By on November 21, 2014


Back in 2006, when I started autocrossing my Mazda RX-8 on stock shocks and Dunlop all-seasons, I took great pride in telling all of my friends that I was “going racing” each weekend. They would look at me in awe, and say, “You race cars?”

“I sure do,” I would reply, and I then I would show them pictures of my car, resplendent with number and class magnets. I usually neglected to mention that I never got out of second gear during these “races,” or that I typically drove faster on the way to the event than I actually did at the event. Nor did I mention that these “races” tended to occur in parking lots, and that most of my competitors were dorky, middle-aged men with social anxiety disorder who wore funny hats and jorts.

No, I let them have their image in their mind of me as a modern-day James Hunt, a fast-living, hard-drinking rebel who carelessly risked his life every weekend in the name of glory and passion. What’s worse, however, is that I started to believe some of my own fiction. I really thought I was racing.

Frankly, I was never all that great at autocross—I trophied at several national tour events and pro solos, but I was never a contender to win a national title. Nevertheless, I enjoyed it immensely…or at least, I thought I did. No, actually, that’s not true at all. I hated it.

Here’s why: National-level Autocross can best be summed up this way—you spend incredible sums of money and drive thousands of miles to spend six minutes driving your car at relatively low speeds around a parking lot. The rest of your day is spent standing out in the middle of the parking lot and picking up cones that other drivers knock over. If you win, you probably had a good day. If you didn’t, you’ve got to drive those same thousands of miles home replaying your runs over and over in your head, wondering where you lost that two tenths of a second. However, you’ve got a pretty good shot at winning because there are 236 different classes.

Of course, this is a simplified and not entirely honest description. The speeds, while low, do seem very fast when you’re inside the car. The driving does require very precise inputs and footwork, and I have great respect for those who do it well.

The SCCA National Solo circuit is full of really good people. They compete in earnest, and they are mostly supportive of their competitors. They hardly ever cheat, and even when they give lifetime bans to competitors for cheating, they don’t really mean it. One gets the feeling that they are largely the kind of people who were slightly socially awkward in high school, but they have now found a group of a couple of thousand kindred souls who find solace and joy in tinkering around with cars and shaving thousandths of seconds off their course times.

I don’t mean to rob any of them of their joy in what they do, but every time I see a Facebook status update from an autocrosser saying, “I’m going racing in the morning!” I have to seriously restrain myself from saying, “No, you aren’t!”

Autocrossers love to talk about how much skill and car control is involved in their hobby, and how they see more turns than an F1 driver does, and how the course is different every time. I can’t dispute any of those points.

However, it isn’t racing.

Wheel-to-wheel racing requires every skill that autocross does, and sometimes exponentially so. In addition to those skills, a racer must learn how to drive in traffic, how to execute a pass, how to drive the course when his preferred line isn’t available, how to avoid a spinning car in the middle of the track, and how to drive at speeds that are more than double the fastest speed any autocrosser will ever experience. But that’s the least of his worries.

He must conquer fear.

Autocrossers don’t have walls to deal with. They don’t have multiple car crashes. They don’t have to worry about totaling a perfectly good car. They don’t have to worry about injury or death. They simply put on their open face helmets and drive. And that’s why it’s not racing.

Every time I frantically strap myself into a car during a driver change of an enduro race, I wonder: Is this the last time I will do this? Even if I drive perfectly, will another driver take my life in his hands today? Even though we’ve checked the brakes and tires compulsively, what if one of them fails and sends me hurtling toward a steel barrier? What if, God forbid, I endanger another man’s life with my mistake?

I keep waiting for that fear to subside. It never does. And I don’t think it ever will.

I could see myself autocrossing again for fun someday. The SCCA has re-classed the Boss 302 into the class where it should have been all along, F Street. But, if somebody asks me what I’m doing that weekend, I will say, “I’m going autocrossing.”

This article originally appeared at

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97 Comments on “Just Accept It: Autocross Isn’t Racing...”

  • avatar

    Hey, unless you’re going to live to be a 100 you’re going to be a middle aged dork with a funny hat and a stutter real soon, smart guy ;-)

  • avatar

    While I don’t disagree with some observations made by Bark, I do think he’s just jaded cause he had a hard time and didn’t win much. Well, neither did I. But, I wasn’t a “middle-aged ‘man’ with social anxiety disorder who wore funny hats and jorts”. I was a 60 year old man in shorts also driving an RX-8 for a time when it was sorely mis-classed, competing against the S2K pictured above. I also ran a Miata in C stock and did ok. I then ran a Z4 which was also mis-classed as it was a pig. After that, I ran a Cayman S on Pilot Sports and never was embarrassed even though semi pros running Hoosiers on Lotus Elites might beat me by .05. While not wheel to wheel and not high speed, I saw plenty of cars trashed by kids, one WRX run head first into a concrete wall and towed away with airbags deployed. When I concluded my timing wasn’t sufficiently acute for autox and high performance track days (also not racing), I gave it up to save myself and others a potential ton of grief. All that said, autoxing may not be racing, but it’s pretty damn close. That’s like saying timed stages in rallying isn’t “racing” or charging down a drag strip at 280 mph in fuelie isn’t “racing. All these actives involve cars at something other than normal speeds requiring some learned skills and natural abilities. The simple fact that there isn’t another car next to your door handle going 120 mph down the front straight doesn’t detract from other forms of competition. The vast majority of us never win but have lots fun enjoying our cars.

    • 0 avatar

      Hey now—I won plenty of trophies. :) You could look it up.

    • 0 avatar

      I used to rally and while the element of danger and fear were there, I don’t think of rallying as being true racing, either – for no other reason that you are never wheel to wheel and jockeying for position with another competitor.

      Fear was a huge component of my competitive wall. My technical skills were fine. The reason I was never as fast as other drivers was because because of the fear factor.

      • 0 avatar

        Rallying is truly scary, but so damn much fun.

        Fear is a lack of confidence in your supposed skills/technique and is usually overcome by pushing through self imposed boundaries.

