The Thunder Valley Sand Drags were dusty. Dustier than a panhandle bean field during the Depression. Dustier than the room seems to get at the end of Braveheart. Each step and dropped cone sent up a pale cloud above the long field, but a strong, cool, southwest wind cleaned it up for us just as quickly. Saturday was my first rallycross experience, and the racing was so awesome that I didn’t mind a little fesh fesh. I didn’t drive this event, but by the end of it, I wished I had, and I will the next chance I get. You should, too. But don’t.
Let me explain. SCCA rallycross is almost exactly like autocross, but it’s off-pavement. Dirt, sand, gravel, mud, snow, and even ice are all potential rallycross surfaces, with the last two a bit unlikely at this point of the year. Run a short course between the cones for time. It’s that simple. There is one other difference. In autocross, your best time of the day is used for scoring. In rallycross, you are scored by the total of your day’s times. This is, after all, how full stage rallies work.
But unlike a stage rally, a rallycross doesn’t involve any jumps, high speeds, or water crossings, unless you count large puddles. Actually, despite the fact that most rallycross courses are just unused fields with cones in them, rallycross isn’t that hard on a normal road vehicle. Sure, if you drive a sports car so low you could use its oil pan to start a fire in an action movie (writing that one down), you might do some scraping. And yes, you’ll wear out your suspension faster if you rallycross all the time. But the average road car can handle the occasional rallycross without issue.
I know this because I saw a fully stock 2013 Chevy Volt out there churning up the clouds. No issues. Reuben, my friend who purposely built his Hyundai Genesis Coupe for rallycross, tells me that he has seen vehicles break on rallycross courses, but it’s not extremely common. As with autocross, rallycross courses are designed to keep the focus on technique, rather than speed.
Technique, however, is different with rallycross. Well, not exactly different. More pronounced, perhaps.
For instance, in autocross, rotating the rear of the car around cones can slightly can improve times. In rallycross, the same principle applies, but it’s so much easier to overrotate, especially in a rear-wheel-drive car like Reuben’s. Jamming open the throttle in a turn can get you sideways, which is fun, but bad for your times. You want just enough oversteer to keep your revs up without breaking forward momentum. Rebuen’s key to this was left foot braking. Braking and accelerating simultaneously causes the front wheels to “dig in.” They get more pressure as the weight shifts forward, and suddenly you can control the oversteer.
Reuben’s wasn’t the only RWD car out there in need of left foot braking. There were 4 Miatas, all hardtop-equipped due to rallycross regulations, an SW20 MR2, and one perfect, rally-prepped Beetle. Still, FWD, AWD, and 4WD vehicles were more common. AWD cars were the fastest of the day, of course, with a Subaru STi taking the overall victory. But even my friend Stephen’s automatic Audi Allroad, which he’s just running for fun, proved more than adept in the loose dirt. I rode with Stephen three times, and each time the car nicely collected itself out of turns when I thought it would certainly fly sideways out of the course. Stephen only hit one cone all day. It also helps that he’s a talented driver.
It was incredibly fun to ride with these guys, and as the day progressed, I began to mentally kick myself more and more often for not entering. Sure, my ’06 Civic has some dumb traction control that you can’t turn off, and yes, the electric throttle is perfectly useless, and yeah, the tires are best on pavement, but I’m not trying to impress anyone or win any trophies. Besides, most of the course can be run in first gear, and with the Civic’s 8,500 RPM redline, that’s an advantage.
I worried, however, that it would break. I think most people share those worries when they first hear about rallycross. That’s understandable. But statistically, most of you should be fine. Because most of you own a crossover, SUV, or truck. America is going crazy for them. Chrysler basically doesn’t even make cars anymore because trucks and SUVs are so popular.
Now, you might have bought that CRV/CX5/X3/Escape because you didn’t want to bend over to get the kids out of the car, or because you thought it was a refuge from the Minivan Stigma (it isn’t), but the fact is, it’s higher off the ground than the hatchback it’s based on, and probably has more suspension travel. That means it’s perfect for rallycross. I know this because I saw a Jeep Grand Cherokee, a Nissan Exterra, and a Subaru Forester put down some very respectable times on Saturday.
Imagine explaining to other parents at Sports Practice why your Audi Q5 is so dusty and has mud flaps.
So you can and should autocross, but please don’t.
My favorite thing about Saturday’s rallycross is that there were so few entries. Only 27 drivers showed up. The last autocross I drove, as awesome as it was, had 193 entrants, making for a very long day and limiting runs to 4 each. On Saturday at rallycross, each driver got 10 runs, and they were done and gone by 4pm. So if you bring your Rav4 out, and all your friends bring theirs, we won’t get as many runs in.
But you should come anyway, because it’s awesome. But don’t. Check out the SCCA site to get started.
Andy Sheehan is a blogger, aspiring novelist, and relentless hoon. He plans to will his 2002 Subaru WRX Wagon to his firstborn, plans his daily commute around the swoop of its roads, and doesn’t plan to ever buy an automatic. A cool-car omnipath, he loves the common Mustang or Chevelle, but hunts for the weird and wonderful Velorexes and Cosmos of the autoverse. And when he can afford a garage, he’s going to turn an MX-5 into a race car.