Rallycross: Stage Rally Excitement Meets Autocross Accessibility

[Editor's note: This article first ran in 2009. While some information may be different today, the basics hold true.]

Story by Tom Heath • Photography as Credited

Where would we be without the efforts of heroic drivers? You know, like the Bandit or them Duke boys? Thanks to these guys—and a hefty sprinkling of Hollywood magic—a generation of Americans grew up on a steady diet of opposite-lock slides across a variety of surfaces. These sights and sounds were imprinted on our psyches as indelibly as rock ’n’ roll or Tang.

Considering this smoking-tire baptism, the skid-ridden sport of stage rally seems like a natural draw for the “Dukes of Hazzard” generation. As with most motorsport activities, rally action is at its peak when the cars are scrambling at or beyond their limits of traction. However, this corner of the hobby never achieved the immense popularity it did in Europe. In fact, up until a few years ago, American rally relied on a small but rabid following of fans.

These fans suffered through a series of tragic events that contributed to the SCCA’s decision to suspend their ProRally and ClubRally programs in 2005. Many fans feared the death of rally in North America altogether. 

Fortunately, Rally America and NASA RallySport have filled the stage rally void, giving fans and competitors a new home. Highly visible superstars found on YouTube plus showcase events like the X Games have given the sport a bright future—quite possibly the brightest it has been in decades. Scores of new fans are hungry to become the next Ken Block or Travis Pastrana.

While not out of reach, a stage rally effort is a serious commitment in both time and resources—even at the novice level. How can a rally fan with more passion than money get involved? For many enthusiasts, the answer is rallycross.

Slide It Sideways

Rallycross is a hybrid motorsport that combines the dirty thrills of stage rally with the logistics, affordability and basic format of autocross. Think of it as autocross on a slippery surface—dirt, gravel, snow or loose asphalt—and you’re on the right track.

Rallycross venues contain fewer environmental hazards, such as fences and light poles, than those used for autocross. That means rallycross courses can be longer—figure a norm of up to two minutes. This combination of low risk and big fun has attracted a variety of participants, from seasoned rally veterans to couch potatoes who have never done any performance driving. 

Unlike autocross, rallycross events are scored cumulatively, like stage rallies. At a given event, all of a rallycrosser’s runs count toward his total, final time. In other words, if a driver spins out or gets a time penalty for hitting a cone, the mistake can’t be wiped out with one clean, blazing-fast run.

Course conditions can also change dramatically during the day. A course that seems wide-open and fast in the morning might feel slow and technical by the afternoon as a result of to ruts forming in the corners.

Drivers Welcome

We’ve found that rallycross events are typically very low-key and friendly to beginners. In fact, Howard Duncan, the SCCA’s vice president of competition programs development, says, “My wife and I have been running various types of events for well over 30 years. Our SCCA RallyCross experiences over the last few years has reinvigorated our passion for motorsports through its mixture of positive attitudes, laid-back administration, simple rules, and the pure fun of driving.”

Sponsors are also catching on to the sport. DC Shoes was on hand at the SCCA RallyCross National Championships in 2008 bearing much-appreciated contingency prizes and giveaways for the drivers. As participation in this hybrid subgenre increases, corporate attention and support should follow, just as it did with drifting and other more extreme motorsports.

Whether the sport can support this rapid growth while retaining its just-for-fun attitude remains to be seen, but the SCCA’s RallyCross program has strong leadership and a bright future. The SCCA’s unparalleled network of volunteers makes the organization and promotion of rallycrossing much easier. Plus, a national sanctioning body can provide the credibility needed to convince land owners to allow strangers to drive as fast as they can across their property. 

We’ve also seen some great independent rallycross clubs pop up across the country, and most of these groups pretty much follow the SCCA’s rules. “A good, safe, close competition for little financial investment is what people want,” says Tampa Rally’s Jeff Lloyd. “We are here to deliver. Our events are often won by a fraction of a second over 10-plus minutes of driving, so the close competition is there.”

