By: Drew Bethell
Nearly 20 years ago a tornado ripped through Stroud, Oklahoma, shredding a nearby outlet mall. The owner decided not to rebuild, leaving it a wasteland of forgotten asphalt. Although there are no longer shoppers or even a building, the empty lot has found a new purpose as a race track for auto-crossers all around. One of these racers is Jenks High School senior, Quinn Brownell.
“Pretty soon after getting my license I tried to find a way that I could drive my car like a madman,” Brownell says. “This was the safest way to do it. It’s enough for me right now that I won’t try to blow up my car,” Brownell says.
Autocross is commonly set up in abandoned parking lots where no one can get hurt (thankfully). The art of speeding through an obstacle course painfully fast and with extreme accuracy is prepared by setting cones to outline the track and map the course. Before the meet, each driver walks the lot to memorize the quick turns. After, cars line up one at a time, their exhausts deafening. Each car is given eight chances to shed seconds off their times and in some cases this could mean the difference between first or last place. Most drivers even have special racing shoes, helmets, and gloves to help better their control over their vehicle.
After discovering that Tulsa had a league of it’s own, Brownell took to the track. At 17 years old, Brownell is the youngest racer there, but that doesn’t stop him from climbing the leader board or making friends with other drivers.
“It’s mainly 40-60 year olds. It’s not really weird for me to be the youngest,” Brownell says. “The age gap actually pushes me to do better and see if I can beat some of the people that have been racing for so much longer than me… they cheer me on and try to push my driving to the limit. Everybody kind of acts like that to everyone, even if they’re your competitor. It’s all in good fun and progressing skill.”
Autocross courses are made up of cones that can either make or break your overall time. When Brownell isn’t seen cruising around town in his Mini Cooper, he can be found practicing on his simulator or working on his car.
“Your car doesn’t have to be straight-line fast. It just has to turn well. Every cone that you hit is an extra second added to your time. In racing, especially autocross, since the track is so short a second means the difference between first and last. Recently I’ve been getting 2nd in my class. It’s based on skill level rather than your car’s speed.”
To many, speeding through cones in an abandoned shopping mall parking lot on a Sunday afternoon might seem daunting (especially for their parents), but Brownell carries a different outlook on things.
“My parents don’t really care because they trust me to make the right decision. It’s not dangerous. It’s just and empty parking lot with cones. The worst thing that can happen is if you spin out or run over a cone. There’s no real danger,’” Brownell says. “I don’t really get scared or freaked out in the car. I’m more calm while I’m driving. Right as I start driving, it’s nothing. That’s all that I can focus on. That’s all I can think about. It’s where am I going to point my car next. It’s only after that the adrenaline really gets me.”