June 30, 2013, by Dustin Klemann – Q-2 News
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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 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 www.yellowstonescca.com.
Joel, Al, and Steve parked in staggered order…so that nobody had to park on the speed bump.
Region Event at Yellowstone Drag Strip featured in the Billings Gazette
Paul Ruhter of the Billings Gazette attended the Region’s event at Yellowstone Drag Strip on July 15, 2012. The story and photo gallery can be found here.
All you need is a valid driver’s license and a car that will pass an inspection, and you are ready for a thrilling day of racing at local autocross events.
The Yellowstone Region of the Sports Car Club of America is based in Billings and hosts many autocross events in the Billings area every summer.
The club has dozens of local members, but they open racing events to the public.
A day of driving the course is $40 for those not members of the SCCA, and $25 for first-time racers.
To learn more information on becoming a member of the Yellowstone Region SCCA or for a schedule of autocross events, go to www.yellowstonescca.com.
Racing hones skills and offers thrills: Billings Gazette
DIANE COCHRAN Of The Gazette Staff | Posted: Thursday, June 10, 2004 11:00 pm
Want to drive like a maniac, improve your road skills and have a blast? Check out the Yellowstone Region Sports Car Club of America. Members of the local autocross racing group meet almost every weekend to test the limits of cars and drivers. At a recent event in the Skyview High parking lot, almost 40 drivers in Corvettes, Corollas and Mini-Coopers zipped through obstacle courses in a race against time. “We’ve got everything from full-blown race cars to people who show up in mom’s grocery-getter,” said Ryan Coler, regional SCCA executive. At Skyview, drivers maneuvered through a quartermile course, marked with orange traffic cones, that tested their evasive driving skills. “It’s all the things they tell you not to do when you get a car – accelerate fast, slam on the brakes, turn as hard as you can,” said Coler, who races a Toyota Corolla. “I’ve been doing it long enough to know it’s not going to hurt the car.”
Coler described the SCAA as a grass-roots motor club that hosts low-speed, solo racing events in safe environments such as parking lots. Drivers race against themselves, trying to best their own times during several runs through the same course. “This group primarily encourages drivers to push themselves and their cars to their limits as far as skill and maneuverability of the car,” said club member Fred Magers. “The object is to maneuver through the course as fast as you can without any penalties.”
Penalties include knocking over cones.
Magers races a 1984 Porsche 944. Other vehicles at the Skyview event included Honda Accords, Ford Mustangs, Dodge Neons and Toyota Camrys. Race times ranged from 30 to 50 seconds. “You can take out those road-rage feelings we get on a daily basis,” Magers said. He said the races unfolded smoothly except for a minor wildlife interruption. “We had two antelope come across the field,” Magers said. “They didn’t actually go onto the course. We stopped the event long enough for them to proceed safely.” Also during the Skyview event, the Florida-based Evolution Performance Driving School hosted its first driving class in Montana. Instructors watched participants drive their cars and offered specific feedback, said Tammy McCollough, SCAA competition director. By the end of the class, participants had shaved three seconds off their driving times. Most racing vehicles in the Billings club are street-legal, although a few that have been modified are not. McCollough, one of a handful female drivers in the local club, races a highly-modified Honda CRX and a Formula Continental race car.
“This is not just a race,” she said. “This is honing your driving skills.” Racers learn to look several maneuvers ahead – a skill that comes in handy in heavy traffic – and to react quickly.
“You can almost consider it a driver’s ed class because you learn a lot about your car doing this,” Coler said. “It really improves your daily driving.” Coler compared maneuvers on the course to driving defensively on a busy Billings street. “We all want to be better drivers because, quite frankly, we all have to drive out there together,” McCollough said. Local SCCA members encourage spectators and potential drivers to attend their events. Folks can don a helmet and ride the course with any driver, and those who want to try it themselves will be tucked under the
wing of an experienced driver. “New people get a buddy,” McCollough said. “Their first run doesn’t count. They go through it with a buddy. There’s never anybody who laughs at your or makes fun of you.”
SCAA is open to anyone with a valid driver’s license, a street-legal car and a helmet. Diane Cochran may be reached at 657-1287 or Diane.Cochran@lee.net. More racing on tap The Yellowstone Region Sports Car Club of America will host its next racing event in Billings on June 20, in the West High parking lot. Spectators are welcome and can ride along with any driver for free. The club meets the first Wednesday of the month at 7:30 p.m. in the Heights Fuddrucker’s. For more information, visit on the Web at www.yellowstonescca.com and www.scca.com.
Taking to the Track: Billings Gazette 2001
MARY PICKETT Of The Gazette staff | Posted: Saturday, August 18, 2001 11:00 pm
Anyway you look at it, the parking lot of Lockwood School is a long way from Indianapolis, Le Mans or Daytona. But on one recent Sunday, it was close enough to give a couple of dozen amateur racers a taste of far bigger racing venues. One by one, racers — men and women, the young and the less young — took off with tires screeching and engines roaring around a course marked by orange traffic cones.
Navigating through a course strewn with turns and slalom and figure-eight patterns, many racers topped speeds of 40 to 45 miles an hour and made it around the parking-lot track twice in a minute or less. If, to the uninitiated, parking-lot auto racing seems improbable, the thrills are genuine, aficionados say. It s a tremendous adrenaline rush, said Dennis McCollough, who ran the Lockwood course in 48.745 seconds, the second-best time for the day of all racers.
