AutoX, Year 2000 and Beyond

By Charlie Parsons, 2021

At the turn of the century most of the club’s focus was on the Hill Climbs and many of the club’s key members were also beginning to dabble in running SCCA sports car events.  Auto-X had taken a back seat and in fact was inactive for a few years.  Gary Brundrett had always been an avid Auto-Xer and thought that the club should get some of these events going once more.  With the club’s blessing and a meager budget Gary was sent on his way.  

One of the major hurdles to running an Auto-X had become finding a suitable site.  Repeal of “Blue Laws” had opened up shopping centers on Sundays and so those parking lots were lost.  A fear of liability had made others out of reach.  The FAA had become far more strict about what happened at airports and so those too were no longer an option.  Gary did find an ally in Bob Bare who now owned the old Bryar Motorsport Park.  The facility was now a first rate NASCAR oval track and though we would not use the track there were several acceptable parking lots and Gary secured the use of one of these.

As it turns out, Mr. Bare was not doing this completely out of his love for racing, he was charging the club for use of the lot and also for the ambulance that he required on site.  Because of these fees the cost to participate went from $15-20 to $35.  Nevertheless in July of 2001 Gary Brundrett brought Auto-X back to the Sports Car Club of New Hampshire.

Those first events at the speedway were much like Auto-X had always been run.  You heard about the event, somehow, showed up, filled out a registration form, got your car “teched”, and ran.  Presumably at some point you would go out and do some time chasing cones.  The car classification was done by the club.  One of Gary’s key requirements was that there would be no whining and no protests.  He wanted everyone to have fun and if you were able to go home with a trophy then great!

After a couple of years this writer learned the hard way about one of the many changes that would come about.  I was headed to one of the Auto-X events at the speedway but when I got to the speedway found nothing happening.  It turns out that the weather had been predicted to be bad and that being the case there had not been many pre-registrations.  The club, fearing that it would lose money, canceled the Auto-X.  Pre-registrations?  What the…. It turns out that the computer age had arrived and many people would pre-register for the events, the club in turn used this information to decide whether or not to run an event.  With the price that the Speedway charged and the need to provide an ambulance, the club could not afford to run an event with a minimal turn out.

This story is really about change and pre-registration was just the first.  After a couple of years, perhaps around 2010 worker assignments became standard.  In years past you went out and worked when you felt like it.  Some people spent much time chasing cones and some never worked.  Now when you registered to race you were given a work assignment.  You don’t work your assigned time, you don’t get time for your runs.  To start with there were two work groups and you would either be driving or you would be working. 

In 2009 the club adopted SCCA car classifications.  Prior to this the club would come up with their own classes.  With the SCCA classes came the PAX system.  The PAX system assigned an equalization number to each car class and that number would be multiplied by the car’s time.  With this system, say in “stock” class you could run a corvette against a small front wheel drive car and if both were driven equally the corrected time would be the same.  This allowed for the creation of one stock class, a modified class or classes (depending on the degree of modification), and a race class.  This system carried on since with some modifications noted later.

Another interesting change that came about somewhere in the 2005-2007 range was the disappearance of shoe polish numbers.  In days before, car numbers were assigned and then applied to a car’s side windows with white shoe polish.  As many of the same people showed up at all of the events a driver  might always carry the same number.  That being the case many drivers would purchase or make stick on Magnetic numbers.  Those that did not have stick on numbers would now opt for painters tape to fashion numbers.   Shoe polish numbers were seldom seen anymore.  Somewhere between 2010 and 2015 the club began assigning permanent numbers so that you could be guaranteed of carrying the same number all year.

In 2007 interest grew in creating an event that would bring cars from other clubs.  It was to be a special event with a special format.  That event was called the North Country Rumble but was later referred to as just “The Rumble.”  The idea was that it would be a team event with four drivers on each team all driving the same car.  Instead of the fastest run counting, all the runs (three or four) of each driver were added to a total.  This put a lot of pressure on the drivers since to be successful every run had to be clean and fast.  Invitations were sent to a number of clubs and a number of outside teams came to participate.  It was a very successful and fun event with a regular Auto-X usually held on Saturday and the Rumble on Sunday.  The first couple of years, as noted, teams came from all over but after a while the teams tended to come from just SCCNH.  Eventually interest waned and the event was dropped.

The Auto-X series continued to grow and brought a steady stream of new competitors.  By 2009 it became evident that some ruling was needed on tire usage.  Several tire manufacturers began to make tires specifically for Auto-Xing.  Most notable was Hoosier who made tires that carried a DOT stamp but were made specifically for track or Auto-X.  Although they carried the DOT stamp approval the manufacturer made it clear that these tires were not street use.  Except for a few race cars we didn’t see many of these tires but there were other tires that were too soft to regularly run on the street but were street legal and some of these were used at times.  So it was that the club adopted a treadwear number of 140 as the lowest number legal for a stock classed car.  This tread wear number had been recently adopted by DOT as a guide to a particular tire’s life expectancy.  A normal street tire might carry a number of around 400 or higher for a tire that might last longer and lower for a tire that would not last as long.  Generally a lower wear tire would stick better and be a better tire for Auto-X.  Eventually the 200 treadwear number for the stock class was adopted by SCCA and so became an accepted standard universally.

