Mohawk-Hudson Region SCCA
SOLO DRIVER’S HANDBOOK (updated 4/2015)
Table of Contents
- Solo Description
- If you want to compete, you need to…
- Get Registered
- Class Your Car
- Prepare Your Car
- Get Your Car Inspected
- Walk The Course
- Attend The Drivers Meeting
- Work The Course
- Drive The Course
- Driving Tips And Techniques
Autocrossing with MoHud
The Mohawk-Hudson Region is a geographic division of the Sports Car Club of America (SCCA), a member-oriented, non-profit corporation. Over 60,000 members of the national club participate in professional and amateur racing; race flagging, communication, and organization (including Formula I World Championship races and Indy-type car races); high speed rallies; time-speed-distance rallies; and autocross (formerly known as Solo II, or just Solo).
An autocross is a skill driving event in which one car at a time negotiates a prescribed course, usually set up in a large parking lot or on an unused airport runway. Rubber traffic cones (pylons) are used to define a variety of turns. The course is designed so that only the lower gears of any automobile are used. In this way, high speed is not a factor. The average time for a run is about one minute, plus a penalty of two seconds for each pylon hit. The goal is to maneuver through the course in the lowest possible time. This means maintaining complete control while operating at the physical limits of both car and driver.
The time span of most driving emergencies on our streets and highways is only a few seconds. Thus this experience of maintaining control becomes a valuable training session as well as a way to compete and have fun. The driver will develop a sense of timing, judgment, and ability to interpret a vehicle’s handling characteristics; all at safe speeds and in a safe environment. The Solo experience enhances one’s driving abilities on the street, especially in snow and ice.
Competition is open to any make of car at various stages of preparation, from showroom stock to highly modified. Each car must undergo a safety inspection before every event. In addition, safety helmets and seat belts are mandatory. SCCA trained and licensed safety stewards see to event safety. A valid driver’s license is necessary to compete. Solo is a growing sport with thousands of events conducted yearly across North America. The SCCA Solo National Championships held in Lincoln, Nebraska, attract the nation’s best drivers each year. The event draws over 700 entrants.
Our safety record is outstanding, due primarily to (1) the inherently safe nature of our sport, and (2) the training of our people. Nevertheless, our club carries a multi-million dollar insurance policy with liability coverage for bodily injury, property damage, etc. Participant accident coverage of up to one million dollars is provided to each entrant and worker. The insurance company includes the site owner as an additional insured party. SCCA together with our insurance company have developed a safety program to maintain our safe record. Solo Safety Stewards undergo classroom and practical training to receive their licenses. Their duties are to establish safety areas at the perimeter of the event site and to control these areas during events as well as ensuring that safety regulations are adhered to. This helps to prevent any incidents involving either attendees of the event or curious onlookers.
If you would like additional information, please contact our program chair via the contact information provided here.
If you want to compete, you need to…
- Get Registered
- Class Your Car
- Prepare Your Car
- Get Your Car Inspected
- Walk The Course
- Attend The Drivers Meeting
- Work The Course
- Drive The Course
1. Get Registered
A. Sign the insurance waiver once you arrive at the site.
B. Obtain a registration form from the registrar and fill it out; please write legibly. Consult with the registrar regarding your car number and, if necessary, your car class. If you are unsure of what class to place your vehicle, see section 2 below. Hint for a speedier registration: take a blank copy home, fill it out (except for the date and your signature), make copies, and bring the filled out forms with you to future events.
C. Your worker assignment is determined at the beginning of each heat. See the worker chief at that time. Work is mandatory.
D. Show your driver’s license and SCCA membership card to the registrar.
E. If you are not a member, fill out a temporary weekend membership form.
F. Novices: please inform the registrar if you have never autocrossed or have only done it a few times. You can be assigned a buddy who will answer any questions and give you instruction on how to prepare yourself and your car for the event.
G. If you are under 18 you must have notarized permission from both parents. For more information on under age waivers, see the registrar.
2. Class Your Car
- Street (Super Street, AS through HS)
- Street Prepared (ASP through ESP)
- Prepared (AP through EP)
- Modified (AM through FM)
- Street Touring / Street Modified
All classes are defined in the SCCA Rulebook. It is your responsibility to correctly classify your car. If you are unsure of what class to place your vehicle, either the registrar or tech inspector will be able to assist you. Certain modifications move your vehicle to other car categories (for example, changes in wheel size, changes in rear sway bar, headers, cams, intake, and more). A Novice class is offered for those who are new to Solo, and provides a fun and entertaining way to compete with others of similar skills. Likewise, for 2015 a new “Pro” class is being offered, with the intent of drawing the most skilled and experienced competitors, leaving the normal classes as a competitive format for those who aren’t novices, but are still honing their skills. A “Tire” class is offered for competitors who have a modified car that isn’t eligible for the stock “Street” class, but are not running R compound tires. Inquire at registration about your class options.
