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So you want to be the next Ricky Bobby

by Lainey Severson on August 08, 2018

I sit in the passenger seat, my hands clasped together.  My heart beats rapidly, reminding me of what I’m about to do.

Why did I let him sign me up for this?  I can’t do this.  I can barely drive a manual!

We pull up to the course, orange peaked cones scattered everywhere.  I open my door, put one foot on the pavement, stand up and walk to the registration table for the first time ever.  This was my crash course into autocross.

I began racing cars in April 2015 at the encouragement of my then-boyfriend.  He came up with the idea for a few reasons. 

It was something he enjoyed, so he wanted to introduce me to it so we could race together.  As my first intro, he brought me to the final race of the 2014 season with his uncle and cousin.  He was supposed to drive, but after some mechanical issues with his wheels, he wasn’t able to.  The four of us had a fantastic time riding along with the other drivers.  I distinctly remember him walking over to the first person I rode with, a man I have since befriended with an old 914 Porsche, and told him to scare the crap out of me.  He wasn’t successful, as I came back grinning ear to ear, begging other people to let me ride along with them for the remainder of the day.

I’ve always enjoyed cars, as my father grew up in Detroit.  My dad knows all the classic cars and loves pointing them out, then providing supplemental information.  I’m not as good as him, but I’ve gotten better with time.  I was also getting interested in working on my own car at the time, although I’m far from mechanically inclined.  Cars are a fun challenge to me.

Lastly, he knew I would love sitting in the driver's seat, bringing the car to red line while trying to beat the clock.  I’m always up for whatever seems a little wild, a little reckless, and incredibly fun. 

So when he recommended I give racing a try, I figured, why not. What’s the worst that could happen. Of course, the nerves kicked in while driving the 45 minutes to the track.

The dream 2005 STI

I race autocross, which is a time attack-style event where drivers run a course set up by cones, trying to get the best time possible.  Each cone you hit adds time to the raw time you complete the course with. Depending on the modifications to your car, or if you’re driving a Mazda Miata versus a Ford Mustang, you get a handicap. Each course is designed a little differently and may favor one car over another, but a good driver can make any course work with any car.  I’m still working towards that.

After that first day racing, and stalling at least once at the start line, I was hooked.  The other drivers were so supportive, offering tips and tricks along the way.  I was driving a 2010 Subaru STI hatchback with fairly heavy boost modifications. AKA, it went fast and had a lot of power.  Much more power than my daily driver automatic Jeep Liberty.

After that season, my 2010 STI became everyone’s dream Subaru-- a stock 2005 STI, black obsidian pearl. That car was my baby and I learned so much driving it, even with the crazy modifications done to it by the time I lost her in the breakup. 

When my Jeep’s transmission died in December 2017, I knew I needed a new race car since I didn’t have one to drive. I wasn’t about to quit racing just because my ex got the race car. I ended up buying a bone stock 2002 Subaru WRX.  He is a solid little car who had never seen a course until I took him out in April 2018.  I’m looking forward to many years of racing with him.

My pride and joy, and first race car.

For anyone looking to start racing, I say go for it.  Sure, it’s intimidating, but a good race track or race region will want you to succeed. I race for events sanctioned by the Sports Car Club Of America, a nationally recognized organization.  The region I directly race with is the Rio Grande Region, which is based in Albuquerque, NM. 

Entry is easy. Essentially, you just need a car that will slide before it rolls.  There are full lists of legal and banned cars on the SCCA website.  People will buy cars that are “competitive,” but you don’t need to.  Heck, people have gone out with diesel VW Jettas and Subaru Crosstreks!  And it doesn’t have to be a “dedicated race car.” Some people trailer in their cars, others are carts.  Mine’s the same car you will see me driving to work Monday through Friday!

Pricing is usually cheap. My region is around $70 for the weekend. It’s cheaper if you become an SCCA national member, which is a good idea because you get a lot of benefits such as tire discounts and other things like that.  Shameless plug here, if you join SCCA, say Lainey Severson referred you so I can be entered to win a rally school trip 

These organizations have novice instructors to help keep beginners on course and to offer advice. Novice instructors are also available for anyone who needs a pointer here and there.  Experienced drivers are usually happy to offer their two cents whenever you ask.  They want to grow the sport, keep newbies excited to come back, and ultimately cultivate a welcoming culture that fosters friendly competition. 

I’m completely hooked on this sport.  There will come a day when I finally win my class.  Someday, I’ll have another 2005 STI or a dedicated race car for race day. But for now, I anxiously await for the weekends to arrive when I get to pack up the car, drive an hour, pull up to the start line, and let life fly by the window as I control my trajectory from the driver’s seat.  I’ll see you out there.


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