The MGA With An Attitude
Introduction to Competition - COMP-101

The first thing to be said about competition with your car is that there are lots of different kinds of competition. Most people who buy an MGA may think about making it run first so they can drive it. For a lot of people the next step is restoration work for long lasting preservation and to make it look nice. After spending 1000 hours on restoration work, when the thing is nearly finished and "looking good", you may become very conscious about parts originality and paint quality, because it might be made into a nice show car for not much extra cost. That's where Concours competition is found, making everything perfect like a work of art and having not much to do with driving (which is why the car was originally built). The idea that the car should run well enough to drive it onto the show field or into the exhibition hall is almost always enforced for Concours show, because if it can't be driven it is not perfectly original. I am not personally a Concours nut, but there is a Concours Tech section on this web site.

There are other kinds of car show competition. Many local car club Car Shows or Cruise Nights may have Exhibitors' Choice or Visitors' Choice voting. These are largely beauty contests where originality may assume a lesser role because people doing the judging may not know so much about originality. There are also Street Rod shows where it is common to make some radical departure from originality in the form of a big engine transplant, radical body work, lots of chrome trim, etc. Here the "illusion of power" or deferment to "work of art" may be more important than the actual substance. This too is largely a beauty contest, but the voters or judges might also know a little something about performance. If the car doesn't run you are likely to suffer loss of some style points, but that may slide by in some cases, especially if the people voting have not seen any of the cars being driven.

For driving competition there are not only lots of different kinds of car driving sports, but also multiple classes that may allow various levels of modification from original specification. Some sports like Road Rally or Autocross may require close adherence to original spec's or may have available various classes for upwardly modified cars. The same may be said for accessory equipment, either restricting the car to original equipment or allowing use of period accessories or other non-standard instrumentation or electronic dash instruments or computers. The key to success here is to READ THE RULE BOOK before you start modifying the car so you don't get disqualified or get tossed into a tougher competition class where you may not be competitive.

My favorite form of serious competitive driving is Autocross. SCCA (Sports Car Club of America) calls this Solo-II (a registered trade mark). This is never done on public roadways, but may be done in closed off parking lots or on airport runways or almost anywhere you can get approval to use a sizeable piece of pavement. On rare occasion it might even be done on ice or in the dirt (or mud). A lot of orange traffic cones are arranged to lay out a relatively tight course that may limit top speed to the 30 to 60 mph range (depending on space available). Cars run the course one at time with start and finish timers, and quickest time wins. There will be substantial penalty for off-course excursion or cones knocked down or out of place (commonly 2-sec for each displaced cone). Safety in course layout is paramount, but you may soon come to understand that pylons are designed to be run over by automobiles. There can be few or many different classes for cars with differing capability. The big thing here is that cars are fairly closely matched within a specific class so it is not a horsepower race but more a matter of skill and finesse. You can do this with any car, and stock configuration cars can be competitive in their respective class. This is a jolly good way scratch your competitive driving itch without spending a fortune on a specially prepared race car.

A faster version of such time trials is single car lap timing on a closed race course. SCCA calls this Solo-I. Due to higher speeds involved an open car will require a roll bar, and a few other safety issues may be required, but otherwise most stock form street cars will be allowed to participate.

Another fast speed time trial sport is Hill Climb. In early automotive history it could have been great competition just to demonstrate which car might actually make it up a steep hill (or not), and time the trip to the top for those that could make it. As cars evolved to be more powerful and roads came to be paved, first gravel then hard surfaces, the hill climb was commonly done on a fairly steep winding road. This has more the flavor of high speed autocross except that more power can be a big advantage. But a really big difference is that many hill climb routes may be bordered by some nasty fixed obstacles or bottomless drop-off on the sides of the roadway. For safety (and liability) reasons the availability of good hill climb sites has become more scarce in recent years.

A slower version of time trials is often called a Gymkhana (after one of the early promoters). This can be run on a tighter course (obstacle course) limiting speed to less than 30 mph (sometimes a lot less), possibly involving backing up or stopping to get out of the car for some gimmicky task on the side. With small space requirement and low speeds this can be a popular side event for a car show. Variations may include a passenger to handle some off-board tasks or even to serve as the ultimate navigator if the driver is blindfolded.

The most popular high speed competition for vintage cars may be Vintage Racing. Most of this will be closed course Road Racing where the cars are specially prepared, often stripped of any parts not necessary to make it go fast, devoid of much interior trim, top or lighting parts (except a brake light). Since the car may not be street legal you also incur the cost of a transport trailer and tow vehicle or flatbed truck, and of course it may take away the possibility of street touring.

There are a few (precious few) open road races still operating. These would be run on public roadways which would be closed to public access during competition. Some like Pro Rally may be run at night so full lighting equipment is required as well as a roll bar and maybe full windscreen and/or closed roof. Flat out racing on open roads is mostly gone now with most of the road driving competition being regulated by some form of timing control to effectively reduce the speed to something less than the ultimate maximum speed attainable. Exception is Grand Prix racing on closed city streets, but this has not much to do with our beloved little British cars.