By 2006 the club was using a timing software created by Axware which allowed for the running of more than one car on the course at a time.  This change and a general preference for smaller runs of less than a minute made it possible to increase the number of runs at an event.  In the very early days of Auto-X three or four runs at an event were considered good.  From the year 2000 four and five runs became more common and later with better running techniques 6 or more runs were possible.  Around 2015 with car counts getting up in the 60 car or more range and it was decided to go from two run/worker groups to three.  With the increased number of competitors there were now enough people to man the work stations in three shifts.  This was important as now the worker changeover could be done “on the fly” so that minimal time would be lost with workers getting to their stations.  Three work groups also meant that there was no need to break for lunch as one group was always off duty.  With the “change on the fly” and courses of only about 50 seconds per run, events with double digit numbers of runs at an event were not uncommon.


A Golden Age?

It is the opinion of this writer that from perhaps 2010 on to 2020 we were experiencing a “Golden Age” for Auto-X.  Car counts had run up to sixty or more.  Many car companies started manufacturing cars particularly suited for Auto-X.  Chrysler brought out the Neon SCR,  Volkswagen expanded their perennial favorite, the GTI by adding the juiced up “R” model.  Subaru, marketed their WRX and STI models which came from their rally program but were very well suited for Auto-X and Ford countered with variants of the Focus.  Toyota and Subaru made a coordinated effort in the creation of a neat little two seat sports car, the BRZ/FRS. These cars became quite popular.  Perhaps the most popular Auto-Xer was the Mazda, MX3/Miata.  This cute little two seat roadster became a staple at events.

As noted before, the tire companies also jumped on board to take advantage of this surge in Auto-X popularity.  Somewhere around 2005 Falken tire brought out their Azenas, a very grippy 200 treadwear tire.  A few years later Dunlop released its Direzza, which became a game changer.  Dave Parsons was one of the first to use these tires and went from a fifth place car to dominating the class.  The Direzza was followed by BF Goodrich and their Rival.  Bridgstone became a major player in the 200 treadwear tire game around 2016 when they released the RE 71 R.  There were other players too but these are some of the big names.  

The running of modified cars was also popular during this period.  There was a Street Touring class for those who just wanted to modify their cars a little and also a modified class for those who took it a little further with the addition of a turbocharger or major suspension modifications.  These two classes were often among the biggest classes.  

In 2010 it was decided to break up the stock class to give more people a shot at a trophy.   Essentially cars classed as faster cars by the SCCA would be Street Stock and Street Sedan would be the “slower cars”.  The system worked well but a point of interest, in the first year the “slower” Stock Sedan car would have, thanks to the PAX system, been the class winner had the stock class not been split.

Because of the increased interest and the number of new drivers a couple of things happened.  The first thing, starting in 2007 was the creation of an Auto-X school for beginners.  A number of the more experienced drivers schooled rookies on a number of the finer points of Auto-X.  This was done in a no pressure school situation and was lots of fun for both the students and instructors.  These schools were held on a Saturday and the next day there would be an actual Auto-X where the students could test their skills.  The other thing that was done in 2013, for the new drivers was the creation of a “Novice” class.  New drivers would be placed in a class with other new drivers and they would compete for a separate trophy and season championship.  This was done to give the new drivers a chance to get into the sport without having to immediately go against seasoned drivers.  Often some of these rookie drivers would be very competitive in their non-rookie classes but it worked well to give everyone a chance to get their feet wet.  

Most of the SCCNH Auto-X events were held at the speedway in Loudon but in 2015 that began to change.  A pair of oval tracks for stock cars had been operated on the old Canaan fairgrounds but that was all sold and the new owner began developing a “club style” road course.  While not huge the price of the venue made it an acceptable alternative for SCCNH Auto-X events.  The first event was held on September 12, 2015.  Although this would be an Auto-X style event it was still to be held on a road course.  Prior to the event there was concern from some that rookie drivers might not have the skills to handle a potentially higher speed event.  Others felt that the rookies would be somewhat tentative and that the experienced drivers who were more apt to push their limits were a bigger threat.  In the end the rookies allowed but given a warning about the higher speeds.  As it turned out there were more incidents by experienced drivers than by rookies.  Fortunately none of the incidents caused any damage.

For the first couple of years at Canaan, the older, more experienced administration tried very hard to keep speeds down for safety sake and also because our insurer was not aware of the speeds that could be achieved.  In a typical parking lot event speeds would seldom exceed 50 mph but at Canaan many cars found speed above 80 mph.  In those first years extra gates and slaloms were added to slow things down but Canaan was a relatively big place and all the gates did was create more opportunity to go off “into the weeds.”  As a younger group began to run the club and the club became more comfortable with the track, there was less concern about the higher speeds at the Canaan track and so generally the courses were not quite as technical.

As noted, there were many changes in Auto-X in the past couple of decades.  What will the future bring?  As of this writing in 2021, many cars now are no longer available with standard transmissions.  It seems that this trend will continue to grow.  The fact that automatic transmissions are generally not good for Auto-xing makes one wonder.  Consider too that most cars are now built with stability control systems.  These systems typically don’t allow the kind of extreme cornering movements necessary to run an Auto-X.  Fortunately, for now, most of these systems can be turned off.  Here is another thing to consider, in the past couple of years most auto manufacturers have pledged to build only electric cars in the near future.  What will that do to the class structures?  Regardless of future changes in the industry I am sure that there will continue to be drivers who will want to test their cars and themselves.