If you are a car person it’s tough to leave a car alone. You want to mod it, right? Better tires, better handling, engine modifications, better flowing exhaust – you want to extend your personality into the car. There’s nothing wrong with modifying your vehicle, as long as it’s done properly and does not impact safety. However, if you participate in SCCA Solo (Autocross) events, you may want to weigh the pros and cons of what a modification can do to your class and category assignment.
This post is geared towards the car owner that’s thinking about competing in Solo or is already competing and is thinking of what modifications she should consider.
If you’ve read some of my previous posts, or my bio, you know that I started in Autocross when I was 17. I was in DS, D Stock, in a 1982 Datsun 280ZX. In this promotional video from 1991 you’ll see me and my silver Datsun a few times. It was fun being out their only worrying about sway bars, tires and tire pressures. I went to a junk yard and bought some steel wheels and then went around to tire stores looking for used tires. I found a set of Bridgestone Potenzas for next to nothing. I worked at a car dealership so I could mount and balance them myself. Done! Now it was all driving.
If you decide to mod your car you may end up in a prepared or modified category and that changes everything. There’s nothing wrong with being in a category other than Street, it just changes a few things like competition. What I mean is that you may add a cold air intake, reduced super charger pulley, suspension upgrade and you may end up in a category that has limited, local participation and it’s easy to get outspent.
In 2008 I had a desire to get back into Solo events and purchased a used MINI Cooper S. I looked at a few different vehicles and really liked the MINI. I ran it once or twice in stock form and with the “run crap” tires. Fun stuff.
Very few people leave their MINI Coopers stock. Cold air intakes, exhaust mods, tire/wheel packages, reduced pulley for the supercharger, plus tons of other mods. The bug bit me too. Over a couple of years I had installed a reduced supercharger pulley, cold air intake, Borla exhaust, updated engine mounts, and a strut tower brace. My main motivation for these modifications was for track days. I wanted to be a bit quicker, but I also wanted a peppier car on the street. It was quick and sounded good. However, what I failed to consider was that with the pulley modification I was now in Street Modified FWD for SCCA Solo events.
Locally, there were few SMF competitors and if I traveled regionally or nationally – there’s no way my car would be competitive as the SM class has lots of allowances and the modifications can get pretty extreme. From a competition perspective I would have been happier in DS, D Street. Heck, I still have my magnetic car numbers from high school!
Don’t get me wrong, competing in a prepared or modified category is a great way to compete. You’ll go faster, your times may be quicker and your car will handle better. Just be prepared to keep up.
I’m not sure that I would have changed the mods I did to the MINI as I really enjoyed driving it, but I was always asking, “what’s next?”. There would have been no stopping point and I was constantly looking at the forums for ideas and used parts to further build the MINI. However, I feel as though I could have had a better time competing in a class that had more entires and trying to beat friends. In SMF I competed against the clock and drove better to reduce times, but no trophies resulted from that as the entry list was light in that category.
My advice? Review your Solo/Autocross goals, your budget and your appetite for keeping up with modifications to stay competitive. If you are just getting started, perhaps run a season or two in street and get comfortable with driving and competing. Once you’ve been involved for a while you’ll have a sense for what categories and classes are popular and you’ll have an opportunity to talk with people that own cars in other categories.
To learn more about the categories and classes check out the Rule Book SCCA Solo Rules.