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Falken Blog

How Autocross Helped Me Avoid Traffic Court

To someone who doesn't speak "autocross," tires may not matter much, but in reality they're the most important part of a car's handling – whether you’re competing or commuting.

By: Mary Pozzi

In my formative years behind the wheel, I had the dubious distinction of amassing a hoard of traffic tickets for speeding. I flirted with losing my license more than once. I'd heard about autocrossing through friends and knew I had to do something that would fill the need for going fast so I wouldn't do it on the street.

And it worked! Instead of spending money on traffic tickets, I spent it on improving myself as a driver on the way to winning 11 National Championships. People who ride with me on the street say I drive like their grandmother – which I take as a compliment. Public streets aren’t the place to race.

Along the way, I’ve driven and won in some really fun cars, including a 1972 Datsun 240Z, 1965 Ford Mustang, 1963 AC Cobra 289, 1985 Mazda RX7 GSL-SE, 1986 Dodge Omni GLH-T, 1983 Chevrolet Camaro Z28, 1989 Chevrolet Camaro IROC-Z and a 2007 Ford Mustang Shelby GT.

I stepped away from autocrossing for about 15 years and came back to the sport in 2005 in a little local event. I enjoyed it so much that I never left again.

My current ’73 Camaro came via AutoTrader. While pretty much sound and intact, I drove it home and went to work. Suspension parts, tires and wheels were ordered, the entire drivetrain was swapped to a ZZ383 GM Performance engine backed by a Richmond 5-speed, and my credit card balance ballooned. During this time, I had zero thoughts about autocrossing. All I wanted to do was take the car to Cruise-Ins and just drive it and enjoy it.

During the past eight or so years, the Camaro has had a couple of makeovers. In its present version, it's a fairly bulletproof, inferno-orange metallic '73 Camaro RS with Anvil Auto carbon fiber body panels, Lingenfelter LS7 power under the hood, a Tremec T56 Magnum transmission and Baer 6R 14" brakes on all four corners. The chassis is full Art Morrison Enterprises – I use their late-model Corvette-based front clip with their new IRS, with a Strange-built Dana 60 out back, RideTech triple-adjustable shocks and Forgeline GA3 wheels wrapped in those awesome Falken Azenis RT615k tires, sized 315/30ZR18.

I now autocross this car in SCCA’s Classic American Muscle class, in the Good Guys autocrosses and have competed in the OPTIMA Ultimate Street Car Invitational twice. As OUSCI has five separate events that score points, the car or truck has to be versatile and reliable. A car or truck in the OUSCI has to be registered and insured, and it must compete with 200 UTQG rated tires. They're tested for street worthiness by a 60-90 mile mapped drive through the Las Vegas Strip in Friday afternoon traffic and then out to the event site. Once there, they're judged for the "Design and Engineering" portion which has been a deciding factor for more than one OUSCI winner. The other three events are timed speed – the road course, an autocross and a braking challenge with points given for placing in each. Next on the bucket list? Take the Camaro on the Hot Rod Power Tour.

To someone who doesn't speak "autocross," tires may not matter much, but in reality they're the most important part of a car's handling – whether you’re competing or commuting. Those four tiny contact patches are the only means the driver has to communicate with the track for lightning-fast driving corrections that maintain forward motion. Done correctly, it's like a dance, with input dictated by your "butt dyno."

Whereas track driving is more fluid and flowing, autocross is very fast and furious, with lots of hustle thrown in for good measure. Stuff happens fast and reactions must happen even faster. The tires have to be a willing partner in any of these "discussions," as there are no second chances in autocross runs. When you make a mistake that moment in time has passed, and all you can do is minimize mistakes in the corners and course elements ahead. You've got to be fast and forward, as any sideways movement, any wheel spin, any deviation from course line and direction, adds time. Classes are won and lost by hundredths of seconds. You can have a car with the latest and greatest parts and systems, but if you don't have a tire that can handle what you throw at it, all that goodness is pretty much wasted.

With the Falken Azenis RT615k, good tires are something I never worry about. They give me confidence and really help me to trust the car, its handling, and overall performance. So much of what we do in autocrossing can easily translate to making anyone a better driver on the street. Autocrossing is mostly about knowing where the four corners of your car are, proper steering, looking ahead to where you want to go, threshold braking, feeling out power, and looking for limits to traction and stability. When coaching new (and sometimes not so new) drivers, I tell them, "hands follow the eyes and the car follows the hands."

Best of all, all of these skills can be put to practice at legal road speeds that even your grandmother can handle.

Mary Pozzi is an 11-time National SCCA Solo Champion as well as multiple Pro and Tour autocross winner. When she’s not laying down some serious Falken tire rubber on her ’73 Camaro, wrenching on cars or winning the Pro Class at the Good Guys Del Mar Nationals, Mary can be found single-tracking on her mountain bike or getting to the bottom of mechanical/fire automotive claims for a major insurance company.