        Driver to driver, most time on the track is won or lost in the slower, less scary corners where efficient management of skills and equipment is critical.

        In rallying, throwing your vehicle at high speed into a blind corner, compounded corner rise, or down a blind falling away corner on a course where the surface is constantly changing and there are immovable objects at the course edge and sometimes on the course, is a go for broke, cross your ears, fingers, and toes, and pray situation, do it or your never going to be fast. Top rally drivers/road racers never blink, pray, cross digits/ears in those situations and are mentally disembodied and quite emotionally detached/cold, while listening to and feeling their equipment, they are only ready to deal with whatever, same as the best open desert motorcycle racers.

        You don’t have to be the best on the track or course to have fun in motorsports, check your ego in the pits and waste some tires, it’s a hell of lot better then sitting at home watching the tube or making or reading lame comments on a blog. Now where is my torque wrench, oh, I set it to ‘0’, wiped it and put it away…it’s Friday night.

        • 0 avatar

          Well, I think the fear factor on performance is dependent on a number of things, primary among them the age of initial exposure. As someone who was exposed to and started competing in fight sports and martial arts at a very young age, I don’t fear getting hit, thrown or being in a dangerous grappling position. Likewise, I was a young soldier when I jumped out of planes and helicopters and while I was never exposed to fire as a soldier, it’s something that I have done as a civilian without too much thought to my own mortality. These are things that prevent the experience-naive from performing at the highest levels.

          OTOH, competitive motorsports is something that I started later in life, so as a thirtysomething driver or even co-driver in a rallycar, fear is something that I can’t quite push out of my head when it comes competition time. For a driver who started competing in any kind of motorsport when he was barely out of diapers or even in his late teens or early 20s, truly pushing the limits of his tires is a matter-of-fact thing, versus me, my brain is screaming at me slow the hell down long before the “correct” brake point. This is the difference between me and a guy who was karting when he was 8 years old.

          Speed is a huge factor as well. While I can appreciate that autocross can develop technical car handling skills, the volume of the inner angel/demon on your shoulder yelling at you that you shouldn’t be going this fast is much louder at 110 MPH than it is at 60 MPH.

  • avatar

    Great post article Bark. I used to be the avid autocrosser myself, but after doing 2 years of trying to be as competitive as possible and going pretty much every other weekend from march to November, sometimes driving an hour or 2 and blowing a whole Sunday. When I looked at the amount of seat time and enjoyment I got out of it, combined with trying my first HPDE, I decided I was done. Autocross just wasn’t worth it anymore.

    The $/min for seat time of an HPDE versus an autocross isn’t even a competition, autocross in being roughly $8/min, while HPDE is between $2 and $3. And you’re on a racetrack going 120mph. And you don’t have to stand out there in the June sun picking up cones for 2 hours when you’re not driving. HPDEs aren’t racing either, but they’re a hell of a lot more fun than autocross.

    Yeah the entry fees are higher, the danger is more real, and you could run into actual expensive failures. I’m changing all my fluids annually, and oil at least 3 times a year on a car that sees maybe 4000 miles, and going through a set of front brake pads every 3 track days. But the fun of being on a track overshadows every possible negative to me.

    It costs more. but if you have the means, it’s definitely worth it.

  • avatar

    What’s the point of being so negative about it? It was your mistake calling it “racing”, it’s autocross, so call it what it is.

    I love going to the local autocross events, I can have a fun day hanging around with a bunch of other car guys for around $40 including lunch. There is no cheaper way to have some fun driving my car. I’ve brought my daughter, we had a great time, she was the slowest person on the course and she had a great day anyway, its our thing now. Where else are you going to spend an entire day talking and driving cars with your kid for $80?

    I have been to an HPDE, it was really fun, definitely better than autocross. But it also cost me $500 for two days, was a 4-hr drive to the closest track, the hotel was $150/night, food, drinks, 4 tanks of gas, wear and tear on my tires and an overheated transmission that could have been a major expense makes it well over a grand for a weekend, if my wife or daughter wants to come, nearly double that. And you really need a truck and trailer in case you wreck your car, and there were plenty of guys with dedicated race cars… talk about an expensive hobby. I will go again but it isn’t in my budget to be a regular occurrence.

    I am sure real wheel to wheel racing is an amazing experience, someday I hope to try it. But I don’t think you should discourage anyone from getting involved in any type of driving events, regardless of if they get excited and call it “racing”.

    • 0 avatar

      Your HPDE day would be an extremely cheap National Tour autocross weekend. Everybody on the national circuit has a full tow rig, two or three sets of tires per weekend, and several spares.

      • 0 avatar

        So what? If the guys who want to run in National Tour autocross are OK spending multiple thousands of dollars for a weekend of it, big deal. They must enjoy it, like you must enjoy wheel to wheel racing. I think events like Chumpcar and Lemons are a huge waste of time and money, but I am not going to tell them they aren’t really racing because cheating and bribery is rampant and the only way to “win”. I also think risking an expensive car, not to mention your life, and many thousands of dollars so you can brag about being a real racer isn’t something that many car enthusiasts have the means to do. More power to you for being able to, but there are many thousands of car guys who might be more into the hobby if they can participate in cheap local autocrosses.

      • 0 avatar

        People spend as much money as they want on whatever hobby they choose to pursue. For every person that has a massive motorhome rig, there’s at least two people who just drove to the event in their car – even at national events.

  • avatar

    An article based entirely around a semantic argument.

    Not a bad or inaccurate article, per se, but one that probably would have been much more useful to the audience if it was written and sold as “The Difference Between Autocross and W2W Racing”.

    • 0 avatar

      I assure you, it is not a semantics argument to national-level autocrossers.

      • 0 avatar

        Or to someone who appreciates terms being used correctly, especially automotive terms that seem to get diminished daily.

        Kudos to Bark for clarifying this abused term in a personally exposing and self effacing manner.

      • 0 avatar

        After reading some of your other replies, it sounds like your piece was more a dig at national-level autocrossers than anything else. Did somebody piss in your Cheerios?

