didn't get any info on this car, but it looks cool. 

Other than an army of Miatas, Honda S2000s, there were a good number of other quick cars like Corvettes, Camaros, Mustangs, Mini Coopers, Porsches, Nissan Z's, Honda Civics, etc. Hey, there was even a Tesla!

You can start autocrossing in your own car now; just rent a helmet for the day!

Other than having to wear a  helmet (because SAFETY) you really can autocross just about any kind of car. Even some pickup trucks are ok, but not all. The SCCA has specific rules for computing if a vehicle can compete. One requirement involves the center of mass, so a top heavy SUV is probably not OK. 

After 4 runs, NMS finished in 1st place for B Street by 0.420 seconds. 

Other than driving, everyone works the course. Very stylish in a McLaren papaya ensemble with orange worker vest. It was a big course, cars hitting 50mph in multiple spots. I heard a good number of cars on their rev limiters trying to stay in 2nd gear and not lose time by shifting up to 3rd and back down to 2nd. 

Lightning McQueen came out to drive too!

One of the CCR sponsors brought snacks. Pro tip: On a hot day, the chocolate Ding Dongs get really smushy!

With the 3 run group set-up, everyone had some time off, which on an all day long event gives you a chance to eat some lunch, get off your feet, or go fill up with gas if you haven't planned very well. For this event I stuck with the time-tested "Bring Your Own PBJ and A TON of Water Because it's HOT" plan. 

You can see the green light on the left that tells the driver when they can start. It also had other sensing lights that let you know where to stop as you pulled up. This is just the launch point, the actual timing of each run start off to the right, out of the picture, so you had a choice of how to launch and pick up speed before your timer started. 

You shoulda seen the Semi Class competing!
Seriously, this was before the event, and these trucks had to cut through the parking lot to get to where they were going. 

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