It was no strange coincidence that Rob and Trish Byrd of Racing Byrds were coordinating the Hotchkis Autocross event at the Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California, on March 29-30, 2014. This was at the same time that NMCA West was holding its first event of the year after a long hiatus.
While the rest of the crowd was out in the grandstands watching the warriors battle it out on the 1320, there was another group of enthusiasts following chalk outlines and trying to avoid hitting orange cones in the parking lot behind the staging area.
The parking lot played host to the first of three Hotchkis Autocross events taking place at Fontana, and we were able to get out on the track ourselves and share in the excitement with our Plymouth Belvedere. When we arrived, we talked with Rob Byrd and asked him a little bit about his involvement with the Hotchkis autocross.
Hotchkis is well known for their corner-carving beasts that help put classic cars on the map again as performance vehicles – only this time they’re using that big round thing in front of the driver to navigate around the track, rather than simply to exit at the end of the quarter mile. They’ve done great things to make classic musclecars handle far better then ever intended.
Coordinating an event like the Hotchkis autocross can take up to a few months to prepare for, Byrd tells us. It takes a couple of months securing the venue, gathering sponsors and promoting the event. Then comes the fun of laying out the track and surveying the parking lot for potential problem areas and measuring things out.
It takes about two weeks to design the layout of the course, deciding where the cones and chicanes will go, where the timing equipment must be, and were spectators will be during the event. After all, without the spectators, the event wouldn’t be nearly as exciting as it is today without fans cheering for the drivers with the fastest laps, or giving their emotional support for those who drag a cone around for half a lap, affecting their lap time.
Byrd makes a scale map of the layout, and uses a Bezier curve analysis to figure out fastest lines around the course, and then he does something most of us hate: math. He has to figure out top speeds and use that information to keep the insurance company happy – because, as Byrd said, “The insurance guys always want to know what the top speed on the course will be and when I show them the math, well let’s just say they are happy.”
The important thing, though, is that the drivers are happy and the course is safe, but fast. Because when all of these elements are put into place, and the spectators are lining the fence rail to watch the event, that makes people like Jon Hotchkis happy, and it keeps the Racing Byrds busy with future events. After all, it’s not just “some guy” who volunteered to put cones in a parking lot wherever he saw fit. Nosir, this event takes the time, dedication and expertise of someone who can take everything into consideration. One slip up with the layout and a car goes into a fence, a wall, or worse – a spectator, and that’s the last time you get to coordinate an event like this.
So it’s far more than just a hobby, it’s an occupation, and one that Rob and Trish Byrd enjoy thoroughly but take very seriously. Sure, it’s a lot of hard work and takes months or preparation, but where did it all start for the Racing Byrds? We asked that very question to Rob, and he shared his story with us.
A little over five years back, Rob and his wife Trish decided to get a new car, and eventually decided on a 5th gen Camaro. They joined a Camaro forum, and when the car was available they went out and picked up their car and met with a group from the Camaro5 forum. This is how most all car relationships start, right? You find a car you like, and then find others who like your car, and you become family. For the next couple of years, the Camaro became a project car that was shared with many, and being a 5th gen Camaro owner in its first year was getting to be like a rock star, Rob tells us.
As the Byrds began customizing their car with little parts and lighting here and there, a Hurst shifter and Borla exhaust were some of the first performance components that were installed. Then a call came to take the car out and do some suspension testing and install some parts. So they headed up to one of our favorite spots, Willow Springs International Raceway, and there they met Jon Hotchkis. Hotchkis treated the Byrds to a track day on the Streets of Willow, and they got to see what a difference a performance suspension made to their new Camaro, and it was an eye opener to say the least.
Mr. Hotchkis took the time to show Trish what a car with a great suspension would do, and from that point on both Trish and Rob were hooked on road racing. After that day at Willow Springs, Rob decided to take the Camaro to Hotchkis and have a suspension package installed on the car; Hotchkis told them about an upcoming Goodguys autocross in Orange County, California, and the Byrds were determined to go. Rob tells us that Trish became the first person to drive a 5th gen Camaro at a Goodguys autocross event.
To say that Rob and Trish were hooked on autocross is an understatement. They literally became obsessed with it, and sought out events all over the Southwest United States to compete in. To think it all started with a chance meeting with Jon Hotchkis at Willow Springs – and then destiny took over.
About three years ago, Rob started volunteering at events and helping out any way he could, and it was no coincidence that he is now organizing events like the Hotchkis autocross. Because he knew, after attending many different events, that his heart was in this and it was something he truly wanted to do.
Rob said, “It’s hard to express in words the joy and satisfaction I get from seeing the look on the face of someone who is trying it for the first time or receiving a compliment from a seasoned veteran, it’s just awesome!”
Both Rob and Trish compete when they aren’t manning the table and organizing the event. It takes up a lot of their time but when it’s something you love doing it almost doesn’t seem like work. They’re both very competitive, and have taken home numerous awards over the years. Last year at the Super Chevy Autocross at Famosa, Rob took 1st Place in the Modified Class, and said he was faster than the Super Modified winner. At that same event, Trish won the Best of the West trophy for the Ladies Class.
Rob said, “One of the awards that I am most proud of was winning the Fastest Modern Camaro at the 2013 Run to the Coast event, my car even ended up on the cover of Chevy High Performance magazine from that event.” It’s hard to imagine this all started with a Camaro at Willow Springs and a chance meeting with Jon Hotchkis, but it spawned into a passion that keeps giving back. The Byrds are professionals, but they know how to make it all fun, and it’s clear that they’re having fun doing it – it makes you want to be a part of it all.
There are more events coming up that the Racing Byrds are going to be putting together, including the remaining two Hotchkis Autocross events in Fontana on June 20-22 and October 24-26, and next year’s Street Machine and Muscle Car Nationals in Pomona next March. “One of the biggest things I am working on this year is bring back the So Cal Challenge event so stay tuned,” Rob told us. You can believe us, we’ll be there! You can find the results from the first Hotchkis Autocross on the Racing Byrds Facebook Page for Day 1 and Day 2.
For more information about upcoming events for the Racing Byrds, check out their website to see what they’re up to. And don’t forget to check out the Hotchkis website for performance suspension parts and for upcoming events. Like Rob said, “Where else can you safely and legally drive your car the way it was meant to be driven?” See the fun in the gallery below.