        Additionally, you felt the need to distinctly identify W2W racing in your bit which makes me wonder if you don’t already understand that, by the definition of “racing”, autocross applies.

        After additional read throughs (with special attention payed to the “I love autocrossers section), it seems like you’re trying to justify why you think W2W is better and why autocrossers and autocrossing are beneath. “Road racing is so much better for XYZ reasons! Nobody should ever autocross! OMG, stop calling it racing!” This is not a rare viewpoint.

        It’s okay, I’ve met your kind before. You’re not hard to ignore.

    • 0 avatar

      I agree, it is semantics. A “race” = “a contest of speed,” and “racing” = “competing in a race.” (Merriam-Webster) Several other dictionaries have other variations on the terms, but they all amount to the same thing.

      Is autocross different than wheel-to-wheel racing? Sure, just like paintball is different than marksmanship. But why does that mean autocross isn’t racing?

      Racing isn’t dependent on danger. Passing, walls, etc., have no bearing on whether something is a race. In fact, skill isn’t even a requirement for a race.

      If the central premise had been “Wheel-to-wheel racing is different than autocross, so let’s agree to use different words to describe them,” great! We could use “exhibition racing” v. “competitive racing.” Or “single-car racing” v. “multi-car racing.” If the central premise had been “I experience these two competitions differently, and this is what both mean to me,” great! If it’s “Racing encompasses more than you think,” again, great! But try to tell me something isn’t a thing when authoritative sources are pretty clear that it is, that’s not great, regardless what “national-level autocrossers” think.

  • avatar


  • avatar

    I agree it’s not racing. But it’s a lot of fun, if you don’t take it so seriously. I do it as much as I can, and I am merely mid-pack or less in our local non-SCCA affiliated club. Good cheap fun flinging a car around. I figure I am competing with no one but myself. At our local club events, you will have as many runs as you care to take – I usually don’t stay all day and get in 10 or more. Getting TOO into anything is usually a recipe for not having much fun…

    • 0 avatar


      It’s probably just a personality thing, but I can’t imagine anything being much fun, if practiced at a level where you have to be so darned serious about it…. On a golf course, I find it infinitely more fun to dork around in the golf cart between holes, than bothering with the exact number of strokes I need to drop the ball into one of them.

  • avatar

    ‘Not racing’ And neither are speed trials(Bonneville/Black Desert/etc) or hill climbs and track days, but I read and hear so called automotive journalists calling it that way. Their credibility with me, immediately flies out the window, never to return. Same thing happens when they call a 4-dr sedan a ‘Coupe’, or a Pony car or BMW_’3’/’4′ series, Genesis coupe, a sports car, or anything with a V8 a ‘Muscle Car’.

    Bottom line, autocrosses are fun if you just do it for that, and your sheet metal and paint isn’t abused by numbskulls, though, I have seen numbskulls trash their rides a few times. One incident, a V8 Gen-2 RX7 took out a Jersey barrier when his throttle stuck, destroying the car. I asked him why he didn’t hit the kill switch…’didn’t think of it’.

    Hill climbs are down right scary, just like road racing, one mistake can be quite spectacular and hurt.

    I have done a number of hill climbs and auto crosses in my Sevenesque with an LS376 in it, the PW ratio is 3.2 pds per. It is like a gocart with a Hayabusa engine, the challenge is to manage all that power and keep it on course or on the hill. Not near as much fun as doing it in a MX5/RX7/8 or an FRS.

    Find a hill climb, Bark.

  • avatar

    Very well put, Bark. I autocrossed some, but then got bored of it being a huge time sink.

    Doug Hayashi also put it pretty well, here, in his Pyramid of Speed:

  • avatar

    “…But, if somebody asks me what I’m doing that weekend, I will say, “I’m going autocrossing.”

    And then from 95% of the population, you will get the follow-up question..what is autocrossing, where you will have to describe what it is without making it sound as silly as it seems…driving around cones in a parking lot. And then you still may get the follow up question…who won, you or Marcia?

  • avatar

    In other news, ski racing is not “racing” by Bark’s definition. It involves more personal risk, just as much travel, and far higher stakes than autocross scoring. Not racing…just screwing around with gates on snow I guess.

    This is a poorly conceived story. It has all the insight of a downhiller saying slalom isn’t racing because you aren’t as likely to kill yourself each time out.

    edit: I guess that silly thing they do with guys shoving each other around called “skiercross” is racing by Bark’s definition. Oddly enough in skiing that’s where people who can’t hack it anymore ski racing go to compete.

  • avatar

    Enh, I don’t know… Autocross is just different racing. For all of the reasons you mention I will never participate in a real manly race. I’ve just seem too many videos where some jerk takes out someone on a straight.

    I’m not too interested in hpde personally… I like the competition of autocross and I feel like I’d never be willing to push the car hard enough on a track for it to be fun. Going 120mph doesn’t appeal enough to make it worth it to me.

    I get my real racing in iracing. I agree there’s lots of fun to it but there can also be enormous frustration. In autocross I do need to dedicate 12 hours from getting up to getting home but I can be sure I won’t practice for hours only to get taken out on the first lap or something similar.

    But then I’m lucky to have autocross 35 minutes away on an old air field so that does change the quality of my autocross experience.

  • avatar

    The last couple paragraphs are the things I never think about.

    As far as autocross goes, I don’t care if they call it racing. Racing against the clock, competing with other drivers for the fastest time etc., fine, racing.

    If you want to come out and say that wheel to wheel is more hardcore and that autocrossers are a bunch of pussies, just say it. There’s no need to try and kick them out of the realm of motorsports.

    • 0 avatar

      Reg; “There’s no need to try and kick them out of the realm of motorsports.”

      I don’t think Bark is saying/implying that, he is just stating a fact he deliberately ignored for personal reasons. Autocross is and automotive sport, timed runs against a clock. Racing is simultaneous competition between competitors on a track for so many laps or minutes/hours with racing luck being a big factor.

