One of the most common questions I get almost every day is how I got into racing. For someone not familiar with the in’s and out’s of motorsports, it may seem like a far stretched goal, something that’s only accessible to pro’s or someone with deep wallets. Trying to figure out a path to get on the track and compete might seem overwhelming but in reality, it's not as hard or as expensive as one might think.
I’m going to share the path I took to get into competitive wheel to wheel racing and recommend the best way to get into motorsports at any level. From karting, autocross, track days, club racing, and all the way up to Formula 1. Actually, lets scratch the F1 talk, if you're reading this article, you’re probably already 15 years behind schedule!
My name is Eric Kutil and I’m the driver of the #82 Hybrid Racing EG Sedan in Gridlife Touring Cup and 2020 season champion! I’ve been an avid Honda car guy my entire life and have been surrounded by Motorsports since I was kid. Years of dreaming about going fast has led me to compete in various forms of motorsports since 2012. Since then, I have campaigned a Honda in every season from autocross to wheel to wheel club racing.
So you just picked up your first project car and you want to go fast. We’ve all been there, young, dumb teens banging VTEC and slamming gears on the on ramps and back roads. That level of exhilaration pales in comparison to what you can actually experience on a race track or an autocross course in a significantly safer environment. So how do you get there?
My first recommendation is always Autocross. Obviously you can’t just hop into a wheel to wheel race even if you think you are the best kanjo racer on Jackie Robinson PKWY in NYC. You’re going to need experience and become comfortable controlling the car beyond its limits. Oh, and the best part of autocross is, IT’S CHEAP, usually under $50 bucks, safe and literally everywhere! If you’re familiar with the sport, skip the next few paragraphs but don't miss the part where I strongly believe it's the best foundation for being a fast driver!
For those not familiar with autocross, it’s a very simple concept that’s easy to learn but probably the most difficult to master out of all forms of motorsports in this article. Most autocrosses are held in large parking lots, track/oval infields, go-kart tracks and even airport runways. No, this isn't race wars from F&F, it’s better. A unique timed point to point course is set up using cones you have to navigate through without getting lost. The course has a variety of features such as gates to drive through, a stretch of slaloms, sweepers, hairpins, bus stops and more. The direction of the course is usually indicated by pointer cones that help you navigate which way to go and every event has a different layout. Don’t worry, you get to walk the course first to learn the layout and direction. Each run start’s from a dig, you trigger the timing lights, race as fast as you can through the course which is usually around 1 minute long and fly through the finish timing lights. Generally, each event will get you 6 to 8 runs depending on the amount of entries and your best time of the day is all that matters, just don’t hit any cones because they add +2 seconds to your time. There are also a ton of classes that are designed to accommodate almost any car on the road, from a stock honda fit to a windshield-less S2000 with massive turbos, aero and 315 slicks. Just show up with whatever you have, you’ll have a great time!
Autocross is without a doubt the safest form of motorsports as well because the course is usually designed to keep the top speed under 60 mph and far enough away from any solid obstacles to hit. Now, I know you’re thinking it, racing under 60 mph sounds kinda lame. On paper it might but racing around these cones with pinpoint precision as fast as you can with the most efficient line is one of the most exhilarating feelings you can have in a car. I regularly have shaky hands from adrenaline after a perfect run, a feeling you rarely get on track.
So as a beginner driver, autocross is the perfect way to learn how to push your car and go fast safely on a budget. You’ll learn all the fundamental basics of car control; threshold braking, throttle control, maximum amount of slip, shifting fast, controlling over/understeer and just getting the most out of the car. If you mess up, spin out or get lost, no worries, just try again! The autocross course also naturally teaches you how to look ahead, learn the footprint of your car and determine the ideal racing line without visual cues. At all events, you’ll have access to a novice class which will cover the basics, explain the rules, help determine your class, walk the course with the ideal line and make your first few events less stressful.
To get started, search for your local SCCA region with the link below. SCCA is the most popular organization for autocross and hosts thousands of events all across the country. Chances are, you’ll have events right in your backyard that you probably didn’t know existed. The first event I entered was right in my college campus parking lot! Autocross events are sometimes called SOLO so keep that in mind when searching your region's site. If you have any questions, you can also reach out to your region and they would be happy to assist. Events are cheaper if you become an SCCA member so keep that in mind if you plan on doing more events. You can always commit at the event so no pressure.
Another good resource is MotorsportReg. This website is normally where you would register for some of these events. You can search for autocross events within a radius of your location and attend other regions for more seat time!
