Saturday, November 18th, 2017

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Life in the Fast Lane: College Car Clubs

When Benton Hodges turned 16, his mother said he could have her old car if he could make it run. Hodges, a senior at Texas A&M University, bought a book about auto repair and has been passionate about cars ever since. When he was a freshman, he discovered there was a sports car club on campus and joined immediately so he could learn more about his new hobby. Now the president of the Texas A&M Sports Car Club, Hodges thinks he has gained valuable knowledge about cars and connected with other students who share his passion.

"Through the club you learn so much," he said. "My love and passion [for cars] has increased."

Many college students such as Hodges see cars as more than just modes of transportation. Collegiate car clubs exist throughout the country, from the University of Southern California’s Trojan Racing Club to the Syracuse University Racing Club, the Autoholics of Texas Sports Car Club, the Cambridge University Automobile Club and the Cornell University Automobile Enthusiasts Club. Texas A&M’s club has more than 200 members and is one of the largest in the nation. Hodges says the members do everything from on-campus car shows to road rallies to autocrosses and social mixers.

"The main purpose is for people to get together to talk about cars," Hodges said.

It is an enthusiasts club for anybody who likes automobiles and is interested in motor sports. Members don’t even have to own a car. Some members bring rental cars or their trucks. University of Texas junior Rolando Jaimes, president of the Autoholics of Texas Sports Car Club, said their only requirement for membership is the same – a passion for autos. Together, their club is fixing up an RX-7.

"We just took out the engine," Jaimes said. "We’re working on it together as a club and we’ll eventually take it to an autocross.

When the popular films "The Fast and the Furious" and "Gone in 60 Seconds" came out, many college-aged students began racing illegally on the streets. Hodges said that clubs such as Texas A&M’s have kept people from engaging in these dangerous activities. All motor sport activities require vehicle safety inspections and helmets.

"Our club provides a safe haven for legal and safe racing," he said.

Collegiate auto clubs are not unique to the United States. At Bristol University, in the United Kingdom, auto enthusiasts belong to the Bristol University Motor Club. Sophomore math major Simon Lytton feels that the backbone of their club is the running of 12-car road rallies where a twisty course through narrow country lanes must be completed at a set average speed.

"We also run auto tests, off-roading days and track days, and days out, for example to the London Motor Show," Lytton said. "We have a really eclectic mixture of cars, ranging from old-style Mini Coopers to one member who drives a brand new BMW. Most people’s cars, however, are cheap, small-engine European hatches."

Texas A&M’s largest club events are autocrosses. Autocrosses consist of small road course series that simulate street circumstances. Grouped by car type, they are timed races through cones. Minutes are added to racers times for every cone they knock over while maneuvering through the course.

"We have one of the top autocross sites in the country," Hodges said.

Texas A&M holds autocrosses about once a month, according to the club. The races are free to watch and cost $10 for club members, alumni and University of Texas and Baylor University students. Jaimes said the Autoholics of Texas attends the autocross at Texas A&M as well as ones in San Antonio and Seguin, Texas.

Other popular events are called "road rallies." On city streets, students compete to see who can get to a certain place the fastest, while maneuvering around the natural traffic.

"We do not condone speeding activity," Hodges said. "And there is no history of incidents of wrecks with any of the club’s races.

Pranav Patel, the autocross chair at Texas A&M, explained that some of the members’ driving skills become so advanced through the club that they enter themselves into the Autocross National Competition in Topeka, Kansas.

Forming a sports car club on your campus is not hard. The Texas A&M Sports Car club was established in 1968 when a group of students passionate about their cars got together and decided to organize one. One of the original members still comes back and races, Hodges said. He believes that the best way to form a similar club at your college or university is to contact an already established club and get ideas about activities, costs and recruiting.

An important part of starting a club is establishing a group of committed leaders and then recruiting devoted members. The Autoholics of Texas had trouble starting up two years ago because the officers didn’t make time for the club.

"You have to work at it and make sure you have dedication," Jaimes said.

A great way to recruit members when you are getting started is to hold car shows on campus.

"Car shows are our biggest recruitment tools because people come up to us and start talking about cars," Hodges said.

Lytton said the Bristol Club attracts most of their members through word of mouth.

"People hear about the great time their friend is having in the Motor Club and they want in," he said. "We’re all just students with petrol in our veins."

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