    • 0 avatar

      “Bark” doesn’t want to own up to calling them a bunch of pussies. So he joins his brother in collapsing the definition of “racing” to only include what he considers “real racing”. For me the big division is between the “entertainment industry” racers where the audience is picking up the bills either directly with tickets or by viewing sponsors advertisements, and “gentleman” racers who pay their own way for the thrills and status. I fully accept that there are other lines, and it’s not one linear spectrum.

      Claiming that wheel to wheel (with turns in both directions) racing is the only real racing is painting the line in an awfully convenient place for low budget endurance racers. Maybe speed contests where a driver has to compete for the ride with sponsorship dollars at stake is the line to some. Maybe the dictionary approved version where any speed contest, whether sequentially timed or concurrent is a race. In my past I’ve wished a judge would agree with the Baruths, and that what I had been doing when caught wasn’t “racing”. But I was full of it then, and they’re full of it now.

      • 0 avatar

        Agreed. Interestingly, where I live, simply driving 31mph (50km/h) over the speed limit is considered “racing” by the letter of the law. There needn’t be a competition for them to convict you!

        Someone should send the authorities this article.

    • 0 avatar

      “Bark” doesn’t want to own up to calling them a bunch of pussies. So he joins his brother in collapsing the definition of “racing” to only include what he cons!ders “real racing”. For me the big division is between the “entertainment industry” racers where the audience is picking up the bills either directly with tickets or by viewing sponsors advertisements, and “gentleman” racers who pay their own way for the thrills and status. I fully accept that there are other lines, and it’s not one linear spectrum.

      Claiming that wheel to wheel (with turns in both directions) racing is the only real racing is painting the line in an awfully convenient place for low budget endurance racers. Maybe speed contests where a driver has to compete for the ride with sponsorship dollars at stake is the line to some. Maybe the dictionary approved version where any speed contest, whether sequentially timed or concurrent is a race. In my past I’ve wished a judge would agree with the Baruths, and that what I had been doing when caught wasn’t “racing”. But I was full of it then, and they’re full of it now.

  • avatar

    I was very gung ho to autocross a few years ago. And I too called it racing because it’s easier than explaining Autocrossing.

    I found it to be a ton of time spent to do very little actual cone dodging. I wished I could pay more to work less (i.e. have someone else work the corners, pick up the cones, etc.). Flame away, but I wanted to drive around some cones and then leave.

    I later tried the pdx thing, and really enjoyed myself. It was a lot of actual high speed driving in a much shorter time frame. It was a Thursday night and less than $150 really well spent.

    I don’t think I’ll autcross again any time soon. It’s just not my thing.

    • 0 avatar

      I wish someone would run an autocross format that gave you, say, five laps all at once. With a longer, 2-minute course, this would be a 10-minute lapping session. Space cars at 45 second intervals (which is common and safe today), and have paid corner workers to shag the cones. Do two sessions / day, or limit the number of cars and have three sessions / day.

      The ratio of driving time to time standing around would be much better, and you could spend more time working on technique instead of memorizing the course.

      • 0 avatar

        I have been to an event like that, it was actually pretty cool. IIRC it was about $150 for the day, no cone shagging, I think we got like 10 laps per session. They had 2 courses, one for drifting and one for grip, was a lot of fun.

        But at our local autocross, I have never left wishing I had more runs, they keep us pretty busy. Depends on the number of people who show up too, and who goes home early. Sometimes towards the end of the day it can be 10 or so die-hards just going around over and over, and the organizers will stay as late as they can.

        As for paid corner workers, I don’t think anyone would care if you brought a guest who you paid $20 or whatever to shag cones for you. Of course you might get a DB rep for doing that… LOL

  • avatar

    Great post, right down to the jorts. I autocrossed for a decade, then switched to SCCA Club Racing, where I am strictly mediocre – but I’m RACING.

    A few years ago when my son got his driver’s license, I entered us both in an autox. Boy was it dull. Second gear in a parking lot for 45 seconds, then 3 hours discussing the primo line with Jorts Nation.

    The only thing Bark neglects is the gotcha question when you tell friends or officemates you’re a racer. First question is “Where do you do that around here?” You can finesse that one, but the next question is the killer: “How fast do you go?” Ouch. Unless you blatantly lie, that’s when their eyes go blank, and you might as well have bragged about your stamp collection.

  • avatar

    No matter what you call it, Autocross can still be a lot of fun though.
    It will offcourse depend a lot on the club and location, and the seriousness of the participants. Our local motorsports club arranges a few autocross events each year, either in the pit and starting area of their rally-X track, or on tha gokart track nearby. The entrants are usually divided close to 50/50 between serious drivers trying their best to beat the clock, and people in older rwd cars who see it as an excuse to do burnouts and donuts legally (because the evil cops around here will take your license for drifting a roundabout)
    This can make for a pretty spectacular show sometimes, and there are rarely any red or black flags involved, unless they do a massive 5 minute drift/donut/burnout which accidentally throws a loose rock through the window next to the guy holding the flag…
    I’ve even seen cars catch fire after a long enough burnout.
    Mix this with people who have done so many autocross events that they deliberatly choose a ‘weird’ car to do it it, just to challenge themselves (bone stock late 70’s Fiesta 1.1, mid 80’s short body Land Rover etc.)
    PS. Watching a late 80’s Mercedes 190 Evo with a supercharged Cosworth engine drift a whole coned-up go-kart track with continous wheelspin, without hitting a single cone is worth standing in the cold autumn rain all day :)

  • avatar

    You’re right; autocrossing is NOT racing.

    In several ways, it’s a lot better. And experienced racers, not to mention frustrated and/or flat-broke ex-racers, can get a lot from autocrossing.

    1) NO RESTRAINT – The same thing extolled in this post, Real Racing being wheel to wheel action, is also the call for caution. There are other cars and guardrails and walls to run into. The rush in racing comes from gaining reward over risk. The bitterness comes when that risk rears up and bites you in the behind. Consequences can be severe economically as well as to your personal welfare.

