Written by Nigel Fenwick
This year, the New England Region will send more drivers to Solo Nationals in Lincoln NE, than any other region in the country! Yes that’s right, we’re sending more competitors than the local region in Nebraska. That’s one heck of an achievement for a region 1700 miles away from Lincoln. All this, despite it being almost impossible to register for a place at Nationals because of repeated server outages at Motorsportreg (I think we all overloaded the servers, not once but twice!).
Why do we have such an energized and competitive group of drivers here in New England? To get a clue I cornered the Autocross Chairman, Alex Jackson at a recent Autocross event. If you’ve been to an autocross event this year, you will know Alex as the guy who runs the driver’s meeting. He’s also the owner and driver of one very fun orange Exocet – basically a tube-frame chassis built around a Miata engine – a fun rocket with great tunes! (If you ask Alex nicely, he’ll give you a ride – hold on tight).
We all have an origin story – how we first got into this crazy fun sport – so I asked Alex about his:
“I was always into off-roading and driving big lifted trucks over things. At UMass, I ended up in charge of the Motorsport club and met lots of like-minded car guys. Derek White and I came to an event to check it out. That’s where Matt Mickle – ASP Subaru on slicks – took me for a run. Matt is a fantastic driver and by half way around the course I was hooked. Less than two weeks later I bought a rusted-out Miata from a co-worker. I spent another two weeks upgrading the suspension, and then I was ready to compete in STS.”
Like many of us, it didn’t take Alex long to decide he needed to upgrade his car. After his first year autocrossing, Alex decided one rusted out Miata wasn’t enough and so he bought a second one from another Autocrosser. “I put a better suspension in it and finally had a competitive STS car.” But Alex was only at the start of what look set to be a long journey – he’s still a young man. Just a couple of years later, Alex built himself an Exocet and then turned his spare Miata into a Rallycross car. Alex lives close to the airfield in Devens and his house has been given over to a variety of car projects. I expect we’ll see more projects coming from Alex’s garage.
I was curious as to how Alex learned to fix up cars. He tells me he learned the hard way, “I did my first timing belt seven times – six fails to get to success – all with a $20 craftsman toolset in the parking lot at college. It took about 3 weeks to get it running again but I got it done!”
Taking over as Solo Chair
Although Alex became Chairman of NER Autocross this year, he spent much of the 2018 season shadowing former Chair, Solo National Champion, and Evoschool instructor, Bob Davis. “I was given a very well-oiled machine by Bob; he put a lot of effort into getting SCCA NER Autocross to where it is today. At every autocross we track a number of key stats to make sure the day runs smoothly. Data like the average gap between starts is important in running an efficient event – we strive for an average of 26 seconds between starts. That average includes karts and any stoppages we have for timing issues or lightning. Bob did so much to make this run as smoothly as it does.”
Make it Fun
Alex is passionate about everyone having fun. “My number one priority at every event is to ensure everyone has fun, especially the novices turning up for their very first autocross event – we want them to come back with their friends at the next event. It can be intimidating turning up to an autocross event for the first time, so we try to make sure we have experienced people in key positions like grid. Grid may look easy, but there’s a lot going on between managing dual drivers and timing cars between re-runs and mechanical delays. Having people on grid who are friendly and calm is critical. These are the people who help novices figure out where to put their car, when to get ready to drive, and where to go to make their run. They are the last face they see before leaving for a run, so we want to make sure our grid team works harmoniously and helps remove the uncertainly for novices.”
“But we’re not only taking care of novices. I want to make sure our repeat drivers have a great time too. So we try to design great courses that give drivers of all abilities a chance to hone their skills and have fun. And for our most advanced drivers – that core who will make the trek to Lincoln – we want to prepare them as best we can. We want to give each driver competing in Nationals the best possible chance of winning their class – and having fun.”
I can see there’s a common theme running through Alex’s explanation – he’s the Captain Of Fun!
At the next event, say hi To Alex … and see if you can get a ride in his orange fun machine.
Before I pinned Alex down, we all did some driving, and the day went pretty smoothly across the board.
Thanks to Alex and everyone who volunteers for making every event #FunWithCars.