By the time you read this, I’ll have been to Indiana and then Nebraska a month later. The Dodge has been a busy truck logging almost 8,500 miles schlepping a Camaro-filled trailer, crisscrossing rural roads and interstates and for what, you ask? That part’s easy … about 10 minutes worth of autocross runs. And as you’re probably shaking your head over that; yes, I’ve been told I’m completely certifiable. Why Indiana and then Nebraska? Well, the SCCA held two really cool autocross events, one specifically for us that compete in Classic American Muscle (CAM) with older and more modern junk, and the other, more prestigious, one was the Big Shindig for All Things Pylon … the SCCA Solo National Championships. Both were filled with fun, hijinks, camaraderie, and yes, some pretty tough competition.
At your local autocross event, you’re usually given several runs, but at Nationals it’s three on the first day and three on the second. Each day has two distinctly different courses that are about 60 seconds long. Take the best time from one day, add it to the best from day two, and the quickest combined total is crowned National Champion. Nationals Week takes just that; about seven days to finish three separate events: Pro, Individual class National Championships, and the Solo Trials. I tell first-timers to bring clothing for every type of weather imaginable, plenty of socks, several pairs of footwear, and a bicycle to leg yourself between the mile of paddock to grid to the courses, and then back. Yes, Virginia, the site is that big!
To date, SCCA Solo has about 100 separate classes for Open and Ladies. The last couple of years have brought us with muscle stuff three more: CAM-Traditional (older stuff), CAM-Sport (two-seater stuff), and CAM-Contemporary (newer stuff). I realized that CAM was a perfect fit for me and my car and embraced the class with reckless abandon with a bit of ambassadorship thrown in for good measure.
At this year’s Nationals, there were eight of us in CAM-T and of these eight there were a couple of rookies to a Solo course but not to motorsports in general. Unless you’ve been under a rock for the past several decades, you’re probably familiar with the name Unser, and in CAM-T we had not one but two of these legends amongst us! Also based in Lincoln, Nebraska, is Speedway Motors, which has supported various forms of racing and have turned their attention and sponsorship to SCCA, and in particular, our Solo sport. They’ve also hired two most excellent drivers: Al Jr. and Robby Unser to complete their driver duo. Al Jr. pilots a freshly built second-gen Camaro while Robby flogs a gorgeous, and very well prepared, 1965 Nova. Both are fast and very formidable in their Speedway Motors sponsored and built CAM rides. And both have appeared to take to our sport with relish.
The courses couldn’t have been more different and us CAMmers all ran “The Corn Course” first. This was one of the most unflowing, trappiest, and narrow autocross courses, with blind turns that required serious brain cells for memorization, that I’ve ever had the non-pleasure of driving. A small amount of technical is fine but 60 seconds of furious, baffling circumvention was waaaay over the top. In contrast, “The Plane Course” (we run this event next to the main airport in Lincoln) was a delight as it drove like a mini-road course, was fast and flowed well, quite easy to read, and rewarded precision if you grew a set of huge, monster-sized balls and then used them appropriately. I affectionately named it “The Tooth with Roots.”
We all walked each course many times, mentally driving the line, positioning our cars through narrow slivers of openings, and looking for ways to create elusive straightaways. Getting only three runs on each, perfection with a safety margin was mandatory, and did I mention that each cone hit carried a 2-second penalty? Did I also mention that autocross is a game where the difference between winning and not is tenths and hundredths, even thousandths, of a second? Basically, the focus was “don’t hit nuthin’” and haul butt. My tenth of a second lead at the end of the first day may have seemed like an eternity to some but sure wasn’t a comfort to me.
Al Jr. said two things that really stood out about Solo. He mentioned that each autocross run was like a qualifying session. He also said that this sport is a lot harder than it looks and batted 1.000 on both counts. Some autocrossers set their fast lap times on their first or second runs, and if you’re one of these aliens, I kinda hate you a little bit. Moi, on the other hand, is the Queen of the Third Run Do or Die Zinger. It’s not something I’d like on my tombstone, but hey, it works about 90 percent of the time. As for that remaining 10 percent, when things go wrong it becomes a pylon flinging “garage sale” for the course and can be quite ugly.
Sitting at the start line of the “Tooth” course with two runs already in the books and yours truly now behind Al Jr. by about three tenths, I had a little epiphany, which was simply: I didn’t come all this way to go down in flames. My third run had me “swinging for the fences,” yet was smooth, ultra-focused, and precise with apexes, making every inch count. As each course had several drivers making their runs at the same time yet in separate sections of the course, Al Jr. started before me and would finish his last run first and know well before I did how the fight for the championship would play out. Would he find more time? Could I close this deal with my textbook “zinger” final run? It was the longest 56.561 seconds of my entire life, as after I sailed across the finish line I had to get the Camaro weighed. I asked the folks at the scales “Who won?” They replied: “We can’t hear and have no idea.” I then proceeded from the scales to get my timing slip and the guy handing them out said: “You’ll be happy with this!” I asked him: “How did Al do?” He replied: “I’m not sure.” I finally got a clue when I saw a couple good friends going ballistic and screaming like school girls at a Justin Bieber concert, and then knew for sure when I drove back into my grid spot to prepare for mandatory impound. Both Unsers were very congratulatory and it took awhile for it to finally sink in. I don’t think I’ve ever been prouder of that Spectre Performance, BFGoodrich Tires, Baer Brakes, Lingenfelter Performance, Art Morrison Suspension, RideTech Shocks, Centerforce Clutches, Strange Engineering, Forgeline Wheels, Marquez Design, and Anvil Auto Camaro as I was in that moment in time.
Even though this is the Nationals and CAM-T was a nail-biter to the end, I need to mention that both Unsers are great autocross drivers and have taken to my sport like a long-necked spoon tractor-beaming its way towards a hot fudge sundae … and if the venues were reversed, two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Al Jr. would be rounding the banked ovals and finishing his victory milk while I’d probably still be fastening belts. Autocrossing is a sport I’m familiar with and have around 40 years of experience in. By comparison, Al Jr. has been dodging pylons for mere months. Both Unsers are exceptional drivers and much fun to compete against. They enhanced the Nationals experience for many and add credibility and a bit more legitimacy to our sport. Both Al Jr. and Robby appear to enjoy what we do on parking lots and I hope they stay.
For more information on Sports Car Club of America Solo, Classic American Muscle classes, and the 2015 Solo Nationals, go to scca.org.