My Date with the Red Ferrari

While sweethearts everywhere got roses, and perhaps a little bling for Valentines, my card simply included a picture of a red Ferrari. My husband had given me a date with a race car.

“Leave your caffeinated beverage at home,” the instructor had written, “adrenaline comes free of charge!”

The “Supercars”

Before the adrenaline could take hold there were forms to fill out. . . these were incredibly expensive cars afterall, and there would be consequences should something go awry.

The RPM Fees threatened to turn this little excursion into a million dollar day.

Technically, Autocross (also called “Solo”, “Auto-x” or “Autoslalom”) is a timed competition in which drivers navigate one at a time through a defined course. Different from road racing and oval racing, Autocross is a race against the clock rather than other cars. The course is usually 1-2 kilometers long and places demands on car handling and driver skill rather than engine power and outright speed.

imageOur first order of business was a brief meeting with a driving Sherpa/Instructor.

He emphasized how important it was that we not allow the slightest tinge of a scratch on our supercar. It would be catastrophic should we run over a cone.

The most important thing was not speed – this was all about learning to control our supercar – as demonstrated by a previous participant who had taken his 3 laps around the course on his 87th birthday at a whopping 5 mph.

Lastly, we would all have fun and applaud everyone, no matter how fast they ran the course. Good news to me.

Jason asked who came along with me that day. I reached up to point to my husband just as he snapped my picture.
Jason asked who had come along with me that day. I reached up to point to my husband just as he snapped my picture.

My driving Sherpa introduced himself as Jason, and asked if I had ever driven a sports car. I told him yes, there had been a few. . .

My first real “sports” car was a VW Karmann Ghia convertible, but there were others. . .

He adjusted the seat and the steering wheel, and taught me to use the “paddles” in lieu of a clutch. He pointed to a spot down the course and said, “Don’t worry about shifting though – we’ll never get out of 2nd gear.”

“OK,” I said, and we were ready to roll.


I survived. . . and so did the Ferrari.

At the end of my session, Jason told me I had driven the course smoother than any of his students that day. “You never once had to touch the brakes,” he said. Turns out, slow is fast in this sport.

“My worst times are when I try to drive to fast. I become less smooth and lose time in the transitions between states. I keep reminding myself everytime I drive, “Slow is fast”. And then I put down my best time.”

BMW Car Club of America, Autocross Participant “How to win at Autocross” Forum

What a surprise: driving Autocross is amazingly similar to running. . .

Alex Lloyd began racing in the U.S. in 2006 winning the Indy Lights championship in 2007. He competed in the Daytona 24-hour twice, and the Indianapolis 500 four times – placing fourth. He wrote an article “How To Win An Autocross” for the Capital Driving Club – advice that can be taken quite literally by runners everywhere:

Focus on solid pre-race preparation. Make the most of your track walk or parade lap, and pay attention to the other racers when they are on course doing their runs. We are looking to get a good feel for the layout. . . Of course, if our planned line does not play out as expected, be ready to adjust on the fly.

Work on coming out of the blocks at full race pace. You can’t afford to take a few turns to get into the groove, which is why I am emphasizing the pre-race preparation. Once on track, you must understand what you are trying to achieve. Autocross is about attacking the course extremely hard and doing so straight off the bat.

Drive it to the very limit, but not beyond. Know the difference between driving on the edge and “over driving.” Pushing to the max produces a fault in most amateurs. . . They think, “the harder I drive, the faster I’ll go,” but there is a point where you are just asking too much of the car. You are sliding and scrubbing speed, and while it may look spectacular and fast from the outside, it is actually slow. The quick guys generally look rather pedestrian-like. This is because they have the car on the limit, but they do not exceed.

Work on accuracy and technique to minimize understeer. You must work on consistency and accuracy first, then, once that is achieved, push to the absolute max.

You can go out as fast as you can, brake as late as you can and dump the clutch, but you may end up losing the race — I suppose we could apply this advice to almost any scenario of life.

Your goal is to have fun! That’s why everyone is here. Your goal for the first run is to avoid getting lost on course (see course-walking tips).

Your goal for the rest of the day is to improve your time on each run.

Your goal for the second event is the same as the first.

Your goal for the rest of the season is to beat somebody (anybody!) and continue to make each run faster than the last.

Capital Driving Club (CDC)

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