3. Prepare Your Car
After getting registered, bring your registration form with you and prepare your car for the tech inspection. You must do at least the following:
- Remove everything from the car and trunk that isn’t bolted down (for example, spare clothing, CDs, EZ-Pass, garage door openers, tools, pens, coins). The spare tire and jack may remain if they are well secured.
- Convertible tops and T-tops must be removed except during inclement weather.
- Remove wheel trim rings, decorative center caps, hub caps, wheel covers, and other wheel trim items.
- Seat belts and helmets must be displayed for inspection. Helmets must meet at least Snell 2005 or newer. Helmets are available for loan at the start line. You must return the helmet you borrow after each run so that others may use it. Seriously consider purchasing your own helmet once you decide that you will be autocrossing at least a few times per year.
- Open the hood and trunk of your vehicle for inspection.
- Place your registration form under your windshield wiper (or other convenient place if your vehicle is not so equipped) and get your car in line to be inspected.
4. Get Your Car Inspected
Depending on the site and number of drivers, tech may either be in a specific location, or else your car will be teched in the paddocks where it is parked. If you are unsure, inquire at registration. At tech inspection we will:
- Check for secure battery brackets and ties downs.
- Check to see that wheel bearings, shock absorbers, steering, and suspension are in good operating condition.
- Check for fuel, oil, and brake leaks. Fluid reservoirs will be checked for adequate levels.
- Check for excessive rust in the chassis.
- You will receive a number and class designation at registration. You may use tape or shoe polish to write your car number and class on your window (for timing purposes) but it is much better for timing and scoring to use magnetic or vinyl numbers and class designations.
5. Walk The Course
- The course will change at every event so you must walk it at least several times in order to know where the course goes as well as to decide what driving line to take.
- There will be NO “orientation drive-through”.
- Chalk arrows may be drawn on the pavement in cases where there is a question of where to go. These can only be seen while walking and will not be visible when you are at speed in your car.
- It is recommended that you walk the course as often as possible. Try seeing the course with your eyes closed. If you can’t do that you should try walking it some more.
- If you are relatively new, ask an experienced driver for advice regarding “the line.” Many competitors will walk the course with you if you ask them for help. For more information, see the section on driving tips. We will announce a novice walk-through shortly before the driver’s meeting.
- A “Novice Walk-thru” will be announced. An experienced Solo competitor will lead a course walk, discussing the course and what to look for during a run. Whether you’re a Novice or not, you are welcome to participate in the walk-thru.
6. Attend The Drivers Meeting
- Attendance is mandatory. Please stop what you are doing when you hear the meeting called.
- Please be respectful of the speaker during the drivers meeting, and pay close attention to the presentation.
- Tech inspection is closed during the drivers meeting.
- Special information regarding the operation of the event and post-event activities will be announced. Don’t socialize at this time. Now is the time you will get information critical to running the event.
- Worker information will be announced. Other notices will be announced as necessary
7. Work The Course
Since there are no paid workers at Solo events, every driver must work at some time during the event. Most worker positions are corner station assignments. You will be assigned a worker post for the event. Please read the following for some helpful tips.
Watch carefully for displaced or knocked over pylons. Hint: remember, when you drive you look ahead of you but when you work, watch behind the vehicle since pylons are often struck with the rear of the car or wobble for awhile before falling over. The easiest way to notice hit cones is to watch the cones as the cars pass by, and to use your peripheral vision to watch the car. Like “Magic Eye”, it takes a few times to get this right, but once you do it becomes intuitive and natural. Report downed cones to timing either by radio (if available) or by holding your hand in the air. Continue to do this until timing acknowledges your signal. If they do not acknowledge, request acknowledgement.
Reset the downed cone(s) before the next car passes. Keep your eyes on all cars that are on the course while you do this. Stop what you are doing and get out of the way if necessary. If a pylon has not been reset before the next car passes, they will be given a rerun if they come to a full stop near to where the downed pylon used to be. If you run to a spot where a pylon wiggled but discover that the pylon is still in its box, you may have to center the pylon. Any time you run onto the course to check a pylon look back at the timer and signal “safe.” Remember to watch out for oncoming cars.
Watch for “off-course” runs. Any time a car fails to pass through the gates which define the course, you must inform timing that the vehicle is off course, either verbally over the radio or by crossing you arms in the air over your head. This includes negotiating a non-optional slalom the wrong way or missing a gate. The path followed between gates is not a factor in staying on course. For example, a car may spin off course but then resume its run by passing through the gate it originally missed. That is still “on course.”
