Alberta’s fast and the furious
by Chris Hibbard
(originally published in the Lethbridge Sun Times, 20 August 2008)
Alberta’s Fast and the Furious
Very little in life compares with the adrenaline rush one feels when testing the upper limits of a high-performance automobile, pushing the accelerator to the floor while taking corners at speeds up to 100 kilometres per hour. One southern Alberta organization knows this and wants every car enthusiast in Lethbridge to feel it at least once without having to break any traffic laws on nearby highways.
The Calgary-based Southern Alberta Solosport Club, or SASC, is hoping to bring the uncommon events known as solosport competitions further into the spotlight. Divided into three categories — autoslalom, solosprint and an off-season autoslalom also known as “AutoX” — solosports all involve one driver challenging their own time.
In Lethbridge, the autoslalom events take place at the Exhibition grounds. The courses are designed with traffic cones, which drivers then negotiate one at a time, as fast as possible. If any cones are moved or knocked over, two-second time penalties are given. Competitors are allowed to walk the course first in order to analyze the corners and curves, but no one is able to drive the course until the timer has been activated. Each driver gets several attempts at the course, and their fastest time is recorded as their final score for the day’s event.
Dr. Jay Zelazo, president of SASC, described autoslalom as “a relatively low-speed event that is very technical. There’s no drifting and no showboating, but if you’re not driving your car at its most extreme limits, you’re probably going too slow. You typically only get a few runs to really get it right, and if you hit two or three pylons, the resulting penalties are likely gonna be the end of your run.”
Solosprint events, sometimes known as time trials, involve a road course of such length that races can be timed. Driven at faster speeds of up to 260 km/h, entrants can practically race all day attempting to beat their own record. In the end, it is only the day’s fastest lap that counts.
“AutoX” or autocross, is similar to autoslalom; the difference is in the terrain. AutoX races are held on softer, looser driving surface such as dirt or gravel. While sharing many of the same rules and formats with autoslalom, AutoX can be very challenging, especially if the weather turns foul.
“In the ’80s,” Zelazo said, “there were multiple autoslalom and solosport clubs throughout the province including one in Lethbridge. But there was a slow decline in participation and attendance during the next decade and the many smaller clubs all merged together into the three that exist today.” These are the SASC, the Calgary Sports Car Club and the Edmonton-based Alberta Solo Association.
The SASC is a non-profit society founded by a group of driving enthusiasts who shared a common passion for solosport events.
While the SASC is relatively new, its members and board of directors have all been competing in local, regional and national events for years. Competitors and racers in southern Alberta still wanted to compete and participate in events, but the events themselves had become rarer and rarer. Thus, the SASC formed to fill this void. On Aug. 10, Lethbridge’s Exhibition grounds were transformed into the setting for SASC’s fifth and potentially final autoslalom competition for this season. A huge concrete parking area was cleared for the event and dozens of drivers challenged each other’s times.
“The SASC was founded simply because we couldn’t find any venues to compete on outside of Calgary. So we just really wanted to expand the sport to the rest of southern Alberta: Lethbridge, Red Deer, Medicine Hat, and Drumheller. But at the same time we wanted to expose more people to it since outside of the big centres, autoslalom is rarely thought about, let alone engaged in by the general public,” said Zelazo, who resides in Calgary. To achieve these goals, SASC members seek out venues to hold solosport events, such as the Exhibition grounds.
“One of the biggest challenges is finding venues of adequate size that will permit them,” Zelazo said. “At one point, Red Deer had an excellent venue, but it was unfortunately lost due to noise complaints.” To this end, the SASC always follow strict sound and safety guidelines, Zelazo said, to such a degree that modifications may need to be made to the vehicles before they can race, such as turning the exhaust pipes to blow toward the ground rather than backward or upward.
As far as the safety element is concerned, Zelazo said autoslalom is “one of the safest forms of racing.” Every competitor must be wearing a helmet and safety belt when driving, and there are safety marshals on hand at the events just in case, but most importantly, Zelazo said, “the courses are all designed with no obstacles. On such a large open area, if you spin out, you won’t hit anything,”
While no more Lethbridge events are currently planned for the next few months, they easily could be if enough interest is shown by southern Alberta drivers. Interested drivers can enter any events in the province, provided their vehicles pass the required on-site safety and technical inspections.
Entrants can check the SASC website for calendar and event updates, membership purchases and pre-registration dates. Typical events cost $25 for SASC members, or $35 for non-members. On the day of the event, all an interested driver need do is show up before 9 a.m. and register to drive. No “fancy” racing car is required or is any special driver education, since you’re only competing against yourself.
Rod Brassard, the director, co-founder and secretary for the SASC, said this is a great way to test driving skills in a controlled arena rather than in an illegal street race, which can be dangerous. “Plus, it’s quite addictive once you’ve tried it. It definitely gets your adrenaline going, especially if the competition is close. Your heart just pounds with the rush.”
Find our more information about solosports and the Southern Alberta Solosports Club events, check out their calendar at http://www.sascsolo.ca.