Chris Klapper would choose DE over autocross any day. He’s always loved to go fast and the track provides plenty of opportunity for speed. Even so, there’s a place in Chris’ heart for autocross as anyone who has ever heard him talk about it knows. With the enthusiasm of a candidate on the stump, Chris declares that everyone should drive autocross. To find out why, and to learn more about the sport, I sat down to talk with Chris over lunch. Here’s a recap of our discussion:
If it were possible, autocross would be the perfect place for a Vulcan mind meld between human and machine. The car is important, make no mistake. High performance tires, the right suspension set-up, and a few hundred horses under the hood can make a real difference. But how to explain the quick times that drivers in 356’s can turn in with engines putting out as little as 75 HP? That’s where the mind comes in and for Chris, autocross is every bit as much about the mind as it is the car.
Autocross is a Zen thing. Chris’ mantra: manage expectations and stay within yourself. Autocross is timed but don’t focus on the times of others- concentrate on your times against yourself. Chill out, Chris proclaims. Take your first runs slowly; travel at a speed that allows you to clearly see the course. Faster and faster speeds should be saved for later runs. Determine your entry and exit line for corners- feather your brakes and control your throttle to keep your speed constant through the turns. Once you’re in a corner you’re committed; there’s nothing more you can do. It’s time to look ahead to the next one. Course a little gnarly? Never hesitate to ask for an instructor- they’re always available.
It’s good to keep Chris’ advice in mind as autocross courses are designed to test a car’s handling and a driver’s ability to make the car handle as it should. Each autocross course is a little different; even so, all courses share three features. When you’re on the line waiting to stomp on the accelerator, anticipate a slalom that challenges your car’s agility. Be ready for a high-speed turn that tests your tires’ grip. Prepare for quick tight turns that demand a good line, maintained with brake and throttle. If people are enjoying themselves and smiling at the end of the day, Chris knows he’s designed a good course.
Four times a year Chris and a handful of volunteers drag a few hundred of the club’s orange cones out of their storage facility in East Greenbush to the McCarty Ave. parking lot in Albany to set courses for HCP’s autocross events. There’s down time chairing the autocross committee but when autocross season arrives the pace can become hectic. Once event dates are set with the club’s board, the use of the parking lot is negotiated with OGS. Arrangements for insurance are made with the national organization and a workforce is assembled. Timing equipment, a portable generator, a leaf blower, chalk, paper and all the sundry supplies needed to run the event must be in place when drivers arrive. When the drivers leave, it’s time to tear down and think about doing it again in another month or two.
So why drive autocross? Easy -the fun factor is high and the cost is cheap. Subtract the cost of your car and you’re in it for only a few bucks for the day’s entry fee plus the cost of a helmet which is the one required piece of equipment. Deduct the cost of the helmet if you want to use one of the club’s loaners. Rather not borrow one? A good helmet can be had for a couple hundred dollars. Regardless of brand, the helmet must have a current Snell M [motorcycle] or SA [special applications] rating. SA helmets can be more expensive but offer a fireproof lining as additional protection for the driver. Snell rates helmets every five years; a helmet rated in 2010 may be used until 2020. Accordingly, Snell 2015 rated helmets will be useable through 2025. Helmet manufacturers were required to submit helmet designs for 2015 certification by the end of this past March. It’s about six months from that point to market so 2015 certified helmets should be available now. Open faced helmets are acceptable; but, Chris recommends choosing a full face helmet to preserve the natural beauty of your face- just in case. If the autocross bug bites, hie yourself to a Zone 1 event where longer and faster courses laid out on an airfield await. Some pretty serious drivers, with some very serious cars show up for these events but the basics still apply and the fun factor remains high.
Listening to Chris wax eloquently about autocross it’s hard to resist a trip to McCarty Ave. First time jitters? The worst that can happen is you’ll miss a turn or hit a soft cone with no damage to your car. The best that can happen: a lot of fun and an understanding of your car’s handling that you may appreciate some day when you’re not navigating a sea of cones in a parking lot. If you get a chance, ask Chris about the time someone backed into the road in front of him as he was cruising along…