Called auto cross, it s the most basic, grassroots form of organized car racing. This type of auto cross is Solo II, in which vehicles run one at a time against the clock. Any type of vehicle can be used as long as it meets safety requirements. Entry fees are low, and drivers don t need previous experience or training. The vehicles lining up for their turn on the track formed an odd parade. Everything from a go-kart powered by a lawnmower engine to regular street cars to bona fide race cars was represented. Firebirds, Hondas, Mustangs, Corvettes, Datsuns, Camaros, MG midgets, VW Rabbits and Subaru Story Discussion Font Size: find out more The Yellowstone Region of the Sports Car Club of America has about 100 members, most of whom live in Billings Bozeman and Idaho.
For information type of auto cross is Solo II, in which vehicles run one at a time against the clock. Any type of vehicle can be used as long as it meets safety requirements. Entry fees are low, and drivers don t need previous experience or training. The vehicles lining up for their turn on the track formed an odd parade. Everything from a go-kart powered by a lawnmower engine to regular street cars to bona fide race cars was represented.
Firebirds, Hondas, Mustangs, Corvettes, Datsuns, Camaros, MG midgets, VW Rabbits and Subaru Imprezas all have raced. We even had a pickup truck one time because the driver didn t have any other vehicle to race, said Char Schulz, who along with her husband, Kurt, helped found the Yellowstone Region of the Sports Car Club of America in 1986. The group sponsors Solo II races from April into September, with events every two to three weeks in Billings or Bozeman.
Char used to race, and Kurt still does in a bright yellow Volkswagen Cabriolet convertible. SCCA racing vehicles fall into classifications based on how much they have been modified from the way they rolled off the assembly line. Others have been built from the ground up as race cars. A wide range of drivers complements the variety of racing vehicles. Mark Brown of Red Lodge was a novice racer when he brought his 125cc shifter racing kart to the Lockwood School. He had purchased his kart on the Internet a few months before and had driven it only in a few test runs before coming to the race. The vehicle has a 6-speed transmission and can go from zero to 60 miles an hour in 3 seconds, with a top speed of 120 miles an hour. Dressed in red helmet, red racing jumpsuit and red shoes, Brown cut a distinctive figure as he zipped around the course in his open-aired kart.
Billings resident Dwight Gilliland is at the other end of the spectrum with more than 30 years of racing experience. He had the top time — 46.699 seconds — of the day at Lockwood with his Formula 1-style race car that he built. His wife, Kristi, had the third-best time, with 48.820 seconds. Dwight Gilliland has been racing or working on cars since he was 13. For several years, he managed or was a member of pit crews and built race cars in several professional racing series including the Indy 500. He has won the Black Otter Hillclimb several years, including last year. Gilliland s car has the potential to be one of the fastest auto-cross vehicles in the country, Kurt Schulz said.
At 16, Alexandra Brelje is one of the youngest local Solo II racers. Her parents, Dale and Margie Brelje, started parking-lot racing to tune up for the Black Otter Hillclimb. We re big NASCAR fans, and this is as close as we can get, Dale said. Just before her turn on the Lockwood course, Alexander, wisps of red hair escaping from her racing helmet, climbed into the low-slung bucket seat of her 1-speed, 5-horsepower racing kart. As she adjusted her black driving gloves, her father pulled a lawnmower-like cord to start the engine. She s shy and timid around people, but this gives her a way to express herself, Dale said. It also should give her a sense of accomplishment. Alexandra s best time for the Lockwood race was 1 minute, 1.556 seconds.
Children as young as 8 are allowed to race 5-horsepower go-karts in Solo II events. Many racers blend work and play in the automotive field.
Kurt Schulz owns Billings Foreign Car Service, and Dennis McCollough has Mini Motors. Others pursue professions as far from a combustible engine as possible. Ken Decker, who started racing with the club three years ago, makes oboes and repairs wind instruments. The maroon Mustang GT that he races is his every-day car. The only modification he has made is strengthening the suspension. Before a race, he also changes the tires to a softer racing tire and adjusts the car s alignment.
Solo II is one of the safest ways to race, participants said. The time-trial form of racing means only one car is on the course at a time, which eliminates dangerous vehicle-to-vehicle crashes. Usually, the only thing that gets hit during races is a plastic pylon. Far less frequently, every few seasons or so, the concrete base of a parking-lot light is bumped. Racers could only recall one time in recent years that someone turned a car on its side. Cars are checked before each race to make certain vehicles are working properly. You can show up in an old beater as long as it s safe, Kurt Schulz said. Racers also must wear helmets and have seatbelts fastened. Races have several safety stewards who have gone through training and supervise the race. In each race, drivers divide into two groups. One group spreads out over the course to spot gates, reset tipped cones (for each pylon tipped over, drivers receive a 2-second penalty) and supervise electronic timing. After one set of drivers has raced three times, they assume track duties, and the other set of drivers races.
Marty Westland of Bozeman, who has been racing for seven years, thinks Solo II racing is more than an afternoon of fun. Drivers take the skill of handling a car in tight situations with them when they return to public streets and highways. You learn something here you don t learn in driver s ed, Westland said. You learn how to handle a car at the limit.
Solo II races take place at both smaller and larger courses than the Lockwood School. Skyview High School s lot is much bigger and will be used for the last Billings race this summer, on Sept. 3. Albertson s parking lot in Billings Heights is smaller. The group also has raced at Billings West High School, Rimrock Mall, Lowe s and Wal-Mart.
We go anywhere we can get pavement to play. The group also has raced at Billings West High School, Rimrock Mall, Lowe s and Wal-Mart. We go anywhere we can get pavement to play on, Kurt Schulz said.Mary Pickett can be reached at 657-1262 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.