Bella Vistan goes racing
Event at Crowder College pitted drivers against each other and the course.
Early on a Sunday morning, drivers piled into a wide-open asphalt lot with cones scattered all around, clearing out their cars before heading up to the registration desk.
Among them was Bella Vista resident Hayden Curren, who unloaded his mountain bike from his Subaru’s roof rack and set aside everything in the car before registering and going through a safety inspection.
Curren said he previously drove in a drift event and he’s ridden along for autocross events like this one, but this was his first time driving in a timed competitive event.
His car, a 1998 Impreza, had already seen a lot of modification work. To name a handful of things, he’s installed Ohlins coilovers and modified trailing arms, solid drivetrain mounts, plus a transmission, center and rear differentials from a more recent WRX and steering knuckles from a newer car which, after some tinkering, proved far easier on wheel bearings.
“It’s one of those things where, when people ask what I’ve done to it, I have to tell them what all I haven’t done to it.”
All that work on the platform, he said, is in preparation for an eventual engine swap.
Racing over the weekend, he said, will give him something to compare it to once he gets that EG33 flat six engine in place.
Drivers headed to Neosho to drive on Crowder College’s truck-driving practice area for a Sports Car Club of America Solo — often referred to as autocross by other groups — event, where drivers take a series of timed runs on a short race track marked with cones. Each driver’s best time is counted, though any cones they knock over or out of position incur a two-second penalty.
Events are split into two heats and drivers work the course — reporting penalties and fixing downed cones — during the heat they aren’t driving.
Most roadworthy cars are eligible to enter, excluding vehicles with a high rollover risk — typically trucks and SUVs. This showed in the grid, which included Miatas, Corvettes, Mustangs, Camaros, Porsches, Hondas, Subarus, Audis, Nissans, BMWs, a kit car, a stripped-out Thunderbird and a Chevrolet-powered Triumph Spitfire.
Drivers are also required to have a helmet with the proper Snell, SFI or BSI rating, though loaners are available.
Entry fees sit at $30 per event for SCCA members or $50 for nonmembers, which includes a $20 weekend membership fee. That fee can be applied to a full membership, and the club offers a $10 discount for those who pre-register online.
Pre-registration, event information and requirements can be found on the Ozark Mountain Region’s website at www.omrscca.org. The region’s last 2017 Solo event was Oct. 22.
Scott Woosley, Solo director for the region, said he’s been driving autocross for 17 years.
“It’s an absolute blast, it’s the most popular motorsport in our country,” he said. “The turns come at you more frequently than Formula 1.”
The limited runs and tight course force drivers to focus and adapt quickly to post a good time.
Everyone should try it, he said, because drivers in these events build skills, like looking ahead and handling the car’s weight transfer, that can help on the street.
“You get a sense of where the limits are with your car and how the car will behave when you exceed those limits,” he said. “I’ve had some emergency situations on the street that I was able to thread my way through quite comfortably.”
Rogers resident and SCCA member Jim Rowland laid out the Oct. 13 course and walked novice drivers through it, providing advice on how to tackle an autocross.
He explained how the cones function and what they’re telling drivers. Cones standing up are simply boundaries, while cones on their side are pointer cones, showing which side of a boundary drivers need to be on. If a driver misses a boundary and goes on the wrong side, he said, that run is considered a “did not finish” and the time they set will be invalidated.
“Number one tip is to look ahead,” he said. “Look downstream wherever possible.”
It’s important to keep an eye ahead, he said, because a driver needs to be positioning their car for the next turn. The fastest way through each turn, he said, is to straighten it out as much as possible, but stringing the course together often means making compromises in one spot to be faster further down.
“Do the late apex thing, it works in all kinds of racing,” he said.
Living in Benton County, Rowland said, the Neosho events provide a good, relatively close space to race.
After racing in the morning, Curren said he had a great time and fully intended to come back. The event was well organized, he said, and certainly worth trying — even if he didn’t quite nail his ideal lap.
“I’m happy to have a 46,” he said, “but I would’ve been thrilled to have a 45.”
Taylor Yielding drags a cone across the finish line under his 1986 300ZX after exiting the last turn with the wheels spinning and spewing tire smoke.
Hayden Curren exits a right-hand turn in his 1998 Impreza.
George Weeks, piloting a 2008 Mini Cooper S, rounds the course’s final wide, 180-degree turn, with enough weight shifted to the outside to lift the car’s rear wheel off the ground.
Jim Rowland, at the front of the crowd, guides mostly-new drivers on a walk through the sea of cones, explaining how the course markings should be interpreted and offering advice.
Cars line up in the grid area and drivers prepare themselves and their vehicles before the first heat starts.