Racing drives family bond

Autocross: A son renews his family's interest in the motor sport - sparking a way to keep them on track with each other.

Howard At Play

August 01, 2004|By Jeff Seidel | Jeff Seidel,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Many families find ways of forming tight bonds by getting together on a regular basis for meals, birthdays or holidays.

For three generations of Garfields, the notion of a family reunion has become something different - racing cars.

The family elders, Craig and Jane Garfield of Ellicott City, participated for three years, beginning in the late 1960s, in autocross, a relatively low-budget form of auto racing typically seen at off-hours on large parking areas.

Then, for 28 years, the Garfields did other things, including raising their two children and getting involved with them in hockey, swimming and tennis.

But in 1999, son Brian, who lives in Mount Airy, discovered autocross, seeing BMWs, Corvettes and Mazdas negotiating a course on a parking lot at Fort Meade, off Route 32.

"I was in the market for a car anyway and talked to several people," said Brian, 32. "I eventually bought a [Mazda] Miata, which would be good for autocross."

Before long, his interest in the sport got his parents involved again.

Brian's wife, Lisa, 31, began driving, too. And now, their two sons are also driving - go-karts for Julian, 6, and electric cars for Carson, 4.

"We have the whole family involved," said Jane Garfield, 54, who prefers her husband's everyday Audi S4 for competition, and in it frequently wins Ladies Class autocross races in the Mid-Atlantic, although Lisa beat her in a recent event. "It's really a family outing."

"It's all friendly," said Brian Garfield, a freelance television sound technician. "The biggest thing we've gotten out of this is family. It definitely got me back involved with my parents again."

Autocross means racing against the clock on a road course with twists and turns defined by pylons or traffic cones. Drivers, who must show skill in shifting gears, accelerating and braking while maneuvering the course, are penalized for knocking over pylons. The common distance is a half to 0.8-mile, with drivers typically needing 40 to 70 seconds to finish at speeds that can reach 50 or 60 mph. Drivers may make several runs during an event. Prizes range from cash to racing-related merchandise.

Any car can be entered, and cars compete against similar vehicles in power, design and other features. Some race everyday cars; others drive cars built or modified for racing. Sport utility vehicles and vans are not accepted.

Widely known sports models such as Chevrolet Corvettes and Camaros, Ford Mustangs, Nissan "Z" cars, Toyota Celicas, Subaru Imprezas, Porsches and BMWs are common at the starting line. But racing classes are dotted with Nissan Sentras, MINI Coopers, Acuras, Hondas and Volkswagens, and an occasional Ford Contour or Focus.

Craig and Jane Garfield got into autocrossing while living in a Philadelphia suburb in 1968. They competed in 20 to 25 races annually before stopping in 1971, when Jane was pregnant with Brian.

With their interest renewed, Craig Garfield, a manufacturer's representative who races a MINI Cooper, just as he did more than 30 years ago, has become the chairman of the Washington, D.C., Region Solo II of the Sports Car Club of America. In racing argot, "Solo II" means autocross.

Race days, usually Sundays, occur in this area about once a month from March through October. Craig Garfield heads a committee of 22 that conducts these events, Brian coordinates racing for novices and Jane looks after registrations and other business matters of events.

The Garfields and friends spend most of their autocross time on the parking lots at FedEx Field in Landover, where on race days there are morning and afternoon sessions, with go-karts occasionally running in the middle of the day.

The next Washington, D.C., Region Solo II championships are scheduled for 9 a.m. next Sunday at FedEx with at least 260 competitors. Racing in 38 classes will continue most of the day. National championships are run in Topeka, Kan., in mid-September with about 1,200 competitors.

Although autocross enthusiasts want more people involved in the sport, they're careful about how it is done. Brian Garfield, also a MINI Cooper racer, spends a lot of time teaching novices on the parking lot at Harry Grove Stadium in Frederick, where the Frederick Keys minor-league baseball team plays.

"You don't come in off the street and just do it," said his mother. "There're a few things you better know before you go out there."

Craig and Jane Garfield found they didn't have to worry about these things when starting up again in the sport after their 28-year absence.

"It didn't feel too much different," Jane said. "There were a lot more cars that went a lot faster. We kind of just slipped right in and felt comfortable."

"This is really a grass-roots sport," said her husband. "It's the most fun you can have in a car."

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