Easy to Understand

When it comes to car classification, most forms of motorsport—including road racing and autocross—can get downright complicated. Rallycross, on the other hand, features some pretty liberal rules in this area. The SCCA uses three major preparation levels—Stock, Prepared and Modified—that are only divided by driveline configuration: front-, rear- and all-wheel drive. Technically, the Modified category only features two classes, Modified Two Wheel Drive and Modified All Wheel Drive. 

As a result, hundreds of car models and possible setups are funneled into eight simple groups rather than dozens. Typical fields include just about everything, from rally-bred Subarus and Mitsubishis to dirt-cheap Neons and nearly new BMWs. 

Improved safety equipment is always a good idea no matter what the venue, but rallycross can be a bit riskier than autocross. Regular rallycrossers would be well advised to consider rollover protection and skidplates in addition to the mandatory helmet. Rallycross rules also insist that drivers have their windows up unless the car is equipped with arm restraints.

Looking Forward

Unlike some other forms of motorsport, rally has been on the upswing thanks to more events and new sites. Will we eventually see a thousand entrants at the RallyCross Nationals? Is the next Colin McRae already sliding around cones at your local event? Only time will tell.

But for those currently looking for some low-buck, budget-friendly thrills, rallycross is definitely worth a try.

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79rex
79rex Reader
2/11/20 8:45 a.m.

 

Just did my 1st event last weekend.  Awesome time.  I'll definitely be returning to other events

irish44j
irish44j MegaDork
2/11/20 9:09 a.m.

Just an update for you....Rally America ceased to exist a couple years ago, with pretty much all of the events it sanctioned taken over by ARA.

The primary rally organization in the US these days is ARA (American Rally Association), which is not related to RA.

SCCA, at least on paper, is also doing RallySprints (mostly at Team O'Neil up in New England), which are basically mini-stage rallies. 

Colin Wood
Colin Wood Associate Editor
2/11/20 10:02 a.m.

In reply to irish44j :

Thank you for that information. I know this ran in the June 2009 issue, so I'm not surprised that a lot has changed since then. smiley

irish44j
irish44j MegaDork
2/11/20 10:07 a.m.

The only way to "save rally" in the US is to re-invent it every few years, haha......it's, of course, the running joke and answer to every "new thing" that happens in the rally community.

"This rule will SAVE RALLY!" <with much sarcasm> laugh

_
_ Dork
2/11/20 10:51 a.m.

Best way to save Rally is to make it grassroots again. Rallycross sort of does that, but needs more venues, and again, less rules. 
if you make it a fun way for people to get together and have fun (Gambler, I'm looking at you) it will work. Keep the rules minimal and just for safety. 

The reason for this, I believe, is that you'll have Johnny Deeppockets show up with his modded to the moon wrx, and he wins, and he dominates. And maybe next year it's a different Johnny. But at the back of the pack, every race, there was this one guy that had a blast every time. He is the guy that tells his buddies "dude, it only costs this much to have the time of your life". And rally lives on by this dude. 

Benjamin_Casto
Benjamin_Casto New Reader
2/11/20 11:38 a.m.

I've wanted to participate for a while. Looks more fun than autocross because sideways. Problem is it would be hard to convince me that this doesn't trash your car to the point of needing a designated rallyX car........ Convince me otherwise, I'm listening. 

NoBrakesRacing
NoBrakesRacing Reader
2/11/20 12:06 p.m.
_ said
less rules. 

if you make it a fun way for people to get together and have fun (Gambler, I'm looking at you) it will work. Keep the rules minimal and just for safety. 

I've done two Gambler 500's events here in Texas (planning for two more this year), and have had a blast. 

It is as close to a rally as I will get. 

Trying to make all the waypoints makes it were you have to push the speed if conditions allow it.

There's one in the Hill Country and one in Big Bend this Spring. The BB one should feel like an expedition.

Doing them in my stock 99 xj with autozone shocks, brakes etc. Lifetime warranty rocks. 

_
_ Dork
2/11/20 1:51 p.m.

In reply to NoBrakesRacing :

If you really want a challenge, do it in an 80's Corolla, with stock wheels and tires. 

gearheadmb
gearheadmb SuperDork
2/11/20 2:10 p.m.
_ said:

Best way to save Rally is to make it grassroots again. Rallycross sort of does that, but needs more venues, and again, less rules. 
if you make it a fun way for people to get together and have fun (Gambler, I'm looking at you) it will work. Keep the rules minimal and just for safety. 

The reason for this, I believe, is that you'll have Johnny Deeppockets show up with his modded to the moon wrx, and he wins, and he dominates. And maybe next year it's a different Johnny. But at the back of the pack, every race, there was this one guy that had a blast every time. He is the guy that tells his buddies "dude, it only costs this much to have the time of your life". And rally lives on by this dude. 

I don't feel the rules are restrictive at all in rallyx. Maybe you end up in a higher class than you think you should be, but since it's not wheel to wheel racing it doesnt matter if you're there for the fun. A beater car is tons of fun, and a car can be capable of running at the front for not much money if the money is spent in the right places. Good tires, decent shocks, a limited slip, and 200 hp will definitely be capable of winning with a good driver. Driver skill is worth a LOT more than any car mods. 

dps214
dps214 Reader
2/11/20 2:51 p.m.
gearheadmb said:
_ said:

Best way to save Rally is to make it grassroots again. Rallycross sort of does that, but needs more venues, and again, less rules. 
if you make it a fun way for people to get together and have fun (Gambler, I'm looking at you) it will work. Keep the rules minimal and just for safety. 

The reason for this, I believe, is that you'll have Johnny Deeppockets show up with his modded to the moon wrx, and he wins, and he dominates. And maybe next year it's a different Johnny. But at the back of the pack, every race, there was this one guy that had a blast every time. He is the guy that tells his buddies "dude, it only costs this much to have the time of your life". And rally lives on by this dude. 

I don't feel the rules are restrictive at all in rallyx. Maybe you end up in a higher class than you think you should be, but since it's not wheel to wheel racing it doesnt matter if you're there for the fun. A beater car is tons of fun, and a car can be capable of running at the front for not much money if the money is spent in the right places. Good tires, decent shocks, a limited slip, and 200 hp will definitely be capable of winning with a good driver. Driver skill is worth a LOT more than any car mods. 

Yeah I'm really not sure the rules can be that much more open. Okay, Prepared is a little odd in the combination of things it does and doesn't allow. But realistically as long as it's not muddy pretty much any reasonable car on any reasonable snow tire can compete at any prep level if it's driven well. And considering there's maybe five cars nationwide even approaching the full allownaces of the Mod class rules, you can't really argue that there's any perception that you need an expensive build to have a chance which is one of the issues autocross tends to have. In my experience most local events are a group of people who want to meet up and BS about cars and stuff and then eventually slide their cars around in a field for a while...not really sure it gets much more grassroots than that without losing all semblance of organization or structure.

thatsnowinnebago
thatsnowinnebago UltraDork
2/11/20 3:21 p.m.

In reply to _ :

Corollas never die

Knurled.
Knurled. MegaDork
2/11/20 3:46 p.m.

In reply to dps214 :

Prepared is actually really simple:  The class spirit can be condensed down to "Bolt on mods only on a streetable car".  No removing of parts, no drivetrain mods except for bolt on plumbing parts (headers OK, intake setups OK, must retain stock turbo and intercooler).  Suspension wise, if you have to modify the chassis with welding or new holes you can't do it, unless it's a repair or adjustment procedure outlined in the factory service manual.

 

In that light, the "idea" of the rules is pretty simple, and they only look complex because they need to take out certain gray areas.

Sk1dmark
Sk1dmark New Reader
2/11/20 4:01 p.m.

The accessibility is the biggest problem for me. Being now in Northern NJ, the closest event to me (as far as I'm aware) is in Central PA 3-4 hours away. That isn't necessarily a problem as I'm motivated and intend to start rallycrossing as soon as I have a suitable car for it. But in college it was easy to grab some buddies and say "for $50 or $60 and a drive under an hour away you can race your car" and we did plenty. That put me up and down the state doing autocross which I loved, but it's a much harder sell on 3 hours+ of driving. 