When you have checkpoint timing in place you can have one of my favorite sports, Time-Speed-Distance Rally (TSD). Here you will have a clearly specified route and specified speed (that may change periodically), and you need to arrive at a checkpoint at the exact intended time, either early or late giving a penalty. When the specified speeds are well within normal public speed limits this sport can be run on unrestricted public roadways with entirely stock automobiles. It is most often done on lesser traveled side roads so that non-competition traffic will not interfere (hopefully) with your driving or operation of the checkpoints. The event host or Rallymaster may play a few tricks, like placing checkpoints in unexpected places. You might think of this as a parlor game played with automobiles.

Taking away most of the timers or time requirements, you can have what is often referred to as a Tour Rally or Gimmick Rally. The most common form of this would be to follow a specified route and find answers to questions related to things found along the route. The questions may be tricky or "gimmicky" to make it challenging and competitive. This lends itself better for use of slightly more congested roadways or excursions through towns or residential areas. Some slightly demented rallymaster might make the route tricky to follow, but in my opinion this serves no purpose other than to get people lost and discouraged and likely never to come back again. You might be given a crossword puzzle to post the answers, which is more of an aid to finding the correct answers as you know the length of a word or phrase and some of the letters where the answers cross. Keeping the route instructions clear and easy to follow puts emphasis on building challenge somewhere else, which is where creativity of the rallymaster may find no bounds.

The Scavenger Hunt is fairly common in road rally. This may or may not have a specified route (usually does), and you need to find specified "things" to win. You might be required to bring back some physical objects, or simply report the location where you found the specified object, or take a picture to prove you found it or were at the specified location. You might be given some pictures and need to identify the location of each "scene" when you find it. This is similar to the typical gimmick rally, except that pictures replace questions, and locations will be the answers. Fixed route and pictures in sequence would be easiest. Scrambling the sequence of the pictures somewhat can add to the challenge up to the point of being totally random where any object may be found anywhere along the rally route. For even greater challenge there may be no specified route, but the rally will be limited to some finite geographical area. This needs either a time allotment for finishing or a penalty for excess mileage.

One of my pet peeves is that many (or most) vintage car rallies may have an error in the route instructions that can play havoc with the results. One sure solution for this is to not specify any particular route. The simple form of this is to specify a number of checkpoints to be visited and shortest mileage to complete the rally wins. This is a popular form for endurance rally that may run for a few hours or up to 24 hours (sometimes up to 1000 miles) generally unattended by any controls. All you need is to prove you were at each checkpoint sometime during the allowed time, find the shortest route, and be ready to drive on any kind of road you happen to encounter. Shorter rally within a smaller geographic region (or in urban areas) may be able to keep more to paved roads. One caution here is to allow plenty of time for most cars to visit all of the checkpoints. If you have too many checkpoints and/or too little time for completion it can easily turn into an unlimited road race.

Radio buffs sometime run a Fox And Hounds rally. Here the "fox" gets a head start and drives around with a radio signal transmitter while trying to evade the hounds, and the "hounds" drive around with a radio signal directional finder attempting to track down and catch the fox.

A radio-free variation on Fox And Hounds rally has the fox periodically dropping a bit of white lime powder on the road surface to make an easily visible mark approaching a road intersection (a few hundred feet before), then making another mark on the road within a specified distance after the intersection (within one mile) and before the next intersection. The hounds (all other cars) then have to "sniff out" or guess or otherwise logically determine the direction taken by the fox and continue to follow the fox. At rally's end the car with least mileage wins. With a moderate size group of cars involved this can have some interesting strategy like cooperation among a small group of contestants, or attempted deception to get a competitor to go the wrong way. It can be another parlor game where cunning and deception may be part of the desired skill set. Use of cell phones or other inter-vehicle communication may not help when you cannot trust your cooperatives nearing the end of the rally.

On the other end of the scale, for a more pure Tour Rally with 100% luck (like a lottery) you might have a Poker Run. This would be a casual tour drive, usually with a specified route, often in form of a caravan (follow the leader). There will be at least four stopping points along the tour, whatever local landmarks the group might appreciate. I happen to like stopping at local "establishments" in small towns for a chance to chat with the locals, but stops at state parks or picnic grounds can do as well. At start and end of the rally and at each stop along the way participants each draw a card from a large deck of playing cards (or multiple decks). At end of rally the best poker hand wins. If there was an entry fee some or all of the entry money might be awarded as prize money. It's not much for competition but it can be a good motivation for a collective club tour, some socializing along the way, and maybe a dinner party at the end.

As time goes on I maybe be adding links in this article to additional pages that will expand on specific forms of automotive competition applicable to MGs, little British cars, or vintage cars in general.

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