Even though I wrote it more than four years ago now, one of my most frequently-read posts continues to be the one in which I talk about inexpensive gear for auto-x newcomers. Since the advice is still good and there still appears to be a call for the info, I figured it was time to spruce it up for 2015.
Even though much of the East Coast saw winter weather on Friday, spring is nigh, and a new autocross season is close behind. Here are some recommendations for gear and apparel that I would give to the first-timer or novice on a tight budget:
This one doesn’t occur to a lot of people until they get in to the car for their first run and realize that hands greased with sweat and sun tan lotion don’t really grip the steering wheel very well. This isn’t Formula 1 or NASCAR (or even a track day, for that matter), though, so why drop tons of money on real driving gloves? Batting gloves do everything you need (provide a consistent grip, keep moisture from interfering) for a lot less change. Not much to update from my original recommendation: I picked up a pair of basic UnderArmor gloves for under $30 back in 2008 and I still use them now.
Go to any auto-x and you are likely to see a large proportion of the participants wearing some kind of driving shoe, many of whom change into them prior to their runs and then switch back to normal sneakers when finished. While dedicated driving shoes do provide excellent feel for experienced drivers, they are hardly a necessity, especially for a novice.
In my first season, I found that switching shoes was actually confusing. It changed the feel of the pedals from what I was used to in every day driving. In a sport where consistency is the key to doing well, confusing your feet can make a big difference. Instead, my suggestion is to wear what you usually wear.
I find that light running shoes without huge, firm soles are comfortable for everyday wear and provide good feedback in spirited driving situations. My current shoe of choice is the Saucony Breakthru. It offers a light, soft, and supportive package at a pretty reasonable price point. I also like to add a pair of Superfeet insoles to keep everything aligned. Any similar shoe should provide a comparable experience. Using this strategy has the added benefit of only costing you money for one pair of sneakers that you would probably buy at some point anyway.
This seems like a “no kidding” addition to this list. Indeed, the sun and glare can make a challenging course even more difficult, so having eye protection is a true necessity. My suggestion, though, is to carefully consider what shades you are planning to use. Keep in mind that, during your runs you will be wearing a helmet and not every pair of glasses will fit comfortably. Bulky plastic-framed sport glasses (like many Oakleys) may look cool and feel good when you’re out on the beach or cruising the highway, but when they’re being squeezed against your head by protective helmet foam? Not so much. Likewise, metal frames can distort and create pinching and pressure points when smooshed against your noggin by protective headgear. Experience taught me that simple, small plastic frames fit comfortably between my head and the helmet. I currently use a pair of Tifosi Dolomite 2.0 sunglasses because they offer interchangeable lenses and a sport-oriented face hug that is excellent for motorsport use, but also for running and biking. Good sunglasses are worth every penny, but for those on a tight budget, the same effect can be achieved with a pair off the $10 rack at CVS.
Speaking of helmets, as a newcomer or relative novice, you only really need to remember one thing: they can be very expensive. Organizing bodies understand this, and almost always provide loaner helmets (Note I said almost always. Check with your region to make sure this is the case before attending). Don’t go buying a helmet unless you are sure you will use it, year-in and year-out, for quite a while — i.e. until you know you are serious about the sport and can afford a good one. If you’re worried about sharing a helmet that has been on someone else’s head, use a thin fabric hood or balaclava.
Tire pressure gauge
Even if you’re doing this on a shoestring budget, a reliable pressure gauge is a necessity. If your location doesn’t have an air station available to all participants, chances are good that you will be able to borrow a compressor off a fellow competitor to get your tires pumped up. Guys at these events are always happy to help each other out, especially the newcomers. If you have to borrow a gauge from someone every time you need to adjust your pressures, though, you have become a pain in the ass. And trust me; you will be checking and adjusting your pressures frequently as you figure out a good setup. Since you can get a good gauge (and do yourself a favor: don’t go to the dollar store; get a good one) for about $10, it just doesn’t make sense to not have one, especially since you can (and should) use it to check your tire pressures when you’re not at the track as well.
Other important items:
- Headwear — Do yourself a favor and skip the baseball cap in favor of a hat that has a brim all the way around. If you are standing in the open all day, keeping the sun off your neck is just as important as your face.
- Sun tan lotion — This is necessary, even if the day is cool — UV rays don’t care that the air is chilly. Put some on your face and neck.
- Lunch — Many groups will have a specified break for lunch, but many do not. Don’t assume you will have plenty of time to pick something up; have it with you and make sure it is filling. The day can be long and taxing, so keep yourself nourished.
- Water — If you think you have enough, bring more. It’s that simple.
That about covers it. I hope my suggestions help someone as this season gets under way. If you have any questions, feel free to comment below.