Car Audio Competitions
Often car audio enthusiasts are brought into the hobby by attending car audio competitions or seeing competition vehicles in the magazines. They see these beautiful installs and they want to have one that's just as good. This is exactly the reason that car stereo competition organizations exist, to bring in more customers to the car audio stores. This is why you'll see most shows in the parking lot of your local car audio shop. The competition brings in spectators and those spectators often become customers of the shop after seeing the work they can do on the vehicles being displayed. Many enthusiasts then get the mistaken impression that also want to compete when in fact what they really want is a "competition quality" audio system.
Why Do You Want to Compete
Make sure you know why you want to compete. If you want great sound and a great looking car stereo system that's great. You can certainly have that with or without competing. If you're a person who enjoys competitive sports then you may also enjoy car audio competitions. There's a lot of fun to be had and a lot of great people to meet when you're on the sound off circuit. There's also a lot of rules that you have to follow in order to win a competition so make sure you understand and follow the rules set forth by your chosen competition organization.
Do You Have the Time
As in any competitive sport being a contender on the competition circuit takes a commitment. This is both in money for your system and time for traveling to shows and sitting in the judging lanes waiting for your turn. If you plan on competing to win then you have to know that you won't be able to spend your weekend sleeping in. You'll need to attend as many shows as possible in order to secure that all important Finals invitation.
At this writing there are four major competition organizations, IASCA, USACi, dB Drag Racing and MECA. They each offer a little something different and all have their own distinct competition classes and rules. Depending on the region of the country you live in you may only have one choice for a competition organization. Some areas are stronger than others for one organization or another. Ask around and see which is the most active in your area. This will be your best bet if you want to attend many shows per season. Rather than give possibly outdated information about each organization I would suggest you check out each organization's website to see their latest rule changes and power classes. I will provide a short blurb about each.
IASCA - IASCA is the oldest of the competition organizations and also the largest. Historically their emphasis has been on sound quality but that has loosened a little in past years. Now they also have a high SPL class known as the IdBL league.
USACi - USACi is the second largest organization and has enjoyed tremendous growth and popularity. USACi was founded on the idea of bringing fun back into the competition scene. USACi also has a sound quality league and an SPL league.
dB Drag Racing - Started by veteran competitor and sound off legend Wayne Harris, dB Drag Racing is devoted solely to SPL competition. Two cars pull up side by side and then they crank up their stereos to see who has a louder car. A large drag race style "tree" lights up and let's the spectators know who is winning.
MECA - MECA is the new kid on the block and the smallest of the three majors. MECA was also founded on the idea of keeping competitions fun and as such they have some interesting categories. MECA also has sound quality and SPL divisions.
Competing for Fun and Profit
Most car audio competitors do it for one reason, fun. They enjoy the whole competition atmosphere and they like showing off their system. But if your car is good enough and you develop a winning track record you can also make a little money or at least get your equipment paid for through sponsorship. You're unlikely to ever make a career out of competing but sponsorship can help take the sting out of the cost of competing. It should be noted that sponsorship at any level may effect the competition class you are allowed to compete in. Check the rules of your chosen competition organization for details. For more information on how to get sponsored read this article.
Power and Experience Classes
Most competition bodies organize their competition classes by power and also by competition experience. Some will also further divide the classes and may factor in such criteria as amount of vehicle modification allowed and retail cost of the system. I can't stress this enough. Make sure you know what class you plan to compete in. Get the detailed rules of this class BEFORE you buy and install your system. In order to get the maximum amount of points you need to know where points are given and where points are taken away. Ignore the rulebook and it's only an uphill battle from there.
A perennial gripe of the average competitor is the "checkbook competitor". This is the term given to competitors that don't know much about car audio but they know how to write large checks and let the shop handle the rest. While this can be frustrating it's just a part of life. Money can buy you a lot of things and a winning show vehicle is one of them. This will mainly be seen in the upper classes (Pro and Expert for example) because there is more prestige associated with winning these trophies. If you are bothered by this you can seek out an organization and class that takes into account the retail price of a competition system.
What it Takes to Have a Winning Vehicle
Winning vehicles don't happen by accident. You need to sit down and decide what you want to accomplish, how much money you have to accomplish it and how you're going to pull it off. A big decision is the power class and organization you'll be competing in. Get the rule book and study it. Some are available for online viewing.
You don't want to be giving up points because you didn't do something or did something wrong. Do you work for a car audio shop or did you receive some equipment as a sponsorship? Welcome to the Pro Class. Do not pass Go and do not collect $200. Are you a member of the competition organization. No, then minus five points. No sticker from the competition organization on your vehicle? Minus five. Plan ahead and work with someone who knows the organization you're competing in.
Out of sight, out of mind won't fly here. You need to work with a professional installer (or have professional skills) so everything is connected, secured and protected properly. Ideally your competition consultant will be your installer too. Picking an installer with competition experience will help ensure you don't miss any easy points or get dinged for obvious rule violations.
And because this is a competition installation you want attention to detail. It really disgusts me to see show quality vehicles with mega buck sound systems and poor installation. The kind that are good from afar but far from good. Gaps between installation panels and vehicle panels are the biggest offender. If your installer can't figure out how to mate two panels together than you need a new installer. You shouldn't see seams or the backside of unfinished pieces. Any necessary gaps, such as those around trunk bars should be equal on both sides.
Another important factor is the photo documentation of the installation. The judges need to see what they can't see. Show them how the head unit was installed with a proper bracket, wiring harness and soldering. Photograph the amplifier mounting board being held in place with bolts and not duct tape. Installation integrity is a big factor and if they can't see what you've done behind the scenes then you'll lose points.
It's best to photograph everything (digital cameras are great) and then put it into a three ring binder. Pretend you're working on a school project and you need an A. Arrange the photos neatly and label each one. Be sure to highlight the sections you can gain or lose points on as well as those that are unique. Creativity gets you points so show why your installation is different.
It's said that the only thing people fear more than death is public speaking. Unfortunately you're going to have to talk about your vehicle to the judges as part of the competition. The good news is it's about your system and not about some book you had to read for class. And you get to walk around and point things out rather than standing dead center in a room with thirty pairs of eyes on you.
This is where preparation pays off. Get out your photo book and have the car clean and ready to go. Talk to other competitors and see if you can get within ear shot of the winners when they give their presentations. Stay calm and remember to practice ahead of time. You're less likely to blank if you've already given the presentation fifty times before to the person in your bathroom mirror.
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