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Seven Days: Vermont Car Blog

October 01, 2008

Cone Heads

(Editor's note: This article appeared in our paper on Wednesday, September 24, 2008. See video coverage of the recent SCCV Autocross event on yesterday's post Man and Machine.)

Auto racing is fun to watch on TV, but I’m the kind of guy who would rather get out there and try something myself. Many people drive fast, but what’s the best way to do it safely? How does someone go about learning how to race cars?

The Sports Car Club of Vermont (SCCV) has been actively gathering auto enthusiasts since 1956 and bringing them together to practice the skills necessary to excel as a driver. I met with Jim Bauman from the SSCV to find out what they are doing and how someone could get involved.

Auto_cross_subaru_wrx_sti Bob Kilpatrick: What is your organization all about?
Jim Bauman: We have been around for just over fifty years. Mostly it’s been grassroots events. Autocrosses, car shows. When Malletts Bay freezes over with adequate ice we do ice time trials. We’re going to be partnering up with the Northeast Region of the SCCA on a RallyCross and a time speed distance rally in early November hosted by Sugarbush.

BK: Tell me about the big event you are having this weekend.
JB: We are having an Autocross this Sunday at Stowe. An Autocross is a timed event - low speed and precision driving - done in a parking lot around cones. You need a helmet, but other than that your car doesn’t need any real preparation. You’re trying to get through the course as fast as possible without going off-course or hitting any cones.

BK: People coming in to the club, I don’t imagine they all know how to drive properly. Do you provide any kind of instruction?
JB: The more experienced members of the club are always willing to do a ride-along. The person who is experienced jumps in the passenger seat giving you pointers as you go through the course. Or vice versa, you could have the person actually drive your car with you in the passenger seat and show you their line, how they do it, talk you through it. We always make that available. It’s very low pressure. If you don’t know what you’re doing it’s okay.

The typical first timer will come in and over-drive. They’ll try to go to fast and they’ll go off course. You either need to tame your aggressiveness or fill in your caution with speed. It’s fun to watch people go through that progression.

It’s really good to provide a venue for young drivers that want to see what their car can do, but we don’t want them doing it out in the street. If you’ve ever been woken up in the middle of the night by a kid tearing around a school parking lot because he’s trying to figure out if he can drift his STI - that’s great, but it’s not safe and it’s not legal. Autocross is both safe and legal.

Auto_cross_mazda_miata BK: What are some of the popular makes and models in the club?
JB: In Vermont the most seen are Subarus - STIs and WRXs. There is a huge Volkswagen and Audi contingent up here as well. You’ll always see a lot of older VW Rabbits and now GTIs. For autocross events the car to have is a [Mazda] Miata. We have a ton of Miatas in our club. It’s the kind of car that you can run all summer long, put it away in the winter, bring it out in April and be ready to go.

BK: You’re a fan of traditional auto racing, any particular group or driver?
JB: Definitely Formula 1 and sports car racing is where it’s at - road courses - the American Lemans series. I love to watch drivers that can jump into different kinds of cars and go really fast no matter what. Nascar is interesting to me, but it’s more interesting when they go to places like Sears Point or Watkins Glen and see what the oval guys can do on the road courses.

BK: Do you have any drivers you consider yourself a fan of or try to emulate their skills?
JB: I don’t know about emulating. I don’t think I have the kind of talent like those guys who get payed to do it. In terms of all time - Ayrton Senna (1960-1994) is my all time idol. The guy could just control a race in any variety of conditions. He’d just decide that he wanted to win and he’d go out there and do it. Today I think guys like Lewis Hamilton coming up is a pretty amazing talent and just last weekend we had a twenty one year old guy [Sebastian Vettel] win the Italian Grand Prix - just crazy.

BK: Every Monday morning my dad, Bob Sr., is posting the highlights of the previous weekends racing on my Good Carma blog. It’s a lot of fun. You’ll find a kindred spirit as Formula 1 and road tracks are definitely his thing and what he has been doing for his whole life.
JB: Very cool.

The SCCV Autocross takes place this Sunday, September 28th, 2008 at the Stowe Mountain Resort in their Mount Mansfield Base Lodge parking lot.
Registration is from 8 to 9am. Racing starts at 9:15am. The course is broken down by 3pm. Cost to participate is $30 for SCCV members and $35 for non-members. There is no cost for spectators.

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