9 Tips for Your Solo National Competition

With the 2016 Tire Rack Oceanside Showdown this coming weekend, we felt it would be wise to turn to SCCA’s 2015 Solo Rookie of the Year and National Champion Tamra Hunt for words of wisdom about national events. She has outlined nine steps you need to know to maximize your fun and learning.

So you’ve autocrossed locally or regionally and you’re ready to take the next step – national level competition. National events are a great opportunity to have two days of racing against a variety of competitors, and really put your skills to the test. There are three types of national solo events: Championship Tours (two courses over both days), ProSolos (mirror image autocross courses where you go head to head –but not wheel to wheel – against competitors), and Match Tours (a Championship Tour on Day 1 and an index shootout on Day 2, all on the same course). National events are a big step forward and require some specific preparation, both for yourself and your car.

(For purposes of this article, let’s assume you are going to drive your own car and you don’t intend to make any setup changes.)

Step 1: Sign up for a Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) membership, if you don’t already have one. The membership will open the door to national events as well as other benefits, such as discounts for hotels, rental cars, and more. If you are still relatively new to autocross or just want to brush up on your skills, I recommend taking a Starting Line School, which includes an SCCA membership and one free national event entry in the price.

Step 2: Create a calendar of the events you plan to go to. Dates are released early in the year and can be found on SCCA.com and Solomatters.com. Registration for the events opens around six weeks prior. Some events that are very popular sell out quickly, so be prepared when registration opens.

Step 3: National events have contingency programs, which means that awards/prize money can be given out to the top competitors of each class. For example, in 2016 Mazda will pay out cash awards to the 1st and 2nd place drivers in Mazda vehicles in every class that has at least four people in the class, with even larger payouts for the Finale and National Championship events. There are also other contingencies based on your tire manufacturer or other parts you may have installed on your car. You can view the list of contingency awards and also sign up for them here: http://www.scca.com/pages/main-contingency. You must register in advance for any applicable contingencies for each national event you intend to participate in, and submit a W-9 form to SCCA. If your number or class changes, ensure you update it.

Step 4: Most contingency programs require that you run their decals on your car in specified locations. For example, Mazda decals go on the front nose/hood and rear fender/quarter panels. In addition, there are certain required decals. For 2016, an SCCA decal is required to be displayed on each side and front of the vehicle, and a Tire Rack sticker on the top of the windshield. Most decals are available on site in the tech area free of charge once you arrive to the event, but some you have to order in advance. Tip: Do a good buff and wax before applying the stickers – they’ll be easier to take off later (if you choose to).

Step 5: Pick a unique number for your national campaign. When choosing your number, I recommend browsing the prior year results for the class you intend to race in to see if the number was previously used to reduce your chances of conflicting with someone else. Cars run in numeric order at national events. Choose a number between 1-99 and get SCCA legal magnets (or vinyl) ordered. If there is a second driver, they must be the same number with a 1 in front of it; for example, #72 and #172. Your numbers and class letters must use the same typeface and same color with adequate contrast to the background color. Numbers must be a minimum of 8” high and class letters at least 4” high. See the SCCA Solo Rulebook at http://www.scca.com/pages/solo-cars-and-rules for more details.

Step 6: If the event is far away for you, book accommodations for the weekend. For example, you can book a hotel, or some sites allows camping. I recommend planning well in advance to make sure you get the best pricing and guarantee a reservation.

Step 7: Remember to pack everything you need. Don’t forget items such as an air compressor, air gauge, water sprayer, basic tool kit, torque wrench, jack, jack stands, engine oil for your car (and paper towels to check with), your racing numbers, glass cleaner, and some detailing spray and a rag (for any contingency stickers you plan to put on your car at the event). Give your car a once over, checking bolts, fluids, wheel bearings, brakes, etc. Also don’t forget to pack your personal items, such as snacks, lots of water, sunglasses, sunscreen, hat, lip balm, driving shoes, course working shoes, driving gloves, clothes appropriate for the forecast, rain gear (because if you forget it, you know it will rain!), and an SCCA-legal helmet. Put a list together ahead of time, thinking of any items you usually bring to local events, and think about any other items you should bring considering this event is a national event and potentially further away.

Step 8: Now that you’ve successfully registered for your first national event, keep an eye out for the Event Specific Supplemental Regulations. You’ll find these on SCCA.com on the page of the event. These will list the schedule, run order, and work order. Some events have a test and tune course (practice course), driving school, or practice starts (for ProSolos) on Fridays if you want some extra seat time at the site. Tech inspection and event check-in usually open mid afternoon, and the course is usually open for walking in the evening. I highly recommend arriving on Friday, if your schedule permits, to settle in and get ready for competition. If absolutely necessary, they do allow for late check-in on Saturday morning.

Step 9: Settle in, meet people, and get ready to race!  At a National event you’ll find all levels of drivers, a variety of cars, and a high level of excitement. Think of it like a vacation where you get to do some racing; how much better can it get than that?