Do you dream of being a racecar driver?
Do you want to learn advanced driving techniques to be a more skilled and safer driver?
Do you want to push yourself and your car to their limits in a safe (and legal) environment?
Do you like having fun and socializing with like-minded, friendly people?
If you answered “yes” to any of those questions, Autocrossing with the Windy City BMW Club sounds like a good match for you!
Autocross is an affordable form of competitive motorsports where you race against the clock instead of wheel-to-wheel with other cars. This means you get the fun of racing your car in competition with minimal risk of damaging you or your car, including, less wear and tear on your tires, brake pads, and other car parts than other forms of auto racing.
Autocross events take place on large empty areas of pavement, usually large parking lots or airport runways. Windy City BMW holds Autocross events at large parking lots such as the Sears Centre (Hoffman Estates) and Maywood Park (Melrose Park).
Every event has a new course layout, and is set up in the parking lot using cones to define the course that you must navigate. Each competitive run is around 60 seconds long, with enough throttle, brake, and steering inputs to rival a lap at a full sized race track!
In addition to competition and adrenaline, Windy City BMW Autocrosses are social events. You’ll meet plenty of our friendly members that share your interest of cars, speed, and fun.
Worried about not having the skill to Autocross? No problem. We have a mentor program where our friendly autocross veterans are available at any time to give you tips, walk the course ride with you as a passenger,offer ride alongs in their car, and answer any other questions that you might have. We also have a hands-on Autocross School that takes place at the start of every season!
Don’t own a BMW? Not a problem! Although Windy City BMW is primarily a club for BMW and MINI owners, we welcome all enthusiasts with open arms. In fact, 30% of the cars that Autocrossed with us in 2014 were makes other than BMW or MINI.
A typical autocross day consists of:
8:00AM – 9:20AM – Check-in, car preparation, course walk
9:30AM – Mandatory drivers’ meeting
9:40AM – 3:30PM – Driving, working, resting
For many, an autocross day actually starts the day before. Here is a link to a handy checklist of things to pack (See the “In the box” tab).
Pack a cooler with Drinks (water, Gatorade, etc.), and snacks (PB&J, chips, etc.). The drinks (hot days) and snacks are very important because you will burn through a lot of energy walking the course,driving your car, and running to pick up cones. It’s a good idea to dress in layers and bring gear to be outdoors all day, so that you can adjust accordingly if the weather changes.
Make sure to wear comfortable shoes for running/walking/standing/driving. You will be on your feet for some time. Make sure your laces are tied, etc.
Clean out your car (including any loose items, floor mats,etc.); even the trunk and glove box!
After you have all of your gear prepped, get a good night’s sleep!
Most autocrossers arrive for check-in between 8:00AM and 8:30AM. This is a good time to arrive because it will give you time to get your car prepared and walk the course a few times before the mandatory drivers’ meeting. At check-in at the registration table, you will receive four important things: wristband, car prep checklist, assignment card, and course map.
Your wristband is color-coded according to whether you are a driver, instructor, or spectator.
The car prep checklist, called a QuickTech, has a list of things that you must check/prepare on your car before your first run. Some examples include removing hubcaps, cleaning your windshield, removing all loose items from your car, and checking your tire pressure.
The assignment card tells you which Group and Set you are assigned to, and your schedule for the day (more info on this later).
The course map gives you an idea of the flow of the course.
After check-in, you should prepare your car by going through the car prep checklist and checking off each item as you complete it. Vinyl numbers are usually provided by the club but you can bring magnetic numbers or painter’s tape if you wish.
Walking the Course
After your car is all set to go, you should spend some time walking the course. Although the course map gives you an idea of where you need to go, it is best to actually walk it so you can orient yourself and start to build your strategy. For new autocrossers, we host a Novice Course Walk at 9:15AM, during which an autocross instructor will help you navigate the course and point out strategic tips along the way.
The mandatory drivers’ meeting is at 9:30AM. It is important that you attend this meeting or you will not be allowed to drive. During the meeting, we will go over procedures, safety, work assignments, and schedule.
Your schedule will consist of two rotations of Run (drive),Work (cones), and Rest. The order will vary to ensure that at any point throughout the day, we have the proper number of people driving, working, and resting. You must complete your work assignments or your runs will not count for the day, but don’t worry because working the course is fun!
Your Group and Set will tell you when and which lane to line up your car when you are getting ready to drive. If it seems a little confusing, don’t worry, it will make sense when you come out to an event! As always, our members are happy to point out where you need to be if you need assistance.
