Family Car: Dave and Karen Leisinger's 1970 Camaro
Choosing a new family vehicle is an exercise in compromise for most car guys. The list of must-haves handed down from the front office often includes heated leather seats, satellite radio, and A/C.
When it’s all said and done, you might get a little horsepower and some sweet alloys thrown in.
Back in 2007 Dave and Karen witnessed their first Goodguys autocross competition. "I was hooked," explains Dave. "I'm not the type of guy that likes to sit around, so autocross racing is a perfect fit for me and my family." It's easy to see the attraction-autocross gives hot rod enthusiasts a whole new way to participate in their hobby.
When Dave and Karen Leisinger drew up the wish list for their new family ride, they tossed the standard creature comforts out of the window-heck, they even jettisoned the windows and the back seat, too! "The car has to be as light as possible, and still hold together," says Dave with a smile. That's because this is no ordinary grocery getter. This 1970 Camaro is called Crusher and it has one serious aspiration-to reign supreme on the autocross course at just about every Goodguys Rod & Custom Association show in the country.
Autocross is a solo competition that emphasizes handling characteristics and driver skill rather than all-out top speed. The driver navigates a closed course outlined with traffic cones, in the shortest time possible. A time penalty is assessed for each cone hit during the run. Cars are classified by level of performance and modification-from stock to fully prepared race cars. Scroll down to learn more about autocross racing.
Years ago, Dave honed his hot rod skills at the dragstrip and then moved on to truck pulling. Now he spends his weekends as the Crusher's crew chief while his talented quartet of drivers (Karen, sons Josh and Jared, and family friend Roger Burman) tear up the autocross course. "Cars are meant to be driven and racing brings our family together. We travel together, we work on the car together, and I always know where my boys are," says Dave with pride.
And what a car Crusher is. Built by DK Camaros and Lakeside Rods & Rides to deliver blistering performance on the track, the thoroughbred racer has a lightweight fiberglass and steel body, track-hugging Ridetech coil-over/Detroit Speed 4-link suspension setup, full roll cage, a 780 hp Warren Johnson LS engine, and more than one go-fast trick up its sleeve. Click on the slide show link above for an in-depth look at the Crusher's speed secrets.
Just about the only thing that can out-pace the Crusher is the phenomenal growth of the Goodguys autocross program. It's easy to see why. For spectators, autocross competition is a party for the senses, serving up custom vehicles, earthshaking sound, and the aroma of spent fuel, burning rubber, and hot brake lining. For competitors, it's a chance for driver and machine to come together in pursuit of that ultimate run.
"It's addicting. Once you try it, you'll come back for more, and you'll want to go faster and faster," says Dave. He offers this pro tip for those ready to make their first run: "Cut the fat and make your car as light as you can." That means the junk in your trunk-cleaning and detailing supplies, tools, spare tire, and camp chairs-should be left in your pit space.
"Brake with your left foot. You'll also want to adjust your driving position so you'll get a clear view of the cones," says Karen. "On my first run, I held my head out of the window just so I could see better," she adds with a big laugh. Eldest son Josh and younger brother Jared (who ran his first autocross at age 14) are both fans of maximizing seat time. "The more you drive, the faster you'll get," says Josh. "You'll start to feel more connected to your car. I can even feel it when I hit a cone," chimes in Jared.
As your on-track skills improve, you'll no doubt demand more from your ride. There are plenty of simple, bolt-on mods you can perform to improve traction and handling, key ingredients to reducing run times. Look around the pits and you'll see cars equipped with large, aftermarket brakes and racing-compound pads. Plus, suspension upgrades like adjustable coil-over shocks, tubular control arms, and larger sway bars, will keep your ride planted in those tight, hairpin corners.
Make sure you check out the action on the autocross course next time you're at a Goodguys show. You won't be disappointed. For an even closer look, ask one of the competitors if you can ride along. They love the company and you'll get an experience you won't soon forget. Better yet, register your own hot rod and test your skill between the orange cones. It's a good bet you'll become a hard-core autocross enthusiast just like the Leisingers.
The Crusher is an exceptional family car and the Leisingers are one exceptional family. They spend their weekends together turning wrenches in the pits and turning in hot lap times on the autocross course. Who could argue with family values like these? Not us, not by a long shot!
The Goodguys Rod & Custom Association Autocross
"It's all about cars in motion. We added autocross competition to select car shows eight years ago and the program has been growing ever since," says Goodguys Rod & Custom Association spokesperson Ed Capen. "Autocross makes a solid connection between the way custom cars look and how they perform. It also brings an exciting, interactive experience to our shows that our fans really appreciate," adds Ed.
Competition is open to registered Goodguys car show participants. Cars are divided into the following classes:
• Street Machine, 1955-72 production cars • Hot Rods, 1954 and older • Trucks, 1972 and older • Pro, sponsored vehicles
After winning an event, participants move up to the Pro class. Vehicles produced after 1972 can compete in the All American Sunday Late Model class held at National Goodguys events.
"We've done our best to make the sport easy to understand for spectators and competitors alike. The course is outlined with painted white lines so it's almost impossible to get lost," explains Ed. That makes autocross a must-try event for Goodguys participants. It's a fantastic way to find out what you and your car can do on the track. Contact the Goodguys Rod & Custom Association for more information.
The Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) Solo® autocross events are conducted throughout the country and are open to most street vehicles and many purpose-built race cars. Vehicles with a high center of gravity, like SUVs, are excluded. SCCA autocross events are often held on large parking lots and can have higher top speeds. A certified helmet is required. Contact the Sports Car Club of America to learn more.
Photography By: Goodguys Rod & Custom Association
Art Direction By: Aaron Gray
Story By: James Millar
Body: 1970 Camaro, fiberglass front clip, doors, and trunk lid, Lexan windshield and rear window, PPG Flat Silver paint with Charcoal highlights, graphics by Eric Brockmeyer Design
Chassis: Custom 2" x 4" tube frame, Detroit Speed hydroformed front subframe and suspension package, Strange Engineering axles, Detroit Speed rear stabilizer bar, Ridetech adjustable coilover shocks, Baer Disc brakes
Wheels and Tires: Boze Alloys Mesh 18"x 12" aluminum wheels and Falken Azenis RT-615K 315/30R-18 tires
Transmission: Gearstar TH-400 transmission, Gear Vendor supplemental gearbox, B&M Bandit shifter
Special Thanks To: Warren Johnson Racing and Lakeside Rods & Rides