    On a properly-designed autocross course, a total loss of control results in little more than a few nuked highway cones — crippling your chances of a winning run, but generally not to your car or yourself. It made me a better race qualifier because I could spend more time running at my absolute limits. Because autocrossing is one of the few things in life where exceeding them has so little consequence.

    2) Low Barrier To Entry – Real Racing calls for a much higher ante. In any kind of Real Racing, you’re looking at a Snell SA2010 helmet at $200 and up, even the cheapest firesuit is in the $300 range and at least the price of both for a basic head restraint device. Not to mention with Real Racing you’re going to need a Real Racing Car — and tow rig/trailer, and a goodly amount of spares. Because with the higher speeds and stresses of Real Racing, you’re going to break stuff and constantly monitor and replace moving parts to reduce the risk of them failing at higher speeds.

    Even the most severe autocrosses place much lower stress on the equipment. There’s a fairly competitive class for most any car on the street, and as long as it’s safe to drive (the seat belts work, it isn’t spewing vital fluids, the steering is tight and the wheel bearings aren’t loose, and the battery is properly tied down) you can use most any car from the street. As far as safety equipment goes, all you need is a good quality helmet — and most events will lend you the helmet.

    Lots of ex-racers find a place in autocrossing too. Spending $30-40 for entry plus the cost of a half-tank of gas may not get you the $/min equation of HPDE or Real Racing, though as I outlined above, amortizing the fixed costs of all that Real Racing gear and consumables is rarely figured into that equation. Ex-race cars too. Sanctioning rules can render Real Race Cars uncompetitive or unqualified to race on an annual basis, the worst case scenario in autocrossing is that it will be moved into a non-competitive class.

    3) Speed Rush — Real Racers can testify to this: you measure your speed not against the track, but against the cars you’re running with. You may be going very fast, but when you’re focusing against competitors going the same speed, it often seems glacially slow — like passing on the Interstate without exceeding the speed limit. You’re cognizant that you’re going at high speed, but the only time it demands your complete attention is when you exceed your limits. This makes for spectacular teaching moments, but it’s rare and often expensive instruction.

    With autocrossing and rally stage racing, it’s car/driver against the track. Your attention is entirely focused on getting maximum speed from the track. And with so little consequence in autocrossing for exceeding that, you can spend more time along the edge defining it. All it takes is one fast, clean run to win class or get LTOD. Trashing three runs out of four won’t make the cone crew very happy, but if you’re good and paying attention, it’ll help you find the perfect run.

    Speed is a relative term, of course, but I’ve run tight courses where I barely hit 60 mph in a parking lot with a street car, and larger courses where I’ve done more than 100 mph in an ex-race car. When you’re focused on getting the most velocity from every part of an autocross course, 60 mph in the typical parking lot is bookin’, and feels a whole lot faster than 15-20 seconds of 135 mph max speed down a long straightaway with the gas pedal pinned to the floor of a small-bore race car.

    So, you’re right. Autocrossing isn’t Real Racing. But it’s a lot more accessible and can provide speed fixes that are hard to deliver in other motorsports. That makes it different, not lesser than Real Racing.

  • avatar
    Nick 2012

    You’ve hit the nail on the head. My local autocross group has many great people, however, the last event ran from 8a-5p. I got 6 – 50 second runs.

    The ratio of idle time to driving time is far too low.

  • avatar

    I don’t know that fear. I’ve never felt it.

  • avatar

    I don’t think that I’d go so far as to say that autocrossing is not racing. However, I wholeheartedly agree with the advice given to me by an SCCA club racing national champion: road racing is like crack. From my first Alfa Club track day at Grattan in 1994, I was hooked. Later, from 1998-2003, I ran a showroom stock C car in the hotly contested SCCA central division National level races. I even made it to the Runoffs in 2001. After spending untold hours and dollars, this mid-pack driver had to admit that I wasn’t having much fun. Like autocrossing, national-level SCCA club racing is not a whole lot of fun unless you are capable of winning. I have been racing with LeMons and Chumpcar since 2009 and it has been a revelation. Team endurance racing has proven to be dramatically less expensive than club racing, and working with my teammates toward a common goal has been a blast. The national champion driver and I can coexist peacefully – and win – on the same team.

  • avatar

    More bs to ponder, racing isn’t a sport either.

  • avatar

    Maybe it comes down to how competitive you are. I don’t care if I win, I’m not looking to be the “best”, I’m just out to have fun. I see a lot of comments from people who seem to not be able to have fun unless they win. And I think it’s clear to any regular readers that Bark and Jack are pretty competitive guys.

    But I guess I see the point… If I’m going to spend National Champion time and money, I wouldn’t spend it on autocross. I’d rather race wheel to wheel. But I’d never spend that kind of money on a hobby so the point is moot to me.

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  • avatar

    Auto crossing just isn’t that popular in the NW, so not many cars turnout for an event, so a couple of runs an hour are sometimes possible. Same for hill climbs where you can get a lot of time on the hill in a day.

  • avatar

    Rather than reply individually to each person who disagrees with me, I’m just gonna leave this here.

    “Solo® is the SCCA brand name for autocross competition. Solo events are driving skill contests that emphasize the driver’s ability and the car’s handling characteristics.”

    Even the SCCA doesn’t call it racing. QED.

  • avatar

    Sounds like a painful case of sour grapes along with a healthy dose of anti-social tendencies. The argument you’re facing is you would rather drive your car around a track and possibly murder somebody else or kill yourself with minimal interaction. That is not how autocross runs, it is a fairly social event even if the other drivers are just as anti-social.

    It is racing, not that you or I have the right to determine what is ‘real’ or not, there is competition, you jockey for time but even you yourself admit to calling ‘racing’ wheel-to-wheel which defines it in a very narrow way. But I digress, enjoy the griping, I’ll just stick to the lazy back roads to open up my car for the time being. If I ever get back to a place where a road course is a reasonable drive I’ll go there for my cheap racing fix.