_
_ Dork
2/11/20 4:08 p.m.
dps214 said:
gearheadmb said:
_ said:

Best way to save Rally is to make it grassroots again. Rallycross sort of does that, but needs more venues, and again, less rules. 
if you make it a fun way for people to get together and have fun (Gambler, I'm looking at you) it will work. Keep the rules minimal and just for safety. 

The reason for this, I believe, is that you'll have Johnny Deeppockets show up with his modded to the moon wrx, and he wins, and he dominates. And maybe next year it's a different Johnny. But at the back of the pack, every race, there was this one guy that had a blast every time. He is the guy that tells his buddies "dude, it only costs this much to have the time of your life". And rally lives on by this dude. 

I don't feel the rules are restrictive at all in rallyx. Maybe you end up in a higher class than you think you should be, but since it's not wheel to wheel racing it doesnt matter if you're there for the fun. A beater car is tons of fun, and a car can be capable of running at the front for not much money if the money is spent in the right places. Good tires, decent shocks, a limited slip, and 200 hp will definitely be capable of winning with a good driver. Driver skill is worth a LOT more than any car mods. 

Yeah I'm really not sure the rules can be that much more open. Okay, Prepared is a little odd in the combination of things it does and doesn't allow. But realistically as long as it's not muddy pretty much any reasonable car on any reasonable snow tire can compete at any prep level if it's driven well. And considering there's maybe five cars nationwide even approaching the full allownaces of the Mod class rules, you can't really argue that there's any perception that you need an expensive build to have a chance which is one of the issues autocross tends to have. In my experience most local events are a group of people who want to meet up and BS about cars and stuff and then eventually slide their cars around in a field for a while...not really sure it gets much more grassroots than that without losing all semblance of organization or structure.

Actually guys, while I mentioned rallycross, my finger pointing was at stage Rally. Rallycross, like I said, does a pretty good job of keeping things fun. 

Knurled.
Knurled. MegaDork
2/11/20 5:59 p.m.
Sk1dmark said:

The accessibility is the biggest problem for me. Being now in Northern NJ, the closest event to me (as far as I'm aware) is in Central PA 3-4 hours away. That isn't necessarily a problem as I'm motivated and intend to start rallycrossing as soon as I have a suitable car for it. But in college it was easy to grab some buddies and say "for $50 or $60 and a drive under an hour away you can race your car" and we did plenty. That put me up and down the state doing autocross which I loved, but it's a much harder sell on 3 hours+ of driving. 

Some people you will never make happy.  Back when centralohiosubarus was a thing, and we had an AWESOME site at National Trails Raceway on one of their GIGANTIC grass parking lots (GRASS. PARKING. LOT.  Say it with an offensively Eastern accent)  there was one member of COS who said he'd RallyCross if only it wasn't so far away. 

I said dude, WTF, National Trails is like two exits outside of the 270 ring around Columbus, it's a half hour drive for you, I'm driving in from Cleveland (160mi away) and there are people driving in from Fort Wayne and Lafayette, IN (lots more). 

We had someone drive in about 8 hours from the opposite end of Pennsylvania to SPECTATE.  We used to have a regular regional competitor from Wisconsin, which was like 12+ hours away, to boot.

westsidetalon
westsidetalon HalfDork
2/11/20 7:09 p.m.

