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Do you have a sports car and wish that you could drive it hard without running the risk of damaging it on a track or getting pulled over on the street? If so, then autocross racing might be for you. But what is autocross racing and is it dangerous to participate in?

What is autocross racing?

Quite simply put, autocross racing is a toned-down version of driving your car on an actual racetrack in that traffic cones are used to make a mini road course in the middle of an empty parking lot or airport. According to the Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) website, the name of the game is simple as well: drive around the track and get the lowest time possible without hitting any cones or going off the track.

Having done an autocross race myself, I can assure you that you’ll typically only be driving speeds of up to around 40 mph, depending on the length and layout of course. However, the thrill and excitement that you get while doing so are very high. One of the highlights of participating in an autocross race is that you can enter just about any type of car, as there are many different classes to join.

A modified car races on an autocross course
A modified car races on an autocross course | YouTube

There are different autocross racing levels

Whether you only want to casually enter into autocross competitions on the weekends or would rather work your way up to be a full-on professional autocross racer, there is a class (or category) for you. The SCCA classifies different cars according to their modifications and potential and the classes as follows:

  • Street category: The street category has the most restrictions in order to keep the competitors from making too many extensive modifications to their cars. Many of the cars are kept to “showroom stock” standards as racing tires aren’t even allowed at this level.
  • Street prepared category: In this category, stickier tires, like R-compound tires, are allowed. Some external engine modifications like intakes and exhausts are allowed as well.
  • Street modified category: If you want to add a turbocharger or supercharger to your car, in addition to a set of super-sticky R-compound tires, then this is the class for you.
  • Prepared category: The prepared category is a step beyond the “street classes” in that gutted interiors and racing slicks are allowed. However, the rules still dictate what type of car you can build for this class.
  • Modified category: The modified category has the most allowances in that you can build a professional autocross race car and add the most extreme modification in this class.

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Is autocross racing dangerous?

When running an autocross course, you run your car at a lower speed than you would on a longer, wider road course, so your chances of running into danger are slimmer. According to the SCCA, “autocrossing is the only place you can push your car to 100% edge of its grip without any consequence.”

Considering the worst thing that you can hit is the cones set up for the course, you can safely explore the maximum capability of your car in a safe manner. Also, with enough time and effort, autocrossing will teach you a lot about car control and can prepare for driving on a larger road course if that’s what you want to do later on.