  • avatar

    Translation: I suck at autocrossing because I’m a terrible driver, so I’m going to belittle it to try and make myself feel better. Guarantee billy bad ass author can’t post a competitive time on a road course either (yet if you look at all the fastest road course drivers, they almost universally have autocross or karting history . . . . )
    The reason the author had a bad time at events is because he’s an antisocial or socially inept asshole. Autocross is essentially a huge party / car show where you happen to drive your car a bit.

    • 0 avatar

      Hey, Marcus, I would be happy to come to one of your Finger Lakes Autocross events and co-drive your RX-8 with you. Of course, I think we should enter the Pro class, which it looks like you’ve been reluctant to do.

      Alternately, you could ask some of the faster drivers in your region whom I’ve beaten at Pro Solos and National Tours if I’m any good.

      • 0 avatar

        Wow that’s creepy. Go internet.

        That said – you can drive with me anywhere, anytime, at any local or national event.

        3 Rules:

        Rule 1 – You beat me, I post an article about it on TTAC and deem you the better driver, eat crow, etc.

        Rule 2 – I beat you, you come back here and post about how Autocross is a real motor sport.

        Rule 3 – I get to connect my data system and mine every single one of your runs.

        • 0 avatar

          Sounds like a plan. Let me know if you plan to attend any of the Wilmington or National Corvette Museum events, as those are within driving distance for me, and I’ll ring you up if I end up at Watkins Glen for a race.

          And I’ll happily say that Autocross is a real motorsport right now. After all, I autocrossed on the the National circuit for six seasons. But motorsport doesn’t equal racing.

  • avatar

    I can’t afford real racing, wheel to wheel stuff is slightly too expensive even at its cheapest form. So autoX is fun, and its competition.

    HPDE gets the better Min/$ spent, but HPDE for me is something I do only occasionally, since at the end of the day you are not even on the clock. Its just beating the car for a day. I really enjoy the intense feeling trying to find more time out of the few runs you get in a day, especially when you are trying to beat someone.

  • avatar

    So the possibility of death is what defines racing?

    Interestingly, I have no disagreement with your premise, but I find your rationale flimsy.

    It can’t necessarily be about wheel to wheel, unless you’re willing to not call WRC racing.

    And if you could arguably make a form of motorsports much safer, like safety improvements to Formula One, then does that mean it is moving further away from being called Racing as well?

    If you’re trying to be provocative, Mission accomplished. But this just feels thin.

    Autocross is a descriptive term no different then rally, oval racing, or Road racing. I’ll even agree it doesn’t fit into the definition of racing for many people.

    • 0 avatar

      I don’t think that the possibility of death is what defines it, although it certainly fits with Hemingway’s description of sport!

      I agree that there’s more rationale that I could have put behind this—alas, a blog post should be limited in size and scope.

      Let me draw another analogy and see if I’m more successful:

      Would a free throw shooting competition be considered playing basketball? Would a field goal kicking competition be considered playing football? They’re both athletic activities that could be considered sporting, but neither one encompasses everything that one would call “basketball” or “football.”

      I think autocross is similar. It’s motorsports-related, but I wouldn’t call it racing—it includes elements of racing, but not all of it.

      • 0 avatar

        Hi Bark, I couldn’t say it was too much more successful just due to the reason that everyone would have to have a set definition of what racing is. The problem then becomes that the subclasses of racing do have names. Basketball or Football is one singular game with one set of rules; anything that off sets this is normally clearly defined (Ex: Euro-Rules, Flag Football etc.). To go with your analogy one would have to agree that racing = wheel to wheel on a track with turns. Why? Because that seems to be the only way to get all the elements that you had listed in your article/blog post. If we don’t do that, things like WRC and Drag Racing (which has racing in its name by the way) are not considered racing either. As you said about autocross: “I wouldn’t call it racing—it includes elements of racing, but not all of it.” Drag Racing would fall into this; there’s no cornering or braking involved or passing opponents so its not considered racing. Do you agree with that conclusion?

        To be fair, I do agree with you to a point. I respect that you did autocross (at a high level none the less) before you drew a conclusion which is much more than many people do these days and I respect (if you are truthful of your results which I’m sure you are) your skill and ability. Autocross does demand quite a bit of car control skill so for someone who doesn’t like it to do well – respect is earned.

        I’m not a huge autocrosser either though I do enjoy it immesnsely. I’m not in a position in my life to have a dedicated track car or to be able to risk my daily driver on a track hence why I do what I do.

        I agree that its not “racing” in the hardcore sense, and honestly it does “irk” me when people say that because it seems like they are inflating autocross to what it isn’t on purpose for egotistical reasons. At the same time though, they are right in definition. While I use, and much more prefer “I autocross” (and if someone asks to explain, I do so) technically, it really is racing as you’re competing against a posted times from others. Ski racers do the same thing an does WRC.

  • avatar

    “Autocrossers don’t have walls to deal with. They don’t have multiple car crashes. They don’t have to worry about totaling a perfectly good car. They don’t have to worry about injury or death. They simply put on their open face helmets and drive. And that’s why it’s not racing.”

    That has to be the most thoughtless, fucked-up part of this article.

    Just this past summer the autocross community lost Kierstin Eaddy
    at Texas Motor Speedway when her formula kart had a stuck throttle and she hit a cable barrier, killing her.

    I’ve had a few close calls at events where cars have spun out of control towards me and other course workers. Drivers at the limits frequently go off course into the grass/whatever else and although course designers try their hardest to make the course “safe” …shit still happens and almost every region has AT LEAST one major accident a year. There have been cars that flipped due to freak failures; there was a car that had a front wheel shatter and it went into a roll at a D.C. Region event a while back; there was a driver that rolled a car at a Philly Region event because he though it would be okay to put R-competition tires on the front of the car but not the rear. Plenty of course workers have been injured, plenty of people have totaled their cars from going off course or having a driver who was too ‘in the zone’ to notice they were going off course and plowing into another car (this happens on mirrored courses and bigger events where there can be up to three cars at a time on big course lay out).

    To say that autocrossing is “safe” and w/o any risk is a lie, and just plain foolish and demeaning to the volunteers who work hard to ensure everyone’s safety. Shit DOES happen, it’s just a lot less frequent.

