Autocross returns to the county for the first time in 40 years | News, Sports, Jobs
In the 1960s, hundreds of spectators turned out to watch members of the Altoona Sports Car Club and others test their driving skills at autocross events. The goal was never to do a drag race, said Tony Rogers, a resident of Hollidaysburg. Instead, the pilots tested their mettle by navigating an obstacle course as fast as they could without knocking over the cones.
The course was usually set up in empty parking lots, as stores were not open on Sundays and events were sponsored by area car dealerships.
“It was nice,” said Rogers. “We had a lot of people. … Articles in the Mirror said there were thousands” present, he said.
This weekend, autocross will return to Blair County for an event organizers say is the county’s first in at least 40 years.
The basics of autocross
Road rallies and autocross events continue to be a mainstay of many auto clubs, but members of the Allegheny Highlands – Sports Car Club of America region said today’s autocross events will usually take place on airport runways – often locally in Ebensburg – and other large open spaces.
This weekend’s event will be special as it will be held in the large Jaffa Shrine Center parking lot, easily accessible to residents looking for a unique, family-friendly outing. It’s free to watch, organizers said.
Any drivers wishing to show off their skills are welcome to try their hand, said club secretary and Duncansville resident Chris Rogers.
There are several classes – so Volkswagen Beetle are not in the same class as Lamborghinis – and all vehicles will need to pass a basic security check. (See if you go there)
Initial course set-up is at 6:30 a.m. on Saturday and Sunday, with registration opening at 9:00 a.m. Drivers will be allowed to run the course before the start of the day’s events. A drivers’ meeting is scheduled for 10:15 a.m. and the first cars should be on the course around 10:30 a.m.
“Then we run until it’s over,” said club chairman Bryan Smith. “Everyone gets an equal number of runs.”
What to expect
Organizers expect between 60 and 80 attendees, including members of the Altoona Corvette Club and the Blair County Antique Auto Club.
Granted, a Model T probably wouldn’t be the best choice to race the course, but some of the newer, more sophisticated, and faster cars can easily be beaten by older, more nimble ones. It’s that competition that makes outings fun, said Tony Rogers.
The weekend races will be a family affair for the Rogers family, with Tony, 77, driving his first autocross in over 40 years sitting behind the wheel of his dark blue 2018 Fiat 124 Spider Arbarth – a sports car that can reach a top speed of 144 mph and can accelerate from zero to 62 mph in 6.8 seconds, according to specs online.
His son Chris will race a Mazda Miata with his son, Jacob, 14, driving a shotgun.
There was speculation that Tony would bring his 1965 Viking Blue Cobra, a replica of the car before designer Carroll Shelby became involved with the Ford Motor Co. But, in a telephone interview, Tony said that ‘he would bring it to show, not to race, unless his son persuaded him to give it a try.
“I’m 77 now, my reflexes aren’t what they used to be” he said. As for taking the course, however, he said “I’ll give it a shot.”
Smith will be out of competition as his car, a black and yellow 1991 Camaro Z28, is in the shop.
The top speed of the Spider, Miata, Camaro or any sports car however will not come into play in the autocross event.
Smith said he expects the cars to reach speeds of 60-70mph on the course he compared to “being on a roller coaster ride with no elevation gain.”
“With autocross you don’t go straight, you have to know when to turn, how to turn, reduce speed.” he said.
Each participant will be timed and knocking over a cone will add seconds to that time.
“The clock is not your friend” he said. The driver’s goal is to “Keep things short and sweet and as smooth as possible.
“The competition is quite tight” he added. “I’ve seen people being a thousandth of a second apart. … It’s pretty crazy.
Spectators can see anything from racing cars with roll cages to production beetles.
“There’s a lot of diversity, that’s what makes it fun” he said. “Not everyone can afford a racing car.”
More than anything, successfully competing in autocross requires driving skills and vehicle preparation.
“You have to look ahead” said Smith. “If you look over the hood of your car, you’re not going to do well… It’s like a game of chess, things happen pretty quickly.”
Tony Rogers agrees.
Autocross is not “so much about power,” he said, it’s more about how the car handles. It usually boils down to “the driver and the balance of the car.”
Smith estimates the course will take between 40 and 50 seconds for the fastest riders. Depending on the number of registered drivers, each driver could get five races.
Each day is treated as a separate competition and each driver’s best run is pitted against the other drivers in that class. Rewards for each class will be given out at the end of each day’s events.
There’s a novice class, for those new to the sport, and individual classes for stock and modifications, broken down by the amount of modifications made, as well as classes – it all depends on who shows up to compete.
Some people will even bring karts. “They are very small, very agile and go very fast,” he said. “These will go 80 mph no problem.”
It doesn’t matter what someone is driving, he added. “If it’s just a simple car, there’s also a class for it.”
Smith said that, like all pilots, he was a novice at some point.
“I was ready to learn” he said, inviting the others to try.
“It’s about having a good time, making friends,” he said.
Not just for men
There’s a lot of camaraderie, Smith and Rogers said, noting that men and women are equally capable of racing and winning in the event.
“In the 60s, our women did it,” said Tony Rogers. “We had a lot of women.”
Chris Rogers said he’s looking forward to the weekend’s event, not just because it’s taking place at the local Jaffa venue and his dad is a Jaffa Shriner, but because he’s bringing back the autocross at Altoona.
While it has been many years since he last competed and no longer has his Austin Healy Bugeye Sprite, Tony Rogers says he is looking forward to the weekend.
“I don’t have a very good car, but it will be fun” he said ” That’s what it’s about. … Have fun. … Test your driving skills.
“But, if I still had my Bugeyed Sprite, I would show them,” he said laughing.
If you are going to
What: Autocross hosted by the Allegheny Highlands Region – Sports Car Club of America
Where: Jaffa Shrine Center Parking Lot, 2200 Broad Ave., Altoona.
When: Saturday and Sunday August 20-21; The initial course setup is 6:30 on both days. Registration opens at 9am with a drivers meeting around 10.15am and the first cars should be on the course around 10.30am
Admission: Free to attend the competitions.
Driver Admission: The cost to participate in the autocross is $35 per day for club members. Non-members can pay $15 for a weekend club membership and then the $35 admission fee. If running both days, this weekend-only member would pay $50 on the first day and the regular $35 fee on Sunday.
Security check: There are several classes and all vehicles will have to pass a basic security check.
Because navigating the course requires fast, tight turns, hubcaps must be removed on any vehicle taking the course.
In addition, vehicles must be wider than they are tall.
The battery should be securely held, the tires should be in good condition, and the vehicle should not have excessive fluid leaks. Seat belts are compulsory and, although drivers may wear shorts, no open-toed shoes are permitted.
In addition, helmets are mandatory and lenders will be available.
Racers are workers too – for example, when cones are knocked over, event drivers are sent out onto the course to put the cones back in place.