This autocross was not only my first Sports Car Club of America event, but my first opportunity to leap from the novice class to the far more competitive “Street Touring Extreme,” or STX class. Luckily the car I compete in, owned by Madison Swartz, was built to compete in STX. With 17×9″ Enkei RPF1 wheels wrapped in sticky Michelin Pilot Super Sport tires, Fortune Auto 500 coilovers, PBM rear control arms, a full exhaust and a custom tune, the car performs like a dream on the track. The steering is direct and predictable, traction is consistent and oversteer is gradual and predictable. The car described in one word? Balanced.
Unfortunately for Madison and I, most of the other STX cars were equally as balanced and driven by far more experienced owners. Although I have certainly noticed improvement in my driving throughout the last few months, my best run, a 50.135, still landed me in seventh place. The good news? I wasn’t last. I owe Swartz a beer for the confidence boost. Probably two after that jab.
After watching such experienced drivers slaughter my run times, I have realized a few issues present in my own driving that I have begun to eliminate.
As a new driver, chances are you’re either going to be too timid or you’ll do the exact opposite and overdrive your car. Although timidity is a safer route to take, it will kill any chance you had at setting a decent run time. On the other end of the spectrum, there is overdriving, which was my most significant weakness. To keep the definition simple, overdriving is when you fail to remain controlled on the track. General signs of overdriving are plowing through turns, harsh understeer, jerky steering input and losing control of the car. Although going balls out sounds like the best option on a race track to most novices, all it does is kill any chance you had at remaining competitive. When I managed to address this issue in my own driving, I was able to carry more speed through turns, keep the car balanced with smoother steering input and maintain control of the vehicle at all times.
2. Getting nervous
Although first-lap jitters are fairly common, psyching yourself out before every run will never be beneficial. The key to improving is to remain focused, learn from your mistakes, seek advice from other drivers and keep your eyes on the course. When I finally managed to stop worrying about hitting cones or spinning out, I was able to approach the starting line with a new level of clarity, and my times reflected that.
3. Being too serious
The whole point of track driving is to have fun. When you calm your nerves and look at your driving from a more objective standpoint, the whole autocross experience changes. When there is no money or sponsorship on the line, the only reward you can expect from a track day or autocross event is the fun factor. When you’re out there having a good time, everything else just seems to fall into place.
Although I am no professional by any means, I can attest to the effectiveness of eliminating these three common driving issues. In the coming months, I hope to further improve my driving and eventually become a competitive driver in the STX class. As usual, keep an eye out for video from this event, which should be up within a few days.