We turned to Rachel Kerswill, 2014 and 2015 SCCA Solo National Champion, to guide those interested in becoming an autocross champion. This guideline outlines five key considerations when making your plan.
Know Your Car:
You will need to know whether your car is competition ready. Know maintenance or repairs need to be done before you head off to a national competition. You need a reliable vehicle that is operating at its best to take the win. Make a timeline to get basic maintenance and repairs done in advance of major competitions. Do basic maintenance before every major event. Change your fluids; ensure your brakes are in good condition; and keep it clean and competition ready. (Make a checklist.) If you are making upgrades or changes, ensure to leave plenty of time to do this and test your new setup (preferably at a local event). Leave yourself extra time to deal with unexpected maintenance issues that will likely arise.
Know the Racing Organizations that Offer Autocross Opportunities:
Look at the Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) National Tour schedule and the National Auto Sport Association (NASA) schedule to determine in which events you will be able to compete, considering schedule and budget. Know the rules in regards to how many National Tour events you will need to compete in to be eligible for the National Championships and the contingencies; you will need to attend a tour in order to qualify for Nationals. (Work your maintenance plan around this.) Also, find out what you can about the sites/courses you plan to compete at (e.g., Are you driving on asphalt or concrete?). Different surfaces have different grip. Knowing what you are working with in advance can help you pick the best tires and setup for that surface and your car. Also, plan to compete in as many events regionally as affordable to gain seat time (practice).
Know Your Class Options:
The class you compete in will depend on the type of car you drive and the changes you make to the car. Know the rules related to what class you plan to compete in—rules about what kind of equipment and tires you can use can change from year to year, so keep your knowledge current. Know how many competitors will be in your class at the events you plan to race at. This can affect everything from how much contingency will be offered to what your chances of winning are. A bigger class means a better chance of receiving full contingency payouts if you win (which are fantastic if you drive a Mazda); it also offers a chance to learn and grow, with potentially much stiffer competition.
Tip: Get to know your competitors. If you have a chance to meet and compete with others who will be in your class at Nationals, do it. Know who you are up against so you can prepare yourself, but more importantly, take the opportunity to make friends with fellow competitors. They may be able to offer helpful advice and support, and you may be able to help them, too. A big part of Solo is the community, so always be ready to help and contribute to your fellow competitors. This is one of, if not the best, parts of competing in autocross. One of my biggest sources of help and encouragement are the other competitors in my class.
Know Your Budget:
Budget is a big limitation for many; knowing how much you will have to work with is important; know what your travel expenses will be far in advance; plan for entry fees, travel expenses such as gas, accommodations, and food. Nationals can be expensive, and you may have to make compromises on what you can do. Maybe that means forgoing an upgrade to make one more event, or forgoing one event to make that upgrade. If funds are lacking, consider teaming up with someone to share expenses. My partner and I are college students with very little extra money, but with help and planning we were able to make two tour events and the championships last year. If possible, set aside money for unexpected repairs or circumstances.
Be Flexible with Your Plan:
So you’ve got your plan and you’re ready to roll. But what if your car breaks unexpectedly right before an event? Have a backup plan. If you miss an event due to unforeseen circumstances, keep one additional event on your schedule as a backup. If you’ve befriended some of your competitors, find out who may be willing to offer you a ride if your car breaks down. If possible, find out what parts may break more frequently than others in your particular car; take spares with you when you travel, if possible.
Hope this gives you a good start and good luck!