In reply to Knurled. :

At the NeOhio event last year , the guy I worked a corner with had driven 3+ hrs from Stuebenville, got a motel room the night before, was non stop excited about the fact he was "rallying" and telling me no one back home was gonna believe him. I used to drive to Beaverun (2hrs from Cleveland) just for rallyx practice runs they used to have in the early days of PIR. Its diffucult to find places to hold these type of events, so they usually are in the middle of nowhere. I think I'm more of a 2 hour radius type of guy especially without a trailer. 

irish44j
irish44j MegaDork
2/11/20 7:19 p.m.
Knurled. said:
Sk1dmark said:

The accessibility is the biggest problem for me. Being now in Northern NJ, the closest event to me (as far as I'm aware) is in Central PA 3-4 hours away. That isn't necessarily a problem as I'm motivated and intend to start rallycrossing as soon as I have a suitable car for it. But in college it was easy to grab some buddies and say "for $50 or $60 and a drive under an hour away you can race your car" and we did plenty. That put me up and down the state doing autocross which I loved, but it's a much harder sell on 3 hours+ of driving. 

Some people you will never make happy.  Back when centralohiosubarus was a thing, and we had an AWESOME site at National Trails Raceway on one of their GIGANTIC grass parking lots (GRASS. PARKING. LOT.  Say it with an offensively Eastern accent)  there was one member of COS who said he'd RallyCross if only it wasn't so far away. 

I said dude, WTF, National Trails is like two exits outside of the 270 ring around Columbus, it's a half hour drive for you, I'm driving in from Cleveland (160mi away) and there are people driving in from Fort Wayne and Lafayette, IN (lots more). 

We had someone drive in about 8 hours from the opposite end of Pennsylvania to SPECTATE.  We used to have a regular regional competitor from Wisconsin, which was like 12+ hours away, to boot.

Hell, we even towed out there from DC once ;) I'd say almost everybody in the DC area is driving a couple hours or more to our events.

Knurled.
Knurled. MegaDork
2/11/20 7:25 p.m.

In reply to westsidetalon :

He tailgated me in as I flailed around Aurora trying to find the site, and paddocked next to me.  A thoroughly enthusiastic dude and full of cool airsoftin' stories.

 

Also a fellow fan of Life of Boris yes

 

NoBrakesRacing
NoBrakesRacing Reader
2/11/20 10:00 p.m.

In reply to _ :

I've owned this Cherokee for about 12 years, but I'm still hoping my neighbor sells me his early '90's manual Corolla to hoon with. 

I can see doing auto and rallycross with it.

Sk1dmark
Sk1dmark New Reader
2/12/20 6:56 a.m.
irish44j said:
Knurled. said:
Sk1dmark said:

The accessibility is the biggest problem for me. Being now in Northern NJ, the closest event to me (as far as I'm aware) is in Central PA 3-4 hours away. That isn't necessarily a problem as I'm motivated and intend to start rallycrossing as soon as I have a suitable car for it. But in college it was easy to grab some buddies and say "for $50 or $60 and a drive under an hour away you can race your car" and we did plenty. That put me up and down the state doing autocross which I loved, but it's a much harder sell on 3 hours+ of driving. 

Some people you will never make happy.  Back when centralohiosubarus was a thing, and we had an AWESOME site at National Trails Raceway on one of their GIGANTIC grass parking lots (GRASS. PARKING. LOT.  Say it with an offensively Eastern accent)  there was one member of COS who said he'd RallyCross if only it wasn't so far away. 

I said dude, WTF, National Trails is like two exits outside of the 270 ring around Columbus, it's a half hour drive for you, I'm driving in from Cleveland (160mi away) and there are people driving in from Fort Wayne and Lafayette, IN (lots more). 

We had someone drive in about 8 hours from the opposite end of Pennsylvania to SPECTATE.  We used to have a regular regional competitor from Wisconsin, which was like 12+ hours away, to boot.

Hell, we even towed out there from DC once ;) I'd say almost everybody in the DC area is driving a couple hours or more to our events.

I think that's one big differentiator for me personally. With my current situation I would likely be driving my SVT Focus, but I would have to drive it there, rallyx it, and then drive it back. Once I get out of free AAA range I start to get a little nervous at something that I can't imagine is terribly kind to everything in the car. But, you guys know far more than me, am I over-blowing the "dangers" of rallycross?

¯\_(ツ)_/¯
¯\_(ツ)_/¯ PowerDork
2/12/20 7:57 a.m.

