Autocross Driving Clinic
Augusta Government Center, Verona
2007 July 29
Everything happens very quickly in an autocross—accelerate; turn left; accelerate; brake and make a U-turn in the keyhole; accelerate in a straight; upshift; brake hard; turn right; go through a slalom (right, left, right, left); accelerate; brake; turn left; accelerate; turn left; brake through a narrow gate, go through a Chicago box (left, right, left); accelerate; turn left; and accelerate through the finish gate, all in less than a minute. Beginners are so busy driving they have no time to think, so autocrossing is difficult to learn by doing. A beginning pianist wouldn’t learn “Flight of the Bumblebee” by trying to play it at tempo, but rather by practicing notes, scales, chords, and other fundamentals of piano playing first. The autocross driving clinic at the Augusta government center in Verona, led by Rick Ebinger and Eric Boody with help from Mike Moore and Ray Shumin, was the autocrossing equivalent of a piano lesson. They broke autocrossing into its fundamentals and let each beginner practice them one at a time.
Rick and Eric began with a classroom on preparing yourself and your car for an autocrosss, on tire traction, and on the limits of acceleration, braking, and turning. Then everyone did a course walk to study the track surface and become familiar with the course, so it wouldn’t become a bewildering “sea of cones” at speed. Finally the autocross students were divided into four groups of six to practice four fundamentals: driving through a keyhole (enter a narrow gate, drive around a cone, and exit through the gate), accelerating in a long straight and braking hard at the end, running a slalom, and going through a “Chicago box,” which is a slalom camouflaged by a C-shaped border of cones. Doing each of these exercises multiple times in succession greatly speeded up the learning process.
In the afternoon, the pieces were connected to form a full autocross course that suddenly made a lot more sense (“Hey, I can do that!”). After everybody had several runs, some intrepid students also drove around the skid pad, a doughnut drawn in lime on the parking lot at Verona. It teaches the limits of traction and how a car feels as it approaches that limit, or exceeds it and either drifts outward or spins.
The autocross students clearly had a good time and learned to drive the autocross course faster. In addition, the “fun” driving skills they learned might suddenly become very practical in an emergency on the street. This successful event, a first for the Shenandoah Region, will probably be repeated in coming years.
Rhonda Dunbrack making a U-turn in the keyhole.
Sascha Corpora braking at the end of the straight.
Sherry Westfall attacking the slalom.
Clint Shuler entering the Chicago box.
Mary Taylor on the skid pad.