Billings 365: Labor Day SCCA Autocross at Skyview High School

Billings 365 Blog Author: James

The Labor Day SCCA Autocross meet could not have happened on a nicer day. The weather was warm, the sun was bright, and the asphalt in the Skyview High School parking lot was perfect for racing. Labor Day was the penultimate gathering of the Yellowstone region racing club, featured twenty-one competitors, and kicked off Sunday morning at 10 AM.

For those not familiar with autocross, the closest analogue would be go-kart racing. The main difference is that in place of go-karts, most competitors race street cars. Instead of a special slick track, like at most go-kart establishments, SCCA builds their courses out of traffic cones in parking lots in and around Billings. The objective is simple: drive through the course as fast as possible. There are a couple rules—each cone knocked over or out of place adds two seconds to the lap time, missing a gate disqualifies the lap, and all drivers and riders must keep their limbs inside the vehicle at all times.

Dean’s Mazda Miata MX-5

Dean’s Mazda Miata MX-5 takes a corner on the way to the finish line.

Dean’s Mazda Miata MX-5 takes a corner on the way to the finish line.

The course covered almost all of Skyview’s eastern parking lot. The course was laid out a comfortable distance from the heavy concrete footings of the parking lot’s streetlights, but there was no avoiding the deep, two-finger-wide cracks running through the asphalt. Chris Brewer, one of the event’s coordinators, held a driver’s meeting ten minutes before the first car went out. He detailed the rules for counting cones and general safety rules for anybody at the event. After checking that everybody had signed the liability waiver and was wearing one of the club’s trademark blue-and-white-checkered paper wristbands to show it, the event got started.

The twenty-one entrants were divided into three groups of seven apiece. There was a broad range of vehicles, from Eric Mayer’s Lexus IS300 sedan to Reese Newman’s Datsun 280ZX coupe. The course flowed smoothly from turn to turn, and lent no clear advantage to one type of car over another. The asphalt held the sun’s heat and promised plenty of grip, even for the most worn tires. The cars lined up behind the start line, one at a time, and made their runs. Two laps apiece, three times through. SCCA member and unofficial computer expert Doug Hills sat in the timing trailer and made sure each car’s time was recorded. The first two run groups cycled through their runs without incident. Around 11 o’clock, run group three came up, and it was my turn to drive.

Behind the wheel of my ’89 Honda Civic racecar, I made sure the chinstrap on my full-face DOT-approved helmet was tight (required—all drivers and passengers must wear helmets on the track), buckled my four-point racing harness (required—anybody in a car must be strapped in, either with a factory seatbelt or competition-spec webbing belts like mine), and strapped on my leather driving gloves (required—it’s not a safety issue, but wearing driving gloves makes me look like Ryan Gosling from the movie Drive). I pulled up to the start/finish line and waited for the go-ahead from the started. When he waved his hand, I revved my engine near redline and dropped the clutch, never losing traction as I launched through the timing lights.

The course itself was not overly complex and the line was ordered and logical. There were straight sections that allowed me to run the motor up until it shrieked, and technical sections that required me cut the wheel hard enough to make the tires squeal and the chassis shudder under the strain. The huge cracks in the asphalt punctuated the straightaways with jarring bump-bump tympanics, made all the louder by my car’s lack of interior. However, as any driver will attest, all the noise and discomfort registers as an afterthought (at most). Out on the course, 100% of the driver’s attention is on driving.

I can’t claim anything mind-blowing this time out; I finished third overall. There’s always next year!

While the other run groups made their laps, others in my run group stood out on the course and counted cones. I made rounds through the crowd of spectators. First time spectator/passenger Brandon Hantke was in town from Oregon, and decided to check out the event on the advice of driver Olin Harriger. “I thought it’d be more competitive,” he said, “but it seems like a bunch of people out here having fun.” When asked if he’d drive his ’08 Mitsubishi Lancer for a few laps, he said he’d “definitely like to try it out next year.”

The SCCA season is almost over for the year, but should be starting again next May. Check out the website, get more information on events, and even register for races at

Joel, Al, and Steve parked in staggered order…so that nobody had to park on the speed bump.

Joel, Al, and Steve parked

Joel, Al, and Steve parked in staggered order…so that nobody had to park on the speed bump.