Parking lot racers

Fast fun, safer than your morning commute, autocrossing is good for you&emdash;and your car

You're a pretty good driver, right? You can negotiate turns quickly, make fast lane changes, brake hard in an emergency; you can drive fast when called upon. You're wrong. It's a disease that most of us&emdash;myself included&emdash;suffer from.

Which is where an event like Push It to The Limit comes in. Call it the race to humility; I ate two huge slices of humble pie before finally being able to make my way around the entire minute-long course. Driving in a situation like this quickly reminded me how much I still had to learn.

Humility notwithstanding, events like this one are exciting, and a great way to get to know your car and improve your driving skills. Not only can you really push your vehicle to its upper limits on autocross courses like this one, which had been set up in a Go station parking lot, but you also get to test your own limits&emdash;how quickly you can react, how fast you can turn a wheel, how awful your habits are. (Given time, and a lot of failed laps, you can even try to fix them.)

The rules are simple. Bring any car you want, then pump up the tires so that they won't peel off the rims in tight corners. (For the more serious competitors, there are several "modified" classes that take into account enhancements such as different tires and exhaust systems.) Take a walk or rollerblade around the pylon-defined course. You are allowed no practice laps; doing well largely depends on your ability to "read" the track as it whizzes up to you. Then go. Don't knock over any cones&emdash;they're a two second penalty&emdash;and don't go off course. Don't go in reverse.

Competition can be fierce in the parking lot. Somebody's trailered in a custom-built race car, and there are several Corvettes and Porsches on hand. But there are mundane cars too&emdash;a couple of old Rabbits, a Toyota Corolla wagon, my five-year-old Accord. Much to my surprise, there's never any snobbery. Despite the fact that it's my first time out and I am the slowest one out there by a good ten seconds, I'm never looked down upon or laughed at, treated as an equal as are the other novices present&emdash;when I finally do get all the way around, I drive back to the parking lot to a line of raised thumbs from the Firebird, RX-7 and Integra guys.

Racing here is a bargain to boot. At twenty bucks for a whole day&emdash;five or six runs around the track and then a few laps for fun&emdash;it's cheaper than watching a race and much more fulfilling because you actually get to play, even with the big guys and girls whose cars have three times as many horses as your own. And if you spin out, lose track of the course, or knock over a cone, you have only yourself to blame.

There's almost no better weekend automotive activity than this, especially for a sports-car enthusiast; despite the relatively low speeds and high safety level, autocrossing beats any kind of spectating hands-down. If you own a performance car&emdash;heck, any car&emdash;and haven't tried this out, you don't know what you're missing.


The Mazda Sportscar Owner's Club hosts six events like Push It To The Limit every year, but other clubs run similar events almost every week. Check AutoDate for details and contact information.


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