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Racing Is A Bad Word ... - One Good Turn

Mary Pozzi May 9, 2014
Mark Stielow Chevrolet Camaro Side 2/2

Hey, young grasshopper, no matter how badass your ride is, plan on a lot of schoolin’ and seat time if you plan to be as fast as Mark Stielow. Even then, count on an uphill battle.

Unless you've been living on Mars for the past several months, the flurry of Internet forum posts about the upcoming season for the Ultimate Street Car Association (USCA) has probably caught your eye. And after sorting through the deal you probably have more questions than answers. By now, they have listed the rules, the dates and locations of events, and different levels of competition classes for vehicles. I've done my due diligence, read every word, analyzed "the messages," and noted how it's all going down.

"The biggest question a lot of folks have pertains to track times, and I'm betting that most of these road courses will have some little diversions to keep the novice drivers slowed and safe while still offering a challenge for those with more track experience. If you're in that novice group, sit back, learn, and enjoy the day. Fast lap times will be handed to those who have cocoanut-sized "stones" and can drive the junk they built. Can't put it much simpler than that!"

At SEMA this year, we had breakfast with a young buck who was building an early Camaro just to beat Mark Stielow. I swear, that was his goal, and he planned on throwing bucketfuls of "Benjamins" at the car to get this done. Both Dave (my hubby) and I gently ... and then not so gently ... warned him to start furthering his own behind-the-wheel edumication, enter and drive local autocrosses and track days for a couple of years, and then see how well he and his junk stack up against "The Master of all Things Stielow." And this guy had never set a wheel on a track before. Baby steps, young grasshopper ... baby steps.

This goes for most of the rest of you too, as some of these racetracks are non-forgivers if you push that "Stupid Pedal" a bit hard. Keep the lap times at the autocross track and for the braking events, as they're much slower (and easier) for entrants.

Why, you ask? It's simple and entails one word ... safety. Safety is important for everyone ... drivers and cars, spectators, workers, K-walls, grass, pylons, curbs, and even trees. This isn't a new concept, but in recent years safety should have been given more attention, as at some events there were glaring examples on things gone bad. For autocrosses, course design is paramount and having K-walls and other fixed obstacles right next to the pylons can be a recipe for disaster, as it leaves no room for error. Drivers make mistakes (yes, really ... we do!) and cars are being wrecked as a result. Good course design takes this into account and gives run-off room where it's needed. The penalty for going off-course shouldn't be bent sheetmetal.

Most of what's been brought to my attention is strictly hearsay, but I have seen other things firsthand ... four cars on an autocross course at the same time, some doing donuts, others driving through donut smoke, the timing and scoring table set up on the outside of the final turn, and a hit pylon being caught by a cheering spectator sitting on a grassy hillside about 30 feet away. This last gem made it to YouTube and was found by a member of the SCCA Solo Committee. He knew me and my involvement in the Pro Touring community and forwarded the link. You think this is cool stuff? Hope not 'cause I don't, and we must make changes for the better. We must be absolutely 100 percent perfect! And it's not just event organizers that have this burden. It's the entrants, spectators, and workers, too. "Safety first" is a joint effort for everyone and needs teamwork to be successful. For this I applaud USCA ... you guys are gettin' it done!

So why enter? That answer is simple. It's fun, there's cool stuff to do and see with friends and cars, good food, we get to drive on famed, storied racetracks filled with racing history of really famous junk that's been there before, we get to piss off tires by autocrossing and braking, there's television and media coverage, and did I mention this is fun? If you've been paying attention, you'll also notice I won't substitute "competition" or "event" with the word "race" because these events aren't about racing. This word needs to be completely eliminated from any promotional event media as we're not, by definition, racing. There's (hopefully) no wheel-to-wheel action going on and by all intents and purposes, what we are doing with our cars is basic lapping. The track portions of the events are nothing more than a track day for most. In addition to this, the word "racing" has a sinister connotation for any insurance policy. In fact, any "timed speed event" carries this same connotation, which should be another reason to drive well within your limits.

And wait, there's more ... even the SCCA has gotten into the show as they're adding Classic American Muscle (CAM) to their regional Solo (autocross) program. The rules are pretty liberal and I see "almost" all of our Pro Touring cars easily meeting the criteria. Heck, almost everything is unrestricted. If you want to see this class succeed, run it. Couple this with USCA and Goodguys and their autocrosses, and there's a full slate of fun for many years for you and your Camaro.



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