    All I read here is a guy that is pretty much waving his cock around that he’s “so hardcore” because he does endurance racing. That’s great, yes it IS more dangerous. But if he wants to talk shit, he can become a Pro Rally driver and make an article later about accidentally driving his car off a cliff and living to tell the tale.

    • 0 avatar

      The fact that you can point out specific incidents really proves my point.

      I’ve been to no fewer than a hundred autocrosses since 2006, and I’ve seen exactly one car that was damaged significantly—a Mini that rolled due to a broken wheel at the Toledo Pro Solo in 2007. Thousands of competitors, thousands of runs, one incident.

      At the American Endurance Racing event at Watkins Glen a few weeks back, I saw no less than a dozen cars end up in the garage as a result of contact, including my own.

      Undoubtedly the loss of life that the Texas Region and the Eaddy family experienced was tragic. I don’t mean to minimize that at all. SCCA and NASA data states that there are roughly 25 racer fatalities in club racing every year in the US.

      It’s simply not true that every region has one major incident a year. I’ve been a member of two different SCCA regions and autocrossed with several others, and I’m only aware of one incident in the last ten years. I did see a guy hit a chair once at a night autocross in the Western Ohio Region, and you wouldn’t believe the problems THAT caused.

      • 0 avatar

        And in rally, no cars collide but Mother Nature and those damn trees can do a number…. Auto x is a form of racing. It’s a stepping stone for many and a safer alternative to learn the basics. Some people do go carts to start out… Many people like me don’t discover racing until later on in life. Do I want to road race ? Yes I do. Do I feel like crashing my daily driver… No I don’t. I’ll auto x until I’m ready to do hpde and then road racing. Stop acting like an elitist jerk.

  • avatar

    While I don’t agree 100% with the author, I can vouch for his participation and dedication during 2009-2012 as his co-driver/amateur car builder. I had a little more success than he did and that gets you a few more handshakes and social media friend requests, but just as many dislikes as with any competition. I really enjoyed National level auto-x, but have ambitions to go higher. For me, racing (yeah, I feel any competitive automotive event is racing) in any form is better that nothing!

  • avatar
    Michael Schumacher

    People who aren’t good at autocross are usually the first to criticize it. Mr. Baruth was, ah… not good. So he took his ball and went home.

    Autocrossing isn’t racing, much like blogging on a web site isn’t journalism. There’s no risk to your paycheck if people don’t read your drivel. Or maybe it’s actually like road racing. Blogging is where people go when they can’t hack it as an actual journalist.

    What really isn’t racing is LeMons. It’s doing parade laps around for 30 minutes with a toilet bolted to the roof of an ’82 Corolla which a high schooler wrapped around a tree in 1985. Every 30 minutes you have to come in and refill all of the fluids that you dropped on the track, while high-fiving your friends for going out and doing REAL ZOMG RACING!

    • 0 avatar

      Totally agree with you that I’m not a great autocrosser, as I mentioned in the article. That doesn’t really impact my opinion of the activity, though.

      I think what you’re describing is Class C Lemons “racing,” which I also agree about. Class A Lemons racing is pretty legit—faster than Spec Miata or Spec E30 at many tracks. ChumpCar and AER are better options.

    • 0 avatar

      LeMons might be goofy, the organizers might be assholes, and the cars might be sh1tty, but it’s most definitely racing. Or is there a set spending floor where a series becomes “racing”?

      • 0 avatar

        Its not the spending floor, its the cheating, bribery, and general asshattedness that takes it away from racing. If they would run it fairly and get away from the silliness they would really have something there.

        But admittedly, the class A Lemons racing might be more legit, I don’t follow it much aside from reading Jack’s articles.

  • avatar

    I’m going to have to almost completely disagree with the author here. I may be repeating what someone else has said because I didn’t read through all of the comments. There are some points that I’ll give you, like the fact that the fear isn’t really there. But there is something more important than fear when it comes to racing. Adrenaline. Autocrossing can get my adrenaline pumping just as much as wheel to wheel racing used to (yes I used to wheel to wheel race on oval tracks when I was younger). Racing isn’t about just going fast in a dangerous situation as you like to paint it. Racing is about competing plain and simple. You can no more deny a sprint runner that they are racing than you can an autocrosser. What you are doing is no different than a 100k competitor saying a 5k competitor isn’t a “real runner”.

    If you want to label the type of racing someone is doing fine. But to say they aren’t really racing simply because you’ve graduated to “real racing” is rubbish. It’s nothing more than you trying to make yourself feel superior.

    • 0 avatar

      Well, that’s just it though.

      In a track and field event, whether it be a sprint or a marathon, it is the first competitor who crosses the finish line who has won the race. And there is always a competitor on the track with you. It’s not a matter of who had the fastest time in multiple heats during the day who walks away with the gold, it’s the person who performed best in a singular event who wins.

      A race against the clock is simply not the same thing as actually racing. There’s a reason we don’t have F1 drivers compete for solo lap times and crown the fastest lap time as the winner – because that’s not racing.

  • avatar

    Bark … I’d like to see you tell Bodie Miller that he doesn’t really Race …

  • avatar

    I don’t get all of the hate toward autocross, and this article is just another such example. I’ve autocrossed, I’ve road raced, I’ve done quarter mile racing, and I’ve even owned an HPDE school, so I know my way around racing. I feel reasonably qualified to say that you’re wrong about autocross: it’s not without danger, it’s not “open face helmet” people (most of the people I know who are most serious about it would never wear an open face), and there ARE walls to deal with (and poles, and curbs, and people). The stakes are actually just as high but different, since one of the things you could hit if you ran out of talent badly enough is a course worker.

    Racing, to me, involves skill, risk, and enthusiasm. There is no need to rag on someone else’s preference just because it wasn’t for you. We’re all in this together: if you want respect for what you do, you have to give it to other people who are also racers.

  • avatar

    Could have been a much shorter article.

