by Matt Crane
My hands are slick with sweat and I give them another hasty pass across my T-shirt. Is this why everyone else is wearing gloves?
I can think about nothing but the gas pedal because the light is green and my turn has come. I rev the engine until it roars above the sound of the other cars screaming around the track, pop the clutch, and feel rocketed into the back of my seat’s cloth embrace.
This is autocross. It’s 10 a.m. on a Sunday, and I’m racing a 1999 Mazda Miata against the clock on a closed track. My brother and his crew of friends compete in these sanctioned (and legal!) races every weekend and have invited me to learn the ropes here at Richmond International Raceway.
The other participants are driving heavily modified streetcars, with a few not-quite-street-legal specimens arriving on trailers. Most machines fall into the former category, but there are plenty of outliers, like the guy in a bone stock Toyota Corolla, or the young mom in a Volvo station wagon with two kids along for the ride.
Having paid my $40, I’m told to walk the course, which is marked in orange cones and traverses a large parking lot. I join a knot of other foot-bound auto enthusiasts, and wonder how I’m going to successfully navigate this multitude of turns at full gas.
The whole thing feels like a BBQ for people who treat cars as family. Instead of a hot dog, I’m handed advice on how to tackle that fast straightaway out of turn four.
“Don’t even think about shifting into third gear,” an impeccably tan elder gentleman rumbles. He might easily have stepped off a yacht, had I not seen him exit a pristine 1973 Porsche 914 on my way to the registration tent.
After heat one gets its five runs, the rest of the sweating car fiends, including me, descend upon the technical series of slaloms and turns -- reaching speeds of more than 40 mph. On the final sweeper before the finish line, my rear tires begin to break loose, and I barely save the car from a full spinout before walloping the gas pedal and aiming for the final cones.
When I slam on the brakes at the end of the run, I again think about my hands. But this time, I’m gleefully noting the tremors of adrenaline shaking me from steering wheel to shoulder blades.
Cheaper than a speeding ticket, and more fun than anything I have ever done leading up to one!
More Motorized Thrills
Need for speed demanding more scratch? Check out these other Richmond experiences:
Thunderbolt Indoor Karting is a great option for a group outing, or for those who want the thrill of competing in real time, as opposed to against the clock.
G-Force Karts is another great karting venue in Richmond, plus laser tag and an arcade.
Richmond Segway isn't cars, but not all of us have a high tolerance for danger!
Header photo of the author racing by aMAYzing Photography.
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