Preparing for Solo Nationals

A few tricks and tips to make a trip to the SCCA Solo National Championships more effective.

The SCCA Solo National Championships, like any other big event, can be a nightmare flurry of last-minute preparation. Trying to get the car prepared, get everything ready and packed for the trip to Lincoln, Neb., where the drivers will meet up with 1200 of their closest friends for four or more days of autocross competition is no easy feat. One key to making the Solo Nationals and the accompanying ProSolo finale go as smoothly as possible, though, may be to do nothing.

“The biggest thing for us, we put a rule in – no changes one month prior to the Solo Nationals,” says Erik Strelnieks, who has seven Solo National Championships to his name, the last three coming in Super Street Modified in a ferocious turbocharged three-rotor third-generation RX-7. His wife, Beth McClure-Strelnieks, also has a couple of championships to her name, plus three Ladies overall titles in ProSolo (Erik has one overall men’s ProSolo title). “Once you start changing items or upgrading, you don’t get them done or something doesn’t go as planned. By this time of year, I like to have any upgrades, any updates done so we don’t run into any problems. We’ve discovered this works because I’ve done some last minute changes that failed at Nationals. The car needs to be done one month prior so you can test and not have any unexpected failures.”

Given that rule, it’s routine maintenance from there. Strelnieks makes sure no nitrogen is leaking from the shocks and that the shocks are charged to the right pressure. He checks the air cleaner to make sure that the hungry turbo gets the volume of fresh air it needs. He checks the plugs or changes them to make sure the engine is getting good fire. Tires are critical to a successful run at the Solo Nationals, so he makes sure that the rubber side of the equation is handled.

“I always like to have tires or make sure I’ll have all the tires we’ll need for Nationals, have them ordered three or four weeks in advance. There was a time we hoped to have tires, but they were sold out. So we pre-plan stuff along those lines,” he says.

Car’s prepared, tires are ordered…next is making sure that all the spare parts are available. The Super Street Modified RX-7 is pushing the limits of what a car is designed to do, so there are failures along the way. And many Solo Nationals competitors, no matter what class they’re running, have stories about trying to round up stock parts or specialty pieces at the event after something breaks.

“I’ve developed a spares strategy…everything that has broken, I always get a spare of. We have a spare power steering pump, spare caps – somebody will forget to tighten something up or a cap will break. I also carry some of the hoses that are unique to our car, some of the turbo hoses that are bent or a different size. I also carry spare electronics for the fuel injection system. I wish I could carry a spare ECU, but that’s a little costly and this one’s been pretty reliable,” he explains.

“Last year we broke a ring-and-pinion,” Strelnieks continues. “Luckily one of our competitors had a spare, but I’m planning on having my own this year. It’s not a common failure, but with the amount of power we’re putting out, that’s happened before. Spare bushings, spare tie-rod ends, belts…all the usual maintenance stuff. We carry a pretty comprehensive spares package, usually from what caught us out in the past.”

That’s a lot of which to keep track. So the last piece of advice Strelnieks offers is a way to do that, and a double-check system.

“Have a checklist. And, right before we leave, I always ask Beth: ‘What have we forgotten?’ Use your partner or teammate to go over things,” he says, adding to not forget about your personal comfort. “You start to worry about the car too much sometimes, and you go to Lincoln and it can be 100 degrees, or it can be rainy or cold. So have the right clothing, pack the rain gear. We’ve had to head on down to the store many times and buy some extra sweatshirts!”