Dan Ennis of Mt. Washington navigates his Mazda Miata around the autocross course set up on a North Park parking lot. Robin Rombach/Post-Gazette photos
These drivers enjoy the thrill and competition of autocross racing,
as sponsored by the North Hills
Sports Car Club.
By Christina Rouvalis
Post Gazette Staff Writer
Rafferty of Irwin finishes her race in her blue Corvette Grand Sport with the
third fastest time of the day for all drivers.
screech. Souped-up engines rev
and growl. Shiny cars hug stomach
wrenching curves, sometimes spinning out of control.
motorists putting on the show aren't a bunch of hot-dogging teen-agers tearing
down a main drag on a Friday night. They
are perfectly respectable men and women playing out their race-car-driving
fantasies on an asphalt parking lot in North Park on a recent Sunday.
sport is called autocross racing, and lots of joggers and passers-by at North
Park have done double-takes watching the drivers weave around orange cones in
their Volkswagen Rabbits, Mazda Miatas, Corvettes and other cars on the road.
people who don't do this, it looks a little strange" said Bill Marlowe,
and land surveyor from Allison Park who drives a blue Mazda Miata.
puzzled stares are a good recruitment tool.
Sometimes the people who gape at this tire squealing spectacle come
back to try it themselves.
recent sunny day drew 112 competitors to the race sponsored by the North Hills
Sports Car Club, one of the two autocross groups in the Pittsburgh area that
hold races regularly. Autocross
doesn't have the long straightaways or fiery crashes of NASCAR racing. Instead, drivers line up in a procession and zoom around the
windy course solo when their number is called.
have a better chance of being in an accident going to work," said Doug
Bober, a 34-year-old Shaler driver and president of the North Hills Sports Car
worst thing that happens is that the car hits a cone or spins to a stop.
On extremely rare occasions, Bober said, a car will roll over.
But such accidents have never happened locally.
event can last eight hours and involves many time-consuming rituals- safety
checks, marking off the course in white chalk, walking around the lot several
times to get a feel for the bends in the course.
fact, each driver may spend only three to five minutes of racing during four
timed runs. But those few minutes…These
people live for those few minutes.
a woman walked in here with a bathing suit, the guys wouldn't look," said
Gerry Ennis, of Mount Washington, one of only a handful of women racing.
"They all have their heads in their engines."
more fun than a roller coaster," said Mike Ancas of McDonald, a
psychotherapist and Internet health-care entrepreneur. "it is going 50
mph on curves. It's the thrill of
G-force around the turns."
white knuckled reporter got to feel all those G-forces when she was belted
into the passenger seat of a 1993 Toyota MR2 driven by Glenn Hoffman of
Wilkinsburg during a test run. She
screamed for her life as the car accelerated then tore into curves.
seat of the pants driving," Hoffman said as he emerged from his car, his
compete in four classifications that depend on how much the guts of the car
has been altered to enhance performance, although all cars must be street
legal. Each run is timed, and
drivers get a one second penalty if the hit a cone.
The fastest time of the day wins, both by class and overall.
But do people who screech around bends in the safety of an empty parking lot
go out in the road and try the same stunts?
Au Contraire, autocross drivers insist.
who you see racing around on the street don't do this.
We have our own outlet," Ancas said.
Pointing to the autocross drivers, he said, "They have found a
healthy outlet for their aggressive driving tendencies, a socially acceptable
makes us better drivers," said Nick Garuccio, a 26 year old form Irwin
who drives a royal blue Miata. "It
teaches us how to handle a car."
from the overwhelmingly male crowd, this is definitely a guy sport.
But women such as Karen Rafferty, a 34 year old form Irwin, can't wait
to get behind the wheel and round the bends like a demon.
Rafferty, who drives a blue Corvette Grand Sport with a racy white
stripe is ranked nationally in women's events, placing second in some recent
competitions. In that Sunday's race, she clocked a time of 28.682, the
third fastest of all drivers, men and women.
Her husband, Kent had the fastest time 27.828.
Rafferty adores cars, working as the market area manager of General Motors
during the week and participating in local and out of state autocross races
during the weekends.
live it and breath it," she said. "This
is a way to work out the weeks frustrations.
I can't wait until Sunday so I can thrash my car around."
Brian Bender, a 32 year old software engineer from Greensburg, was beaming
after his first run in his Mustang. "I
get a rush. You get to flog the
car and they can't arrest you for it."
information on races sponsored by the North Hills and Steel Cities sports car
clubs, call 412-221-6692
From the Pittsburgh
Post Gazette May 10, 2000.