They say you're nuts?

Some people think autocrossing a car, especially if the car and/or driver are new, is not a good idea. Here's my response to a query on the f-body (Camaro/Firebird) list. Although the examples here are Camaros, the concepts apply to all cars and drivers, in my opinion.

Howie writes:

(The following questions pertain to the 4th Gen Camaro, which is what I'll be getting.)

Do people ever autocross their production cars, with NO aftermarket modifications? I mean, not to win or anything, but just to test the limits of their vehicles?

There is an autocross prep level known as Stock. You are ONLY allowed to:

  1. Change the shocks.
  2. Change the brand of tires, so long as it fits on the stock rim.
  3. Adjust the suspension.
  4. Run any air and oil filter element (you may not mess with the airbox).
  5. Change the exhaust from the cat back (you must retain the stock cat conv).

Stock is probably the most competitive class around, BTW. But to answer the question, yes, lots of people show up just to have fun and learn more about their cars.

What does this do to the life of one's car? Will you have a seriously tweaked clutch, engine, or transmission if you put, say, a production Camaro on the racetrack and go for it?

Autocrosses are generally held on parking lots or airports, not racetracks. Speeds are held to less than 70 mph, usually 50.

Say it was a base-model, and not a Z28.

Are base-model Camaros just passenger cars that LOOK like true race cars, or are they REAL performance-quality too?

Without opening too big a can of worms, let's say that the difference between a base and hipo Camaro is pretty small for auto-x purposes, especially in terms of not breaking stuff. The base cars have less power, so they don't need as many heavy duty parts. A typical autocross run is about 60 - 90 SECONDS. It just doesn't put much strain on anything. Most cars of all types you see at local autocrosses are daily drivers, not trailered race cars. In fact, lots of the trailered race cars are trailered so as to not put wear and tear on it by driving it around on the street. I plan on towing our street driven car to Harrisburg for the events just because it's a long way and the family won't fit in the 'Vair anyway.

I was just talking to my dad about how cool autocrossing would be, and his response basically was that I'd ruin the Camaro if I were to do it, because it "really wasn't designed for that."

Guess he doesn't know anything about autocrossing, eh? You will, however, accelerate the wear on certain parts, like the tires and clutch. Count one autocross event as roughly equivalent to 500 miles of regular street driving. If you break anything else, it was going to break anyway.

I told him about the Indy Pace Car stuff, and his reply was that the Pace Car version is completely different from the production cars and that the only similarity between the two is outside appearance.

Wrong. The Pace Cars get very little modification nowadays. Removing the catalytic convertor, then adding a roll bar and the lights are about it.

Keep in mind here that my dad really has little idea of what he's talking about, he just doesn't want me to autocross.

Trust me, you didn't have to say that ;-)

Please help me convince my dad that autocrossing would be the best way to enjoy, and get the most out of, my SPORTS CAR. (And that my SPORTS CAR would be none the worse for it.)


Two points:

1) Most people get into an out-of-control situation for the first time when they are driving on the road and have to avoid some large, nasty object, like a dump truck. Losing it on an autocross course and mowing down a bunch of traffic cones bruises the ego, but you won't need any paramedics.

2) People who have an outlet for their competitive natures don't need to prove anything on the street. 'Nuff said.