To start I’ll point to to the ever-helpful Urban Dictionary’s definition of Autocross, just so we know from the gate what we’re dealing with: Autocross is “an efficient and highly addictive legal function used for (1) drastically reducing the tread life of a set of tires, (2) mercilessly destroying orange cones and (3) ruining a vehicle's alignment.”
...so there’s that.
In reality autocross, also known as Solo II racing, is a series of driving skill contests that emphasize the driver's ability and the car's handling characteristics. This is accomplished by driving a course that is designated by traffic cones on a low hazard location, such as a parking lot or inactive airstrip.
---Basically, Autocross is an inexpensive, safe way to experience car racing for everyone.
So now that we know that, we’re ready to move into the fast paced world of Autocross! You’ve got your car, and you’ve made your way to a local track. What do you need to know? Here’s some necessary info:
You’ll be driving along a set course made of orange safety cones, as fast as possible while still being safe. These cones form the gate you must drive between to stay on course. A series of gates makes up the layout of the course. Miss one, and you have a Course Deviation. Marker cones will often point towards the gates to help you out.
A Course Deviation occurs when missing a gate or taking a wrong turn on the course. A course deviation, or "CD", will cost you twenty seconds in some regions and a flat DNF in others. A Marker, as mentioned before is a cone or series of cones lying down. They’ll be set up to point at the specific cone that you have to go around. If you happen to hit a marker cone when you plow through a gate, it won't count against you!
DNF (Did Not Finish) is a big bummer. You will not get a score for a DNF. Either you had to get pushed/towed off the course, or you missed at least two gates.
Fairly simple so far right? Drive along the path formed through gates, markers will help guide your way, make sure not to miss or else you’ll get a course deviation, which could lead to a DNF and disqualification!
If this all sounds stressful, no worries. Generally people at autocross events are friendly and are more than willing to help out newbies. There usually isn’t any charge for spectators, so feel free to scope it out before participating.