Autocross History | SCCA Solo
One of our favorite automotive events lands right on our doorstep every year. The SCCA Solo National Championships are held every September at Lincoln Airpark. It’s an amazing spectacle to see hundreds of the top autocrossers from all over the world racing, camping, and otherwise invading the “concrete beach.” But this year, we’re wondering, “How did we get here?” To find out, we talked to some folks at SCCA to learn more about the history of Solo and the Nationals.
Let’s go all the way back to the beginning. In 1944, a small group of sports car enthusiasts met in Boston to form a club to celebrate their love for their cars. They called it the Sports Car Club of America. After a slow start due to WWII, the SCCA got serious about racing and began staging events at legendary tracks like Watkins Glen and Elkhart Lake. The SCCA would go on to become the largest amateur motorsports club in the United States. There’s a long and rich history here that involves some of the most famous drivers in the history of motorsports, but we’re here to talk about a specific piece of that history, autocross.
A couple years before that first meeting of SCCA members, construction began here in Lincoln on the Lincoln Army Airfield. The base provided training for aircraft mechanics and Army aviation cadets. It also served as an overseas deployment staging area for bombers and fighter squadrons. As you might imagine, this required quite a spectacular chunk of concrete.
In 1952 the Strategic Air Command moved in and the field became Lincoln Air Force Base. Incidentally, the service members stationed here became some of “Speedy” Bill Smith’s earliest and most loyal customers at his little fledgling speed shop called Speedway Motors. (You can hear Bill’s sons talk about this in our What Moves You podcast.)
As bombers and refueling squadrons were making their home at in Lincoln, something else was happening across the country. Little events called “gymkhanas” were popping up among sports car enthusiasts. Some were even sanctioned by the SCCA. In these events, drivers would pilot their cars around an impromptu racecourse set up with cones. The track could be changed every weekend and made for fun, casual, exciting racing. By the early 70’s, the SCCA gave this type of racing a name - Solo. In ’73 they held their first championship in Wentzville, MO. According to SCCA’s Howard Duncan, “The Solo series began to grow quickly because of the halo effect of having a national championship.” Howard recently retired from a 30-year stint with the SCCA, much of which was spent as director of the Solo program. He was largely responsible for the evolution of the program and its eventual move to Lincoln.
In the early days, the Nationals would rotate around the country and were largely put on by regional organizations with little oversight from the national club. In 1983, the Solo Nationals found a home in Salina, Kansas. During the next decade or so in Salina, the event grew beyond what the regional clubs could handle and the national SCCA office began to have a greater role. As the event continued to gain traction, Howard says they started to outgrow the venue and eventually had to quit promoting the event. This all changed in 1995 with a move to Forbes Field in Topeka. Once again able to push for bigger and better, the event grew to a thousand entries by the early 2000’s.
By 2005, the WWII-era concrete pad in Topeka began to have issues. Remember that Air Force Base in Lincoln? SCCA members from the Lincoln and Omaha area were familiar with the huge expanse of concrete and knew that it was aging far better than the crumbling surface in Topeka. Howard Duncan and others from the SCCA made the trip to Lincoln the meet with the Airport Authority, the Lincoln Chamber of Commerce, and to see the facility. They were met with open arms and when they first wandered out onto the concrete, Howard says, “We found Solo nirvana.” Not only was the surface nearly perfect, it was also enormous.
In 2009, the first Solo Nationals were held in Lincoln, and it’s been like a second home to SCCA Solo drivers and their families ever since. According to Howard, “For most folks, this is one of their vacations every year.” There are families in the pits. Everyone seems to get along and there’s much cooking and camaraderie. Yes, these folks are serious competitors, but they’re also friends who are thrilled to see each other back in Lincoln every year.
For our part, we love seeing the Lincoln streets flooded with Miatas and Supras wearing racing stickers and wheels covered in brake dust. Out on the “concrete beach,” as it’s called, there is a huge variety of cars running. There’s a class for everything from hopped-up Porsches and Corvettes to shifter karts and muscle cars. Speedway Motors has even participated a few times, and once Robby Unser even won the CAM class (Classic American Muscle) in on of our G-Comp equipped Camaros.
We love this event, and we’re thrilled that the SCCA keeps coming back to our hometown. To learn more about Solo, check out the SCCA site. It’s a great group of people and a fun way to get involved in racing.
To see more of what goes on at the Nationals, check out our video taken at last year’s event: