Five Good Minutes With Heyward Wagner And The SCCA About Their Latest Idea—Time Trials Nationals

Five Good Minutes With Heyward Wagner And The SCCA About Their Latest Idea—Time Trials Nationals

The Sports Car Club of America has been around since 1944, sponsoring amateur and professional racing in several diverse formats for thousands of racers during its existence. However, despite its long and storied history, the SCCA has another nickname—the Secret Car Club of America. The club hasn’t always done the best job of promoting itself and growing its membership over the years, resulting in an inevitable graying of the club’s membership.

As other motorsports organizations came into being in the last ten to fifteen years (24 Hours of Lemons, ChumpCar, American Endurance Racing, GoodGuys), the SCCA suddenly faced a significant amount of disruptive competition for new customers. In response, they hired Heyward Wagner (the man holding the Benjamin in the above photo with me and Friend of RG, Rebecca Turrell—sorry for that pic, Heyward) to be the Director of Experiential Programs—in other words, his job was to think up new events to attract and retain new members.

Among Wagner’s ideas is the wildly successful Track Night in America, now in its fourth season of existence, and Targa, a sort of mini One Lap that encompassed multiple motorsports disciplines (autocross, time trial, road rally, and trackcross) into one competition. And now, the SCCA is preparing to launch its latest venture, Time Trials Nationals, this September. Time Trials Nationals will take place at NCM Motorsports Park in Bowling Green, KY, and will consist of both a flag-to-flag timed session and a TrackCross, which is a point-to-point autocross-style time trial that involves only a certain section of the track.

I sat down with Wagner this week to talk about what it will look like.

Bark—So how did Time Trials Nationals come to be?

Heyward Wagner—The SCCA has been doing something that looks like Time Trials since the Sixties, so it’s not really new, per se. But there were a couple of things that were driving urgency for us to create this kinds of program.

One, not a lot of our regions in the autocross community have tremendous site security (autocross clubs need to have large, relatively open and flat surfaces to hold events, and these are difficult to find and keep—Bark). 75% of the club’s participation comes from autocross, so we need to continue to be able to something that is “one at a time against the clock” type of environment, and we don’t have that right now. We beta tested that sort of environment on track during Targa the last couple of years, and it was definitely smile-inducing.

Secondly, we have roughly 6500-7000 people who are participating in a non-competitive environment that’s accessible right now, and that’s Track Night. Some of them would like the opportunity to do something similar, but in a competitive environment.

B—So I guess what you’re saying is that you want some way to stairstep those Track Night customers into something more? Keep them engaged with the SCCA as opposed to just doing HPDEs?

HW—It’s not laser focused on that population. It’s more for people who haven’t found their home in motorsports yet. Maybe they don’t love autocross or HPDE, and road racing isn’t as accessible as they’d like. We want those people to have a home.

So we had to create a “north star” for the program, a defining philosophy. For autocross, for example, the north star is Community, Camaraderie, and Competition. For Time Trials Nationals, it’s a few things. The first is the quest for speed. We’re not interested in creating spec classes, indexing, or balance of performance. We want people to be able to achieve the highest level of performance possible.

Secondly, there’s improving the personal quest. It’s like a marathon runner—sure, some people are there to win, but most people are there to improve their personal best. It sort of sets aside “fair vs. unfair” and allows people to focus on personal goals.

Finally, there’s a team element—sort of an “us against the track” mentality. You might not win your class, but you might be present for a new track record, and that’s just as significant and cool for a lot of people.

The ultimate litmus test was “Could a local region replicate this?” It isn’t about just building a flagship program at the national level, it’s to help build our club at the grassroots level, too.

B—The SCCA has a reputation for being really “rules intensive,” for lack of a better term. How are you going to keep the rules simple?

HW—Most of these new organizations that have sprung up are starting off by defining themselves as not being the SCCA. Then after they establish that, they start to define who they are. We don’t need to do that. We’re proud of our 74-year heritage, and we have the benefit of capitalizing on the successes we’ve had as well as learning from the mistakes we’ve made.

For example, all organizations have looked at a thing like shocks and tried to limit number or adjustments, or materials, or threaded, and then the high end companies try to beat that rule. There’s no such thing as a $3000 single adjustable, steel-bodied shock—not now anyway. But the minute that we define that as a rule, some company will make one.

So we’ve decided to write rules for our entry-level classes based not on construction, but on availability. We’ve partnered with Tire Rack, and in order for somebody to use a shock or a part, it has to be available through Tire Rack. For example, the shock rule for TT will be steel-body, single-adjustable, and available through Tire Rack.

B—Are you forcing people to buy from Tire Rack, then?

HW—Not at all. It just has to be available from Tire Rack, but they can buy it from wherever they want. This just keeps us from having to define “off the shelf”—we’ve defined the shelf, instead.  And, if your vehicle isn’t supported by Tire Rack brands, or if you have already purchased something else, you can apply to have a product on the inclusion list.  We will publish that list so folks know exactly what offerings they are allowed.  But the guiding light here will be, is this product consistent with what the Tire Rack carries for street/sport applications.

