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Coliseum racers

The Sports Car Club of American autocross, Sunday at the Coliseum.

Samuel Hoffman | The Journal Gazette
Drivers are positioned at the start line Sunday at the Sports Car Club of America autocross. About 60 drivers hit the course in the Coliseum parking lot.

Slip-sliding a way to better driving skills

Fasten your seat belt, and put on your helmet.

“You might want hold the handle on the door with your left hand, too,” said Steve Mieritz of Fort Wayne, who sits behind the wheel.

He revs the engine, puts the car in drive and steps on the gas.

Your stomach lifts to your chest. You see the orange cones coming. You’re going to hit them.

Suddenly, the car hangs left. Then right. Then left again, weaving in and out of cones in the Coliseum parking lot.

It’s the Fort Wayne Region Sports Car Club of America autocross, a chance for thrill seekers and safety-first families alike to participate in a speed driving competition Mieritz calls car gymnastics.

Even in Sunday’s rain, vehicles of all shapes, sizes and makes waited their turn to race the quarter-mile cone track with more turns than a Formula One course.

“It’s very challenging,” Mieritz said. “It gives you a feel of going really fast when you’re not.”

Mieritz, regional executive for Fort Wayne Region SCCA, said the goal of autocross is to help drivers establish car control for daily driving, so cars wind around the course one at a time, and they cannot exceed highway speed, which is 70 mph in Indiana, or leave second gear.

Mieritz has been racing with autocross for more than 20 years, and every event, the course changes.

He said they usually line the track with flour so drivers can see it easily, but on Sunday, the rain would have washed it away.

“The rain is a great equivocator,” Mieritz said. “It’s a great training ground for people who are new to this.”

He explained that they have an index to compare different times on different cars, so the drivers can evaluate their skill independent of the type of car they can afford.

Some vehicles are stock, or factory – cars like you might see on the road, Mieritz said.

Others are highly-modified cars built from scratch.

Racers can start as young as 8-years-old driving go carts, Mieritz said.

Corey Henkle of Fort Wayne, assistant regional director for the SCCA, said they have about 135 members, ages 15 to the upper 70s. But only about 60 vehicles were racing Sunday.

“That’s small,” Henkle said. “We usually have about 100.”

He’s raced in about 100 autocrosses himself, and he said it’s helped him establish basic car control skills so he can branch out into more risky road racing.

Mieritz, who is also a novice chief for the Evolution Performance Driving School, said basic car control skills can also help drivers avoid accidents.

“It makes you safer on the street,” Mieritz said. “When you know what your car can do, you can avoid what you usually couldn’t.”

Some local parents even sign up their kids for autocross to help them drive better by learning how their car handles sharp turns and obstacles.

Rhonda Fehring, of Churubusco, began racing in autocross with her husband when he worked at General Electric in Ohio. Now the couple and their three children all take turns racing three family cars at autocross events.

“We told them they had to do it when they first started driving so they could learn how their cars perform,” Fehring said. “If you learn how to steer out of a slide safely, it becomes first instinct, and it’s going to help you down the road.”

Now Fehring and her daughter Rachel, 19, are two of about five women in the Fort Wayne Region SCCA.

Fehring remembers hearing about teens from Churubusco who died by overcorrecting their cars, and she hopes when her children are the same situations, they will know what to do.

“The biggest thing I’ve learned at autocross is how not to overcorrect,” Rachel said. “If my car starts to slip, I know how much to turn my wheel so I can get it going the right way. Plus, this is fun.”

khackett@jg.net

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