In reply to Sk1dmark :

I drove several different cars to rallycross events for a few years in various states of craptitude- I drove home missing a couple of wheel studs once, and was stranded once and had to get a tow from a friend when the 1mz in my MR2 blew up (which probably would have happened at an autocross too).  Go for it, the worst that happens is you have a long day involving somebody else's trailer, and that's relatively unlikely.

maschinenbau
maschinenbau SuperDork
2/12/20 10:44 a.m.

I'm also a first-timer this year. I plan to drive to/from events about 1 hour away on ancient used snow tires with a couple backup street tires and a jack. I'm also a card-carrying AAA member angel

irish44j
irish44j MegaDork
2/12/20 11:28 a.m.
Sk1dmark said:
irish44j said:
Knurled. said:
Sk1dmark said:

The accessibility is the biggest problem for me. Being now in Northern NJ, the closest event to me (as far as I'm aware) is in Central PA 3-4 hours away. That isn't necessarily a problem as I'm motivated and intend to start rallycrossing as soon as I have a suitable car for it. But in college it was easy to grab some buddies and say "for $50 or $60 and a drive under an hour away you can race your car" and we did plenty. That put me up and down the state doing autocross which I loved, but it's a much harder sell on 3 hours+ of driving. 

Some people you will never make happy.  Back when centralohiosubarus was a thing, and we had an AWESOME site at National Trails Raceway on one of their GIGANTIC grass parking lots (GRASS. PARKING. LOT.  Say it with an offensively Eastern accent)  there was one member of COS who said he'd RallyCross if only it wasn't so far away. 

I said dude, WTF, National Trails is like two exits outside of the 270 ring around Columbus, it's a half hour drive for you, I'm driving in from Cleveland (160mi away) and there are people driving in from Fort Wayne and Lafayette, IN (lots more). 

We had someone drive in about 8 hours from the opposite end of Pennsylvania to SPECTATE.  We used to have a regular regional competitor from Wisconsin, which was like 12+ hours away, to boot.

Hell, we even towed out there from DC once ;) I'd say almost everybody in the DC area is driving a couple hours or more to our events.

I think that's one big differentiator for me personally. With my current situation I would likely be driving my SVT Focus, but I would have to drive it there, rallyx it, and then drive it back. Once I get out of free AAA range I start to get a little nervous at something that I can't imagine is terribly kind to everything in the car. But, you guys know far more than me, am I over-blowing the "dangers" of rallycross?

I mean, I only towed because as a stage rally car with race seats, it would be brutal to drive it 7 hours with no heat or AC too. Plus we were dual-driving and going for a 2-day divisional so it made sense to have the truck.

If it was more of a streetable car, I probably would have just driven it. Josh Sennett drove his turbo e30 from DC to the same event.

Sk1dmark
Sk1dmark New Reader
2/12/20 12:04 p.m.
irish44j said:
I mean, I only towed because as a stage rally car with race seats, it would be brutal to drive it 7 hours with no heat or AC too. Plus we were dual-driving and going for a 2-day divisional so it made sense to have the truck.
If it was more of a streetable car, I probably would have just driven it. Josh Sennett drove his turbo e30 from DC to the same event.

That's totally fair. Well I suppose the worst case scenario is similar enough to autocross. Still don't know how easy it'll be to convince my old college buddies but I'll definitely be going to get to brag to my roommate that I do more rally than him and his WRX! (although just helping at ESPR when he refused already put me ahead on that front.)

MrChaos
MrChaos SuperDork
2/12/20 1:08 p.m.

From what i have seen, most breakage comes from the fun runs when the event is over....

EvanB
EvanB MegaDork
2/12/20 1:14 p.m.

In reply to MrChaos :

All runs are fun. 

Knurled.
Knurled. MegaDork
2/12/20 2:54 p.m.

We don't do fun runs anymore because organizationally we're more on the ball than we used to be.

 

Also, with nobody to set up cones, it quickly devolves into something not very defined and that's not very fun.  And then there's nobody out there to pick up cones after it's all done.

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