If you are competing, you will also be working the cones. This means you will be on-course when cars are running timed laps. You will be stationed at a particular location on the track with a red flag, radio,and extra cones. Your job will be to watch the cars as the pass through your area, reset any cones that are nudged/knocked over, notify scoring of any penalties, and red-flagging cars if an unsafe condition occurs or if instructed over radio. There will be a Corner Captain in charge of each station to help you out.
– Working the cones is fun, a great time to chat with people and learn from other drivers, but remember that your primary role is to work. Safety come first, cones and penalties second, and socializing third. You should not be using your cell phone while working. You will not be able to dedicate your attention to your job. Pay attention to the cars around you.
– Working the cones is an important job. If you see a dangerous situation, red-flag.
– People’s valuable run times depend on the quality of your work. Missing a penalty call on a run gives that driver a 2 second advantage, and calling a false penalty essentially eliminates that run from contention.
– Sometimes, a car seriously loses control and knocks down an entire row of cones. If this happens, multiple people from your station (and sometimes other stations) will need to run over and get things reset quickly. Keep an eye out for the approaching car. If you find that you cannot get cones reset and people are still in the way, you need to red-flag the car before it gets to that section of the course. The driver will get a rerun if red flagged – always err on the side of safety! If you feel that you cannot safely reset a cone and return to the work station before the next car will reach the cone, leave the cone alone and reset it after the next car goes by. The driver has the option of stopping and pointing at the cone. If the cone is knocked down or outside the box they will get a rerun. If it is upright and still in the box the driver will have wasted a run. In Autocross, the width of a cone can make the difference between 1st place and 2nd or sometimes 3rd place, so resetting cones is important. Be diligent, but be safe.
– Always be aware of the other cars on the track. You might be focusing on the next car coming up to your area, but the car way behind him might get lost and accidentally head into your area, or in the path of another car. Or if a car makes it past your area but then spins out or has a mechanical failure at the next area, you need to be aware of that in case he can’t get out of the way before the next car approaches.
– Cone penalties are as follows: If a car hits a cone, knocking it over, it is a 2-second penalty. If the cone is standing up and is completely outside of its chalk box (drawn on the surface by the event chair people), it is a 2-second penalty. Each cone that meets the criteria above will count as a 2-second penalty. If a cone is standing up and any part of its base is touching any part of its chalk box, it is not a penalty. Any cones that have been knocked over or moved should be reset to their original position, even if there is no penalty.
– You must automatically call a DNF (Did Not Finish) on any car that misses a gate, misses an obstacle (e.g., misses a slalom cone), hits the timing gear, or hits any cone in the rolling stop box at the end.
– If you see a car nudge a cone that has obviously not moved far enough to be out of its box, you should go out to check and reset the cone just in case. Even if you think a car might have just touched a cone, you should reset it. Sometimes a few millimeters of cone movement can make the difference between a good time and a ruined time.
– If you need to reset a cone, run, don’t walk to and from the cone, no matter how close it is. Cars are sent out in a staggered format, meaning that there will always be 2-3 cars driving at speed on the track. If you stroll out to a cone to reset it and stroll back, you will likely find yourself out of position by the time the next car comes around. You might be out of their way, but you could distract/startle the driver which could ruin his or her run, or you could even be at risk of getting run over by an out of control car.
– Hand signals: You communicate with the Corner Captain at your station. For example, a car goes by and touches some cones. You run out to the cones while your Corner Captain stays at the station. You get to the cones and see that all are still standing inside their boxes, so you signal back to the Corner Captain with the baseball umpire “safe” motion. Or, you find that cones are outside their boxes, you raise each penalty cone above your head, then reset it, so the Corner Captain can call the penalties in quickly. If there are too many cones to raise each cone, let the Corner Captain know how many were penalty cones.
– Actively look at and “process” the numbers of the cars as they drive by your station. This will ensure that the correct penalty will be given to the correct car. If we have two silver 3-series on course at the same time, it is confusing to call and record a penalty if you do not recall the correct car numbers.
Most autocrossers bring some sort of rigid plastic container with them to an event. This is useful because it will give you a place to store your supplies and miscellaneous objects, while protecting them from the elements – we autocross rain or shine. Here are some recommended items to bring:
- Sanitizing wipes
- Tire pressure gauge
- Light jacket/sweatshirt
- Folding chair
- Windshield cleaner spray
- Quick detail spray
- Plug-in air compressor
- Torque wrench with socket for your lug bolts
- Chalk for tires
- Painter’s tape
- Comfortable walking and driving shoes