By Dwight Dawson, Photos by Greg Fleischer
So what is an autocross? Several of us found a unique answer to that in an early March event organized by the Texas Triumph Register. Invited to play along were the Jaguar Club and the Houston MG Club.
On the Houston Police Academy grounds in far northeast Houston, a challenging .81 mile course with 43 ‘gates’ was created by event planners. The diagram here was provided to participants. To keep frequent drivers sharp, the exact course is modified each time the event is offered.
A slow drive-through with an event volunteer was the first exposure to the track for most of us. “A sharp turn is required here…a slowdown is recommended at this corner to avoid drifting into the mud…on the first lap you must turn RIGHT, and then turn LEFT on the second round to begin the slalom to the end alley.” This prompted us to study the diagram more carefully before the first official run. The experts told us to make the initial run deliberately slower and focus on the route. But once on the course, it was difficult to hold back. Run the best line and hug the pylons and press for speed… or some-such strategy. With top speeds varying greatly between 20 and 35 mph, many cars were only in 2nd gear or maybe 3rd. Screeching tires around the pylons and full acceleration exhaust notes were common. Some mud was observed on the sides of racers. A few total spinouts drew “oooohhh”s from the pits. The elapsed time of each run was recorded via electronic timers at the Start and Finish, and the number of runs limited only by waiting your turn behind other racers. Only one car was on the course at any given time.
With the run-time being so brief, your turn came around quickly. The truly most difficult part of the event may have been putting on and taking off the required helmet that was borrowed from a supply at the Start line (or maybe mine was just too small).
Bob Schroeder driving his 1957 MGA
What a treat it was to press an aged sports car to the limit! The greater limitation was usually the Driver. In my case, I had five runs— two of these were DNF (did not finish) because I missed that damn LEFT turn on the first lap, and went directly to the final slalom run and end alley. Each of my three successful runs was faster than the previous. Gordon Bard said one of his runs was slowed a bit because he started with the emergency brake engaged. The run times that day ranged from 138 seconds to less than 80. The data was available from the Timer at his computer consul, once you dared to ask and compare to others. The day’s final results appear here:
A time of 80 seconds means an average speed of 36.4 mph. On course, it seems much faster.
The greatest fun was going all out through the slalom segments. I hit one pylon soundly, which scuffed up the right front wing a bit. (Involuntary curse.) A fun surprise, when the day was done in my convertible, was finding bits of road-rubber debris (‘marbles’) spread upon the passenger seat. That had to be evidence of real RACING!
Who is that in the MGB wanna-a-be, it couldn't be Dwight, or could it?
In attendance from HMGCC were Greg Fleischer, Bob and Kathy Schroeder, Gordon Bard, Ray Holtzapple, Dwight Dawson and former member Keith Ryder. Running the autocross is a MUST-DO for all MG drivers. There is no better way to enjoy and really understand your LBC.
Gordon Bard pushing his 1972 MGB around the track