Wave the red flag if you see an unsafe condition on course or are told to do so by timing. Keep the flag handy, preferably furled by your side (but do not wrap the fabric around the handle). The worker holding the radio should also hold the flag.
Red flag conditions include:
- a stalled car on course,
- a spectator, animal, or other uninvited guest on course,
- fluids leaking from a car on course,
- downed cones which cannot be reset before the next car arrives,
- a call over the radio or PA to stop vehicles on course
Obviously you must use your judgment regarding the need to red flag a car. If you see a dog running across one end of a course and the current on-course driver has already traversed this area and the dog is out of harms way, it wouldn’t be necessary to red flag that driver. However you would want to red flag the next car approaching that area.
Your actions as a course worker directly affect the scores of other competitors. It is very important to assign an out of place or down cone to the correct car. Although you can learn a lot about how to drive the course while working, you must always pay attention to your work. And it is critical to remember that you are in the middle of an autocross course where speeding cars are being driven by competitors who are focused only on going fast and not watching out for you. You have to be heads up at all times.
Penalty or no penalty?
Here’s how to determine if a pylon is “in” or “out” of its box. Obviously, if the cone is lying down, then it is a penalty even if it is lying across its box. You must inform the timer of the pylon penalty. However, sometimes pylons are just nudged a bit. If any part of the base of the pylon is touching the chalked outline that was drawn on the pavement, then the pylon does not count as a penalty. You must, however, re-center the pylon within its chalked outline and signal “no penalty” to the timer (stay aware of oncoming cars on course). On the other hand, if a pylon is standing completely outside of its chalked outline, then you must signal the timer so that a penalty can be assessed. In very rare cases, pylons have been known to get knocked completely over, bounce up, and land somewhere within the chalked outline. If this happens, re-center the pylon, signal “safe” to the timer, and consider buying a lottery ticket.
Another worker position to know about is the starter assignment. If you are a starter, your actions will impact both the safety of the event and its efficiency.
- Before taking on your job, know where the first car on course should be before starting the next car. At most events, you will be starting the cars independently of instructions from timing (although they may tell you to not start cars at all for awhile due to problems). If you aren’t sure, ASK!
- Prior to starting a car, scan the course for red flag conditions (see above). Never start a car without first making this critical check.
- Do not speak with the driver except to exchange information relating to start line activities. It is tempting to do so, especially if you know him/her but you must let the driver concentrate on the run they are about to make and you also need to concentrate on your job (scanning for red flag conditions and anticipating when to start the car). You only have between 20 to 30 seconds to line the car up, scan the course, and watch for when to start the car. If you try to have a conversation you will either miss something out on course or miss the appropriate start time for that driver.
- If a very slow driver is on course or a very fast driver is next in line, it may be prudent to let the first car travel an extra 5 to 10 seconds beyond the position where you normally start cars.
- Watch for off course runs. Any time a car fails to pass through the gates which define the course, you must inform timing that the vehicle is off course, either verbally over the radio or by crossing you arms in the air over your head. This includes negotiating a non-optional slalom the wrong way or missing a gate. The path followed between gates is not a factor in staying on course. For example, a car may spin off course but then resume its run by passing through the gate it originally missed.
8. Drive The Course
- It is mandatory that you wear a helmet with the chin strap fastened while driving on course. Loaner helmets are available.
- If you get lost or go off course, don’t give up and drive back to the pits. Figure out where you are supposed to be and complete your run. This will help you do it right the next time. Never sacrifice a chance to practice. And remember, there may be a car behind you on course.
- The red flag means stop NOW in a controlled and safe manner.
- If you spin or lose control, bring your car to a complete stop, gather your wits, and proceed with the rest of your run. Never try to save a run when you are in over your head. Try not to allow the car to slide off the pavement sideways. If you cannot avoid leaving the pavement, try to point your car directly forward or backward. This will further minimize the already very small chance of a roll over. And remember, those cones are only made out of rubber. Rather than doing something to drastically upset the balance of your vehicle, it’s better just to hit the cone and move on. There’s always another run or another day!
- Your speed limit in the pits is walking speed.
Driving tips and techniques for the novice and experienced driver alike
Most of the following information is aimed at novice drivers. However, even experienced drivers will find some useful information in the paragraphs below.
The first tip is to make sure your car is ready. Be absolutely sure of the condition of your vehicle. Ask yourself about this and be honest. Will that noisy water pump stand up to high revs? Is your battery secure? Have you checked your car’s suspension and wheel bearings for excessive play lately? How about the condition of the belts in the engine compartment? Brakes? Brake fluid? Need we say more?
The safety inspectors will check some of these items and some others that you might not expect. Remember — you are responsible for the condition of your automobile. If you are absolutely confident of the condition and preparation of your car, you will be able to concentrate on the course and your driving techniques. Watch the people who win. You can see that most of them pay close attention to car preparation.
