The Need for Speed

The Dixie Regional Sports Car Club offers driving thrills with a focus on safetyThe Need for SpeedMembers of the Dixie Regional SCCA Rev Their Engines Once a Month

By Amy White

I consider myself a safe driver.

Making my way from Tallahassee to Bainbridge, Ga., I searched the horizon for police cars with radar, kept an eye on the speedometer and signaled at every intersection.

My directions led me to an abandoned World War II taxi strip spotted with fluorescent orange cones and cars. This was where I met the members of the Dixie Regional Sports Car Club of America (SCCA). I could tell by their lingo that the speed limit wasn’t an issue out here.

On the first Sunday of each month, these motorheads meet to compete in Solo II competition. This race forces drivers to maneuver through a meandering course of traffic cones. As the title of the race suggests, only one car at a time is on the course.

The lowest time on the course wins – but a hot car and a lead foot aren’t all that is required.

“The faster car isn’t always going to get the win here,” said member Samuel Holton. Penalty seconds are added if a driver knocks over cones. Drivers also must make it through each of the gates, or checkpoints. If they don’t, they will be disqualified.

There is no need for a fancy, souped-up car in these races. “Run what you brung” is one of the group’s favorite sayings. Every type of car is welcome, from Grandma’s Crown Victoria to brand-new Dodge Vipers.

“It used to be that everyone brought out old beater cars,” said longtime member J.K. Jackson. “Now, all the kids have new cars and the older guys have old cars.”
The majority of the “race cars” are used as day-to-day transportation by their drivers. Once they are at the track, the driver switches out the standard tires for a set of auto-cross tires.

“Auto-cross tires have a stickier composition,” said Todd Woodward. “They handle better and make the car more competitive.”

A few drivers take their racecars to the track via trailer. The amount of modifications the cars have undergone can make them uncomfortable to drive everyday. In some cases, the owner’s insurance companies refuse to insure the car because the modifications are considered hazardous.

Just as there are no prejudices for cars, there are none for the drivers. Old and young, male and female, novices and more experienced drivers all are welcome to drive.

The races are split into different categories, including stock, street-prepared and modified. The amount of modifications the car has undergone determines the category it will race in.

Each class of cars uses the same track. Every month, a new event chairperson designs and sets up a new course, adding different elements. Straight-aways, 90-degree turns and slaloms – in which a car weaves in and out of cones – are among the favorite elements. J.D. Kemp, a member of the board of directors and a past regional executive, said he believes “the slalom is the essence of this race.”

The SCCA dictates that the course may not let drivers exceed posted highway speed limits. However, most courses created by the local group are designed for a top speed of 40 mph.

“Forty miles per hour seems kinda slow,” I thought to myself. Then I rode in the passenger seat of Chris Moore’s Triumph TR-6. The maneuvers she made with the car were precise and calculated. Each cone blurred into an orange haze as we passed. When the car went through the 90-degree box turn, at the end of the race, it spun out – causing me to lose my breath.

A racing car must pass a technical inspection on the day of the race. The brake pedal is checked to see if it is firm and returns back to its original position, the interior and trunk must be free of items that are not tied down, and the suspension can’t have loose or worn components.

Other qualifications to race require the driver and passenger to don seat belts and helmets. If you don’t have a helmet, loaners are available.

“If you aren’t driving, you are working the course,” board of directors member Kemp said. Each corner of the course is equipped with a flag, radio and fire extinguisher. Workers pick up cones, sweep away debris and radio the timing desk when a violation has occurred.

Even spectators who aren’t driving or working must sign a waiver and wear a wristband that shows they know the dangers of simply being on the course. The $15 to $25 event fee provides drivers with $5 million of liability insurance in case something goes wrong. Both the waiver and insurance are mandated by the national SCCA.

“Too many people think motor sports are about crashing cars, and they’re not,” Kemp said. “This is a safe outlet for speed addiction, and it is more challenging than drag racing.”

Member Holton’s day job is as an inspector for the Tallahassee Police Department. He said he has seen a direct correlation between the release of movies such as “The Fast and the Furious” that glamorize speed and illegal street racing. He believes in keeping dangerous behavior off the streets. Organizations such as the SCCA “promote safety and responsibility while sharing the love of racing,” Holton said.

“Any auto-crosser will tell you, ‘Auto-cross skills saved my life,’” Kemp said. Brakes locking in the rain, compensation for sharp turns and reacting to sudden changes all are situations mimicked on the course.

Ashley Heath started racing before she had a driver’s license and had to race with her father, Sandy, in the passenger seat. Her father said he knows that the skills she has learned on the course will better prepare her for real-life driving experiences.

Racing in the Solo II event is a great way for young drivers to gain experience behind the wheel.

“You can’t hurt anything but cones or tires; the controlled conditions are perfect,” said member Jackson.

Member Robert Lewis said he also believes the skills learned on the course makes for better drivers. That’s why he has told his teenage daughter she won’t be able to get her license until she can come within two seconds of his racing time.

Although safety is the primary objective of the group, they still know how to have fun. Husbands race their wives – and lose. Boyfriends and girlfriends exchange banter over who is a better driver. Nicknames and jokes fly over the loudspeaker and echo off the pavement all day. Even though someone always has to lose, no one goes home without a smile on his or her face.

My drive home from the races seemed anticlimactic – driving without a helmet just is not as much fun. There were no sharp turns for me to contemplate or whirlwinds of dust flying up from my tires. However, I did enjoy one little act of automobile rebellion: Never before had I revved my engine – but that afternoon at a red light, I did.

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