Competition Ready

Preparing an average car for the local race course is easy


By Jeffrey Fazio

At this time of the year, when people think about their cars, itís not surprising that their thoughts turn to shoveling it out of its parking spot, buying snow tires or wondering if the defroster will actually work for the rest of the winter (OK, that last one is reserved for people driving cars that are more than 20 years old). Although these are appropriate thoughts for the season, it is also time to start thinking about racing your car in the new year.

Yes, your car. Why not?

There are a variety of venues that you can compete in with the car you drive every day. Two of the most popular automotive contests are drag racing and autocrossing. You can compete in either or both within our region.

For drag racing, Maple Grove Raceway is a short 15-minute drive from Reading, south on Route 10 to Brecknock Township. If you want to autocross, there are occasional events held by the Northeastern Pennsylvania Region of the Sports Car Club of America about 40 minutes north of Reading on Route 61 at the Frackville Mall in Schuylkill County.

If your attention is duly grabbed, now the question is what do you need to do with your car to make sure it is safe and ready to race? The good news is, probably not much.

Chris Haydu, NEPA SCCA board member and 2006 NEPA SCCA STS Class Champion, said that in order to get started autocrossing, you just need to do a routine safety check of your car. That check should include making sure:

∑ Fluids are at the proper levels

∑ Lug nuts are tight

∑ Tires are in good shape and properly inflated

∑ Vehicle is not leaking

∑ Hubcaps are removed

∑ Seatbelt works

∑ Everything under the hood is tight (battery, intake system, spark plug wires, etc.)

"In preparing your vehicle for its first autocross, the first thing that I would do is to remove any loose items from your trunk and passenger area," Haydu said. "This includes anything from under your seats, cup holders, map pockets, floor mats, sun visors, or anything that could possibly move during a high g-force maneuver that may interfere with your ability to use the controls on your vehicle."

In order to get started drag racing, John Krupiak, track manager at Maple Grove Raceway, also said there was little extra to do to a vehicle.

"I think basically folks can look around the vehicle at things that they probably do or should do on a regular basis: inflated tires, tightened lug nuts, etc." said Krupiak. "There is very little to an inspection of late-model street-driven vehicles."

And yes, both of these guys are talking about an everyday car. The great thing about these sports is that almost anyone can enter in almost any type of vehicle.

"One of the appealing features of drag racing is that participants do not need to have a race-prepared vehicle," Krupiak explained. "Folks truly can have fun with or be competitive with their street-driven vehicle depending on which event they choose to participate at.

"Our 2005 and 2006 Street Eliminator champion drives a 1980 Chevrolet Malibu Wagon," he added.

The same goes for autocrossing, with a small word of warning.

"You can autocross just about any four-wheeled vehicle, from cars, trucks, and vans to go-carts," said Haydu.

"Any participant vehicle with a high center of gravity would probably be discouraged from entering," he warned. "Fast side-to-side transitions on a race track could result in a vehicle rollover if the vehicle is too tall. Most cars and sport trucks are fine for competition, though. Usually lower, smaller vehicles and sports cars are the ones that get the best times during the day."

Haydu said the things you need to check on a car can most likely be handled yourself or have already been checked with an annual Pennsylvania state inspection.

"I do not believe people should incur additional costs to have technicians look at their cars just to make a few laps down a drag strip, especially newer cars," said Krupiak. "We have skilled technical people inspecting the cars and other racers are always willing to help out newcomers when the need arises."

There is really no need to worry if you want to take your daily driver out to the track this spring and see how you (and it) stack up against some other drivers. It is a wonderful pastime and it can provide an awesome adrenaline rush.

"Whether people care to admit it or not, just about everyone that has a license and drives a car, has raced at one time or another," said Krupiak. "It just should not be done on overcrowded highways and byways when you have places to do it."

"Autocrossing is by far the best way to learn vehicle control and will give you the confidence you need during unexpected situations on the roadways to maintain a clear mind and get yourself out of trouble," Haydu said. "Most drivers on the road today have never had the opportunity to see how their car would behave in an emergency situation. The last place you would want to figure this out would be on a busy highway or a crowded intersection."

Realizing how easy it is to get involved in competing, there is only one question left. Whenís your first race?