B—So how are you going to put the cars into classes?

HW—It’s a bespoke classing structure for Time Trial. There will be a total of 17 different classes. There are going to be six classes that will be very entry level. You can take some bolt-on parts and put them on with tools that are available from Home Depot. We’ll probably call that something like “street” or “sport.”

The next step up will be something that more closely aligns with autocross Street Touring classes or IT classes. Still 200 treadwear tires, but a little bit more preparation will be allowed.

Then you’ll have two more categories that are above the belt line. One will be a race class, more like a Prepared autocross class, and then one will be pretty much unlimited. However, we still want these cars to be street car based—we won’t be classing formula cars for Time Trials Nationals.

We’ll also be maintaining a durable record book, which will start with all road racing and autocross classes listed, which ties it to both disciplines. There will be a lot of different categories. We could even partner with sponsors to offer records in all sorts of categories—maybe it’s the fastest LS or K-series motor. We can have records for the fastest member who joined the SCCA in the Sixties or Seventies, or maybe who joined in the last six months. There could even be a record for somebody who sets the most records in one lap. And we’re fine with all of that.

B—How are you handling the safety element?

HW—Right now, SCCA Time Trial rules allow people to participate with street cars—no rollbars, no five-point harness, and no fire suppression. We find that a lot of people don’t want to add these safety components to their cars for two reasons: cost and weight. So we’re looking at ways to incentivize people for adding these safety components to their cars, because we want to make things as safe as possible for participants.

B—How many participants are you going to have at the first nationals? Are you going to cap the event?

HW—Yes. We’re going to cap it at 225 participants, and the registration fee will be $325. Registration will be open April 1st. Based on everything we’ve heard, we expect it to sell out very quickly. Part of what helps is that we are doing this event in partnership with NCM Motorsports park and Mobil 1, which keeps the cost low—it’s essentially $100 a day.

B—What’s that look like?

HW—Friday morning, we’ll have two 20-minute practice sessions, and then we’ll have a trackcross in the afternoon. Anybody who completes that without incident will be granted a novice license, and that will allow them to participate in the time trials and trackcrosses on Saturday and Sunday. So it’s a three-day event with a ton of track time and lots of different configurations.

You can absolutely guaranteed that I will be among those signing up on April 1st, whether it’s in my Focus RS or something borrowed. I hope that if you’re within shouting distance of Kentucky that I’ll see you there, too.



    1. I don’t think it’s pilot. I think it’s pretty much a baked event.

      Where the pilot-ish nature of it might come into play is that they’re looking to create a model that local regions could duplicate, so I’m sure parts of it will change.

  1. I’m quite interested in running one of these events, but it should be interesting to see how long we’re allowed to run 750 HP cars with no additional safety equipment against a clock.

  2. Here’s what the SCCA should do to make actual autocross more appealing.

    Charge more for autocross and use the extra money to hire dedicated people to shag cones and run the clock.

    If someone else was paid to do this work everyone could get more runs in and not have to bake in the sun.

    1. I support this idea. Despite my lack of skills and appropriate equipment, I do enjoy autocross – but screw the idea of spending an entire day just to get four minutes of seat time. While open track days don’t stoke my competitive urges, the ratio of seat time to total time spend away from my adult responsibilities is approximately 30x better. Hopefully, the time trial format is such that it addresses this issue.

      The safety thing still makes me nervous, though.

    2. Duong, while I do agree with your idea on “shag cones and run the clock” how exactly will paying someone to work give everyone more runs? It just means that now when you’re class/heat is not running instead of working you will be sitting around doing nothing.

  3. So it’s basically the old Solo 1 format plus a “track cross” portion? Sounds interesting. Can you sign up same-day as you can with an autocross?

  4. “..The club hasn’t always done the best job of promoting itself.”

    No doubt. Or knew how. A couple of years ago I was as at a track day and SCCA had hired a guy to get video of cars, interviews of drivers, etc. and put together a promo piece. Last I’ve heard SCCA still hasn’t done anything with the content.

    Bark – Flat billed cap and jorts; you sure you’re Jack’s brother? 😉

  5. Another way Chump, LeMons, etc. ate into SCCA, at least in my region, was by due to SCCA’s snobbish practices. And SCCA deserved the losses.

    When you bitch at guys in tech for not having perfect paint, or one wheel a little bit different color (because you were loaned one last minute), or drivers come over to your garage to bitch because you’re taking “unconventional lines,” it eventually becomes no fun.

    1. “When you bitch at guys in tech for not having perfect paint, or one wheel a little bit different color (because you were loaned one last minute), or drivers come over to your garage to bitch because you’re taking “unconventional lines,” it eventually becomes no fun.”

      That last bit could plausibly be a rational complaint depending on just how unconventional, but janky paint or mismatched wheel coloration? Are you fucking serious?

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