So you’re finally registered for an event, now what? Well, you’ll want to make sure everything on your car is buttoned up and in decent drivable condition. We can talk about specific car prep later but don’t stress about bringing a crazy purpose built car. We’ve all heard the excuse, “I’m building a track inspired Honda and will take it to the track when it’s done, I swear” yeah… ok. Here, you can literally bring anything to an autocross event, don’t be that Honda guy everyone rolls their eyes on. Your mom’s odyssey? Sure! Your K-swapped Integra, hell yeah (hope you have a diff)! A D16 CRX, sounds light, nimble and fun, epic! Anything goes and your car will end up in a class based on the mods you’ve done. Sometimes a specific mod might bump you into a higher class but that’s okay, you’ll still have a good time. As you get more serious with autocross, you’ll eventually fine tune the mods on your car to a specific class and Honda’s are usually always a great chassis to start with!
So what else do you need to bring? Just a helmet if you have one, but don't worry, events will have rental helmets you can borrow. That’s basically it. Some additional tips, bring a cooler with lots of water, some comfortable walking shoes and a dorky straw hat to complete the autocross look. Oh yeah, I didn’t tell you this but you’ll also be working the course picking up cones between your run group. Someone has to put the cones back where they belong when people hit and that’s you! It's why autocross is so cheap. This is usually a great time to mingle with more experienced autocross and learn more about the sport and talk cars.
The fun doesn’t stop there though. Autocross is not just a beginners sport, not even close. A large majority of drivers that started in autocross actually stay in the sport because like I said, it's extremely difficult to master, it’s challenging and extremely competitive. On the higher levels of autocross (which I’ll cover in more detail later), classes can have over 60 drivers with times within thousandths of a second of each other. If you’re extremely competitive like me, this will definitely scratch that itch and keep you coming back for more.
As you attend more events, you’ll naturally figure out the next steps from there. If you enjoy just having fun and taking it chill, no stress, keep doing what you’re doing! If you want to be more competitive, you’ll start to fine tune your car and focus it more for a specific class. Classes range from budget friendly Street Category where mods are very limited. Pair of shocks, some sticky 200tw street tires, a sway bar and you’re set.The category is broken up into multiple classes to group similar cars together. Got a stock FK8 Civic Type R, this class is perfect for you. Another fun class I really enjoy is Street Touring which allows a few more bolt ons like exhaust, suspension, diffs etc. S2000’s reign supreme here, truly fantastic cars. After that, the classes get more and more extreme with engine swaps, aero, racing slicks and more. Below are the SCCA SOLO Classes.
As you progress as a driver, your car will also progress. This is a fantastic resource to learn about car setup, camber/toe, optimal modifications, the importance of the best 200tw street tire on the market and what really makes a car fast. The knowledge I gained in my days of autocross has helped me build and setup some serious weapons.
As you continue more local, regional events with your optimized classed car, eventually you’ll become the big fish in a small pond if you’re got the skills. If you’re searching for more competition, that’s when you step up to the next level, Divisional SOLO, National Tour, ProSOLO and eventually the championship event, Solo Nationals. These are higher level autocross events which usually require more travel and span a full weekend instead of one day. This is where the best of the best drivers meet from all regions for some fierce competition with the largest and best designed courses. Most of the competitors have years of experience and not only have the skills to perfect an autocross run, but the skills and knowledge to build an optimized autocross car. This is where I really got hooked on autocross after I did a few years of regional events. I campaigned an Integra Type R in the Street Touring X class back in mid 2010’s and usually got my butt kicked. I’ve won quite a few races on the track but never an Autocross Tour, ProSOLO or National, came close but never got that glory. I’m telling you, it’s that competitive! The guys that win are truly talented and generally called aliens. Some even move on to become legends in motorsports. Ever heard of Randy Pobst, Tom O’Gorman or Peter Cunningham, the guy responsible for the iconic Real Time Racing ITR’s? All extremely talents racecar drivers that attribute most of their success to a strong foundation built from autocross.
Some other noteworthy autocross style events are UMI King of the Mountain where the purse stands at $25,000 where a nitrous K24 powered S2000 almost took the win in 2022. Optima Street Car Challenge and Good Guys are also notable names in the autocross world.
So, long story short. Autocross is the answer if you want to get into motorsports. It's cheap, accessible, safe, and has a wide range of enjoyment from a beginner novice to a serious business competitive autocrosser. If you don’t believe me, just try one, it's the best fun you can have under $50!
Thanks for reading! Be sure to check out part 2 coming soon!
Here are some cool autocross videos from Tom, Andy and Eric!
Andy with his GLTC nitrous k24 s2k at UMI KOTM
Me in a STX ITR
Me in the freshy swapped b18c5 EG