My First Autocross


Wow, my first Porsche. A 2010 911S Cabriolet and it is gorgeous. It is silver – a gift from my wife for our silver wedding anniversary (did I marry up or what?). And I can drive it any time I want…er…whenever I can. It’s got all this engine and torque and speed. Let’s see, I can get it up to 35 mph on the way to the store – if there is no traffic.  Once I think I actually got it to 45 mph between speed traps on the Turnpike. There are some nice twisty roads around me and driving around a curve is a blast in a 911. But there are other cars, and deer, and people…and it is New Jersey…and I have to pay for insurance…and I wouild like to keep my driving privileges. What is a new Porsche owner to do?
Fortunately for me, an old friend and club member, Grant Lenahan, and a new friend and club member, Tom DePascale (who sold me the car – thanks Tom), were involved with something I had never heard of called “Autocross” and they suggested I give it a try. “What is Autocross?” I asked. They explained that Autocross was a timed event where you compete against others with similar types of cars in a parking lot over a course laid out using ubiquitous orange cones. I hoped that they could not see my lack of enthusiasm. But what flashed into my mind was an old Brady Bunch episode where Greg and Marcia competed in driving skills and Greg lost when he knocked into a cone upon which a raw egg was nestled. Snore.

 As I was new to the club and they were so enthusiastic about it, I thought I would give it a try. Tom and Grant invited me to attend an Autocross school at the PNC Arts Center. With low expectations, I drove down the GSP. When I arrived I was greeted by a lot of very nice people who were extremely welcoming and very gracious. This helped put me at ease. First, it was time to learn how to “walk the course” – hey, I thought that this was a driving event? Then there were a number of lectures on driving theory from people who sounded both very skilled and extremely serious. Really? This is a parking lot! All I kept hearing in the back of my head was “Marcia, Marcia, Marcia.”
Then I got in my car and experienced a number of new sensations. The first was discomfort from wearing a helmet (buy your own before you go – share a helmet – ick!). The second was confusion at having an instructor sitting next to me telling me how to drive – and it was neither my wife nor anyone from the MVC. But the third sensation was surprise. I did not believe the amount of adrenaline that was generated in a parking lot full of Porsches and cones. It was GREAT! Tires squealing, engines revving, brakes grabbing, and I never got out of second gear! 
But would it be as much fun on a real course, solo, surrounded by people who did this often? I had to wait until the end of July to find out. On Sunday, July 31, 2011, in the shadow of the New Giants Stadium, the NNJR held a full-fledged Autocross. It was much more crowded than I had expected with over 100 participating cars. There was a fantastic assortment of Porsches. A couple of the older 911s running around the course looked like they could have and should have been in a museum – they were beautiful. There were 911s and Caymans and Boxsters galore. There were GT3s and turbos everywhere you turned. It was a treat being around so many iconic cars. Not all were Porsches. There were Audis and Mustangs, and even a Corvette. Some of them looked very fast. 
I noticed a number of people, who, like me, were looking around not quite knowing what to do. But there were also a lot of people who clearly knew what to do and were taking this very seriously. They came with trailers, and extra tires (not the street legal kind), wheel warmers, water sprayers to cool down exotic and much enhanced engines, and stuff I could not identify. I came with a cooler, a chair with an umbrella, lunch, beverages, sunscreen, and a full tank of gas (all highly recommended).
All of us new guys were invited to walk the course with an instructor and that was a great help. After that, there was a driver meeting with last minute announcements, questions and work assignments. But before I was able to drive, I was assigned to work at one of a number of stations along the course, making sure that cars did not hit a cone (a two second penalty) or go off course (the run would not count). It was brutally hot and standing in the sun on a virtual sea of pavement was not what I had in mind. But watching the cars run was fascinating and educational. By watching where cars consistently had problems, I was better prepared for eventually driving the course.
Then it was my turn to drive. First, as a newbie, I was assigned an instructor. My friend Grant agreed to be my instructor and having his advice on a first slow lap was a great transition. Subsequent runs, however, were solo. And when I was on my own, I came to understand that the club’s motto, “safe, serious fun,” is a perfect way to describe Autocross. I had a blast! My time steadily improved, which was gratifying. I was able to go tearing around a course as fast as I could, without fear of a ticket, and with minimal risk to life, limb, and property. State troopers drove by the parking lot – without stopping and without stopping me! How cool is that! I certainly was not the fastest driver, but I managed to make all of my runs without ever hitting a cone (I think anyway) or going off course. Working before I drove proved to be a real benefit. I also met some great people whom I hope to see again at other events. In short, I thoroughly enjoyed the day.
When the last run was over and it was time to hand out awards. It was not totally shocking to learn that despite my NASCAR-like speed and mad driving skills, I was a full 22 seconds slower than the fastest car and way, way out of the money. It was a little shocking, however, to learn that all of our expensive, precision made, German engineered dream cars had had their doors blown off by a Mazda! Congrats to the winners, but I still would never trade pink-slips!
If you have not attended an Autocross, by all means you should. And I hope to see you there!