Why I'll always autocross

David S.
By David S. Wallens
Mar 17, 2024 | Miata, Autocross, Column | Posted in Columns | From the June 2022 issue | Never miss an article

Maury Hamill walked up to me, unfolding a photocopy. On it was an article I had written about his Porsche 944, a retired IMSA car that had found a new home in club racing. 

The piece ran in the September/October 1994 issue of GRM. I was two years out of school and had just recently joined the staff full-time.

We met up at a PCA Club Race up at West Virginia’s Summit Point. It might have been my first big road trip for the magazine–just me and our Chrysler minivan. No cell phone, no laptop, no internet access. I wouldn’t know if my photos from the event came out until I returned home. 

The reconnection happened at one of our local autocrosses, a Martin Sports Car Club event at The FIRM. Throw down a few cones, and the track suddenly takes on a whole new flavor as things happen even quicker than before. 

[The fastest project car to lap the official GRM test track? | C5 Z06 FIRM fast lap | Video]

At 90, Maury is still playing with cars, and he drove a Cayman at that Martin event. His daughter and grandson were also there, running Porsches as well. 

This season marks my 30th year autocrossing. I started with a Nissan Sentra SE-R, the hot D Stock car at the time, with the Atlanta Region SCCA in the Lakewood Amphitheatre parking lot. I had a SuperTrapp, some take-off Yokohama A008s and a used motorcycle helmet. 

Some things stick with me, even all these years later. I remember once seeing some flurries as I got to the end of my driveway. I turned off the engine, yanked up the parking brake, and ran up to my tiny studio apartment–not to bail on the day’s plans but simply to grab another layer. 

We wore our helmets while walking the course just to keep warm and had to avoid a patch of ice down at the far end of the site. Did I care about the cold? Heck no, I was autocrossing. 

And during those Georgia summers, yes, it was brutally hot. But we were out there.

I met my friend Rob through autocross. And through the years I made a few more, with several friendships now going back decades. 

Why do I still autocross? Why get up at an uncivilized hour to trek to a parking lot or airstrip somewhere to stand around for maybe 5 minutes of seat time? 

For me, it’s the fun, the thrill, the challenge, the socializing. Just the entire experience.

It’s not those minutes of seat time. It’s a day of doing car stuff. Start it off with some time on a two-lane road, spend the meat of the day surrounded by other gearheads, and then enjoy another top-down drive to get home. 

Every event is different, too. Insert the analogy involving a box of chocolates. Earlier this year, we ran a course designed by Karen Babb, a legend in the sport. It walked one way yet ran another. Despite working with a smaller lot, she delivered a fast, flowing course that challenged the experienced yet didn’t leave the rookies lost in a sea of cones. 

And a month before that, in the same lot, we ran a night autocross. We got three runs in the evening and then three more after sunset. Each cone was topped with a glowstick, while corner workers got those light-up batons. We felt like we should be parking planes down at MCO.

I’ve road raced, run the quarter-mile, and done a ton of track events.  I once helped Saab set a bunch of land-speed records at Talladega. I’ve been lucky to sample rally. I’ve shown cars on both the local and national scene. 

But I still come back to autocross.

When I put my Miata back on the road last year, I didn’t hesitate to run back to the sport. I ran 11 events last season yet didn’t venture out until the end of April. 

[One season and 18 painless events after resurrecting our Miata | Garage Rescue Miata]

The added, new thrill: As I’m now part of the older guard–those who remember when the Neon ACR was the hot car–I get to watch a new generation dip their toes. Nothing will reignite your love of the sport like shagging cones with a 20-something who’s at one of their first autocrosses. Yeah, that’s fine, you can grab the cones and I’ll work the radio. No, really, it’s okay. 

Whether or not we (finally) have our flying cars, will I still be autocrossing when I’m 90? We can only hope.

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5/25/22 1:33 p.m.

I've know Maury for years. We met at a PCA auto-x back in the 1980's. Great guy and we still chat on occasion about the hot auto-x tires and set ups etc. So glad he's still running strong. That gives me hope that I too will get going that long. Cheers Maury...my hero.

