WANNA RACE?

Interested in racing, but unsure if you're up for it? One of our local racers in New Jersey, Dave W., takes you through his experience from being on the sideline to being immersed in Autocross:

 

My interest in anything 2 or 4 wheel related began in high school. However like most teenagers, I just did not have the funds to support it. Fast forward to 2012, where finances and everything were stable and that's where my adventure begins. Between being annoyed with several issues with my '04 TSX and the exciting news of a inexpensive sports car coming out from subaru/toyota, it seemed only logical to pull the trigger and pre-order one.  
Now that I have completed my first season of autox, I'd like to share some tips and experiences, for example what to bring on the first day, expectations, and what to do.  
The Experience
 Like many of you, my interest in cars started in attending various meets. For a little while, it was enjoyable, but soon lost its appeal. After receiving my BRZ in 2012, I decided to attend my first autox which was the last one in the season. I never participated in any Driving Event, other than invitations to test new cars such as an AMG event, MazdaSpeed 6, Chevy Corvette, and the Focus ST. I guess you could also count numerous hours spent on Gran Turismo / Forza, but nothing truly serious. Despite having to wake up at the (ass)crack of dawn, the butterflies in my stomach, being on your feet the entire day, and dealing with the weather, it honestly was the new hobby I was searching for - a perfect cocktail of adrenaline, passion and competition.  
With the sun in my eye I lowered my tinted visor just enough to help out with the glare and mutter to myself, "look farther, keep your eyes up!" As I inch to the starting line, the marshal claps his hands indicating to stop and get ready. Everything except the first few turns becomes blurry and out of the corner of my eye, his hand waves. As the revs build up, turning becomes more vigorous through the first few turns and suddenly a gust of euphoric wind rushes through my helmet. Exiting the slalom and into the longest straight on the course, mutter again "Crap, on the gas earlier next time and brake late on this one." Time slows as if I'm Neo, the front end dips, and now its just waiting for that perfect moment to switch back to the throttle... NOW! I feel a slight tingle in my head as I realize this is that fine edge where everyone is talking about. The back end sliding out ever so gently, while getting pushed deeper into your seat - a taste of addiction, with a smile on top.  
This volatile cocktail compounded with the help of my bad influences (AKA autox/trackday friends), grew throughout the 2013 season. Finally, it wrapped up with a truly enjoyable first trackday at NJMP (Lightning and Thunderbolt) in November 2013.  
What to Bring
There are tons of websites with more a extensive list and rationale, so here's my must have's.
1.  Water, Mini-Cooler, snacks/food - always stay hydrated so you can think straight.  It will be a long day so a snack or lunch is also a good idea.
2. Tire Pressure Gage and Pump - Adjust the stiffness of your tires to balance responsiveness and grip.  If you like, bring a notebook to log your pressures and ambient temps to compare them in the future.
3. Painters Tape (or magnets) and Microfiber Cloth - Wipe dirt off the doors/windows and apply your removable car # and class
4. Sunblock, Hat, and/or Jacket - For those Sunny/Rainy days.  Bring a tarp to cover your stuff if you know it will rain.  Even cloudy days in the summer may need sunblock.
5. Video Camera / Phone Mounts - Record your awesome runs or laughable spins.  I like to test the limits (or just be an idiot) once in the day.
Expectations
Based on my experiences, mindset is key. Keep an open mind and listen to tips that instructors or others provide. If you come in thinking like the guy juggling chainsaws in the Progressive commercial - "I got this", then you are in for a surprise. Even if you have trackday experience, I've observed from others that autox is a completely different animal in the sense that it is much more fast paced. Keeping track of the course and always looking up was my first hurdle to overcome. Most clubs require an instructor to run with you the first few times and will always re-iterate to look up or farther down at least a few times. My first instructor basically said to me, you are already committed to the next car length in front of you so look farther down like 3 turns down so you aren't surprised. 
 
To put it bluntly, expect to suck. I know that's kind of a downer, but this is a learning experience and the satisfaction comes from the gradual improvements. Try different things to learn how your car's balance feels!  Brake later, harder, try different lines, try different things with the throttle, etc..  I'm not saying you are invincible and that's a green light to crazy, but test it with small incremental changes. Just remember Murphy's Law always applies.
       
Unfortunately, some of the advice given to me I totally ignored. Partially because I wasn't sure whether this would become just a one time thing, but soon after I realized there is no going back out of this rabbit hole. The biggest takeaway I can say is DO NOT MOD YOUR CAR. Yes, that was not a typo. Learn how your car feels stock and get a feel for what it it's true limits are. Some issues may not be fixed with throwing money at it and buying parts, but rather seat time and getting better as a driver will yield the biggest gains. Spend the time to understand the class rules you want to be in, so when you decide on certain mods to cure the issue, they are legal within that class.  If (When) the mod bug bites, you will have a clear and defined path to reach your goal.

What to Do
Show up early so you have sufficient time to prep your car for tech inspection. For example, remove anything loose in the car, driver side mat, adjust initial tire pressures, and apply your car number and class on the window/door.  
Next, after registering and tech inspect, walk the course at least twice. I like to walk slowly the first pass and get a feel for which areas are slow or fast, and the second for options for different lines.  
Lastly, just have some plain old good fun. The first time there will be a lot of information, but it is a safe way to have your shenanigans."
>