Tip #2: Increase your tire pressures. Substantially increasing tire pressures will improve the handling and safety of your car on a course. It will help prevent a tubeless tire from losing air. It will also, up to a point, improve the cornering ability, steering response, and pavement feedback of your car. Ask people with similar type cars and tires what pressures they use (identify yourself as a novice). When in doubt, start with about 40 psi in all four tires. You may also want to ask an experienced driver about “chalking” your tires to check for tire rollover. Eventually, you’ll have to determine what works best for you and your car. Various factors include temperature, surface, weather, the course, and the tires themselves.
Tip #3: Know the course. One of the greatest challenges of autocross competition is the fact that all of the courses are different and with no prior drive through allowed you must have a steep learning curve. In order to learn the course and decide what driving lines you will want to use, walk the course as much as you can before competition begins. You may wish to jot down notes or draw your own map. Memorize the course. Be able to mentally follow it with your eyes closed before you are ready to make your run. You cannot drive the course fast if you don’t know where you are and where you should be at all times.
When walking the course, look at it from the perspective of the driver’s seat of your car. Remember that you will be driving off the center line of your car, unless you have a formula car. Most novices can more easily judge how close objects are to the driver’s side of their car but have more difficulty with the distance of objects to the passenger side. Watch experienced drivers put their tires within inches of the critical pylons — on both sides of their cars.
As you walk the course, think about what you feel will be the fastest way to get through each corner. Although at your first several events you will probably drive “gate to gate,” the goal is to drive the course in smooth, flowing lines. Your line through one turn should leave you set up for the next turn. You should be looking ahead (up to three gates, depending on the course). Try to plan when you will accelerate, when you will shift, when you will brake, where and how much you will turn. Time spent planning your run is time spent reducing your times in competition.
Tip #4: Driving techniques. Drive in a smooth and controlled fashion at all times. It isn’t easy to do (physically or mentally), but it is the way to win. Those cars getting sideways are not being driven smoothly or in complete control (even if they don’t spin out); they have lost valuable time. The drivers who know how to win don’t always look fast but they know how to drive smoothly and maintain control. Other competitors hear their times announced and wonder where they are gaining so much time. The answer: everywhere!
All your inputs to the car — steering, braking, shifting — should be smooth, controlled, and well-timed. Sudden and abrupt inputs will cause the car to be unbalanced on its suspension resulting in a loss of traction which in turn lowers maximum potential cornering speed. This costs valuable time. Smooth driving is a skill gained with experience and practice. Some people start learning sooner than others. Start learning today.
Tip #5: Analyze each of your runs. After each run think of where and how you could improve your time. Do not dwell on your mistakes but instead use them to decide how to improve your next run. Think positively. Ask yourself questions such as: Where could I have accelerated sooner? Would a different line be better through some corners? Where could I brake less or later or sooner? Which turns can I go faster in? Should I take the optional slalom the other way? Did I stay on course? Did I hit any pylons? How can I avoid them next time? Adopt an experienced driver as your mentor — many would be willing to watch your run and critique it for you. New people are welcomed to our sport enthusiastically; we want them to come back so of course you will be helped.
Tip #6: Help work the course. Although some consider working course to be boring, this job can be very beneficial toward learning the fast way around a course. Most experienced drivers spend a lot of time shagging pylons. Why? If there are 100 cars entered, then each driver has a chance to watch 99 other drivers go through the same course. There is always something to learn, always something that we are not sure of that watching will help us with. The best place to observe is out on the course, up close. Some other driver may try a line that you were planning to use through a particular corner; you can see if it works or not before spending a run trying it out yourself. You may see things that you had not thought of and want to try. If you can, work different sections of the course so that you see all of it. Talk with and listen to other workers, they may give you very useful information. But of course, remember that your primary job is to watch for and shag downed pylons and to stay alert.
Tip #7: Help break down the course and pack up the van. Your help will be very much appreciated, and it’s a great way to introduce yourself to the event organizers. We love helpers! Beyond that, a big part of this sport is the socializing and bench racing that takes place after the event is over. Use these opportunities to meet new people and to learn even more about how to go fast.
Tip #8: Don’t give up. If you’re not placing well, don’t get discouraged. It is rare (nonexistent) for drivers to be competitive right at the beginning of their “careers.” Some drivers learn to go fast only after many, many years of experience. This is not an easy sport. There is always something new to be learned. Whether you are winning or not, you will become a better driver on the street and you may learn a thing or two about yourself. And last but not least, we’re all out there to have fun.
These tips were written by people involved with the SCCA Solo program. It is not an official document but just a collection of helpful hints. We hope you find them useful.
If you have any questions about rules, refer to the Solo Rulebook, available from an SCCA representative at our events and online at SCCA.com.