Warlock New Reader
5/25/22 2:25 p.m.

Only autocrossers have conversations like this.


Danny Shields (Forum Supporter)
Danny Shields (Forum Supporter) GRM+ Memberand HalfDork
5/25/22 2:33 p.m.

In reply to David S. Wallens :

I'm with you, brother!

I started autocrossing at 16, moved on to road racing and stock car racing, and eventually realized that autocross was more fun and less hassle, at least for me. I could afford it, in a competitive car, and my wife could enjoy it along with me. And, yes, we have come to know some fine people in the autocross world. Maury is a great example. The whole format tends to generate camaraderie. And I am sure glad someone followed through and started an autocross magazine back in '84!


David Elfering
David Elfering GRM+ Memberand Reader
5/25/22 2:40 p.m.

My first autocross was in 1986 and I was hooked. Me and a buddy couldn't afford the A008 tires so found some used Eagle Gatorbacks and did the best we could in my Omni GLHS. 

Family time kicked in and though it would be 30 years until I autocrossed again, I never forgot about it. Side note: Being a rookie driver in two different centuries has to be a record or something right?

Why autocross? Easy answer. I can hoon my car at 100% with very low chance of anything being dented except my pride. What really brought me back after three decades of commute mode driving? A lot has to do with the people, perhaps as much as the cars. Put the two together and its one of the best ways to spend a weekend I can think of.

Plus there's this!


BA5 GRM+ Memberand Reader
5/25/22 2:52 p.m.

It's cheap, easy, and fun.  What's not to like about it?

Sometimes I don't want to have to plan for a whole weekend, have all the cost, and travel so far.  Sometimes I just want to hoon it up one Sunday morning.

I also got my first start autocrossing at Lakewood Amphitheater with the Atlanta Region SCCA!  Although I only started ~20 years ago.

350z247 Reader
5/25/22 3:08 p.m.

I just wish you got more seat time for your dollar. $10 a minute plus a full day in the sun is a hard sell compared to a track day at $3-$5 a minute with most of the day to work on the car or walk the paddock. Great for testing a new car/set-up in a lower speed environment.

Tom1200 UltraDork
5/25/22 11:32 p.m.

I still have the same car In was auto crossing 33 years ago but I don't autocross it..........cuz I got a car just for autocross.........yet I consider myself a road racer.

trucke SuperDork
5/26/22 9:08 a.m.

I attended my first autocross in 1984.  Ran with the Killington Sports Car Club in Keene, NH.  Our lot was the airport runway.  We had a ball!  Then one day, Chuck Noonan arrived with his CSP CRX.  Chuck blew away the field by about 20 seconds and went on to win a National Championship.  He continued to capture those titles.  I was blessed to get to know Chuck and many others when I joined the New England Region SCCA.  

Back then I had a '76 Capri II, then an X-1/9, then an FX16 which I autocrossed for decades.

Today I have a Civic Type R.  Great fun!  Even more fun when reconnecting in North Carolina with Jinx and Ginette Jordan when they show up with their Type R.

I cannot remember all the people I've met and coached over the years.  I still love to help new people enjoy the sport. Every now and then someone will come up to me and tell me about something I did to help them get faster sometime in the past.  What a blessing!

To top it off, I met my wife of 26 years from a blind date set-up by autocross friends!  Can't top that!

lateapexer Reader
5/26/22 9:23 a.m.

I ran my first autocross in 1964 and have played with varying degrees of intensity ever since. I have rarely been highly competitive, but I have always enjoyed myself. The absolute best experience are the people you meet. My children and grandchildren are also involved in autocross and motorsport in general. I think the best aspect of the sport is the absolute commitment that each run entails. I have a few mobility and vision issues that limit how much I can do but plan on keeping on, keeping on. wink

lateapexer Reader
5/26/22 9:35 a.m.

To ease my obsessive side, it was a gymkhana ,then slalom, then autoslalom, then solo 2, then autocross. At least in Canada and maybe not in that order. 

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