    “I’m a stud because I race wheel to wheel”
    “I like being a stud, it makes me happy”
    “Autocross doesn’t make me feel like a stud”
    Studliness=Road Racing

    Author wouldn’t have had to postpone his next Testosterone, or Steroid Shot to complete it. Much more efficient.

  • avatar

    Bark! You sure turned over a Hornets nest of dummies when you posted this article…col!

  • avatar

    So you are basically saying that there are more challenges involved with road racing (specifically, wheel-to-wheel racing) than autocrossing. Ok, I get it, and 100% agree with you on that point.

    But if autocrossing is not racing, what English word should I use to describe a timed competition, where entrants are ranked (and awarded) based on their speed?

    Autocrossing IS racing; it is just a different kind (or, like you couldn’t wait to point out, a ‘lower form’) of racing.

    To be honest with you, I don’t really get the point of this article, and frankly, it makes me question your motives, because (contrary to your claims several posts above)the whole article sounds as if it is geared toward establishing the superiority of wheel-to-wheel racing over autocrossing.

    Case in point: Every time you see a Facebook status update from an autocrosser saying he’s going racing, you are tempted to yell at him that he isn’t?


    Could it be because you are annoyed that us autocrossers, who don’t even risk death or serious injury, are stealing your glory by using the word ‘racing?’

    ‘Race’ is merely a word that describes a contest of speed. It is not specific to wheel-to-wheel or road course competition events.

    By the way, let me correct your analogy that was posted several pages ago.

    You said:

    a free throw shooting competition is not basketball, as autocrossing is not racing.

    -> Incorrect. Basketball, a specific form of ball game, is not analogous to racing, a word that describes any contest of speed. A correct version would be:

    a free throw shooting competition is not basketball (a specific form of ball game), as autocrossing is not WHEEL-TO-WHEEL RACING (a specific form of racing).


    a free throw shooting competition is a ball game (any form of sport that features a ball as part of play), as autocrossing is racing (any form of sport that features contest of speed).

  • avatar

    So let me get this straight…. So a driver like Colin mcCrae is not racer car driver because he did Wrc…. Since it’s not wheel to wheel… Soooo monster tajima is not a race car driver because he does the pikes peak and holds many records there. Soooooooo, you are telling me, the very best drivers in the world are not racing because they aren’t going wheel to wheel? So mark Higgins setting the world record for Isle of Man tt in a production car is not racing…. Umma time trials is a form of racing, it’s not wheel to wheel but it’s a definitely racing. From wrc, to pikes peak, Isle of Man tt and autox is a form of time trials. You sound like a very narrow minded idiot.

  • avatar

    “racing” according to is “to engage in a contest of speed”. seems to me autox falls into that category.

    • 0 avatar

      A race is any contest or competition, especially to achieve superiority. That can be against others or the clock. He mentions wheel-to-wheel racing further down the article and the title would be accurate if WTW was in it. Some of the finest race car drivers came out of autocross, it is mearly a stepping stone on the ladder if you want to climb it.

  • avatar

    This is what’s wrong with the Internet some random Yahoo can pretend to know what he’s talking about and pepole will take his banter as a fact.

    Let’s deal with facts now instead of opinions , by your definition rallying isn’t racing either the wrc run races based on time not if a car can pass the other around a corner brake later navigate traffic blah blah. According to your definition that’s not racing.

    Ofcourse rallying does have that danger aspect you believe defines racing .. but what about those that race in other sports like track and field are you now degrading their sport because they have lanes instead of fighting over the apex because they don’t have needles and swords to stab themselves if they trip and fall to replace your walls ?? Obviously they don’t race either .

    I figured you’d atleast have the common sense of looking up the definition of race before you posted this nonsense.

    a competition between runners, horses, vehicles, boats, etc., to see which is the fastest in covering a set course.

    Over a set course hmmmm mm darn is an autocross track not a course?

    Are the competitors laps not timed to see who the fastest is?

    Or do you still believe that the definition of the word race needs to be changed because of your jaded selfish views?

    • 0 avatar

      That is correct. The motorsports world does not consider rally driving to be racing driving, most of all the rally drivers themselves (unless they are also a racing driver). This where rallycross gets its name – it is a cross between a rally and a race, the implicit assumption being that rallying is not a race.

  • avatar

    What do you say about the fact that a Indy 500 winner, Al Unser, Jr. can’t beat a girl, Mary Pozzi, at the 2015 SCCA National Solo Championships?

    Copy and Paste this Sports Illustrative mention …

  • avatar

    I just fail to see purpose of this article all together. The author is making it a point to tell his audience that autocross is not racing. The fact is its not racing in his definition of the word, not the actual definition of racing.

    Its obvious from the tone of his writing that auto crossing is not for him, and he prefers road racing in what ever form he competes. The post here is misguided at best, from stereotyping its competitors to over simplifying the events.

    I urge anyone thinking about auto crossing to take his opinions for what they are, opinions.

  • avatar

    I’ve run autocross at the regional and national SCCA level, plus other smaller clubs that offer more seat time than most SCCA events. This article is on-point although the inflammatory tone definitely gets some people’s goats. Autocross is certainly its own funny little world with interesting an unusual characters. The lack of or minimal risk does allow you to go balls-out *usually* with minimal consequences. Strange course designs, unusual lots, and immovable objects can still conspire to make autocross riskier than you’d expect. I saw a course worker get hit by a Super Stock twin-turbo FD RX7 – worker had his back turned to the course, major no-no. He was okay but had to visit the hospital. This was years ago at an event at Mather AFB near Sacramento.

    One way to get more seat time through autocross is to find smaller clubs that would usually give 7-10 runs or more. You’ll have more than enough time to get familiar with the course and by attending regularly can become an extended part of the club (Lotus, BMW, some Porsche groups, etc.). I’ve really enjoyed BMWCCA, Lotus Club and Loma Prieta Porsche in the SF Bay Area. Entries are often limited to 70-100 vs. 250+ at SCCA events so lots of runs come easier and sometimes there’s time for additional afternoon fun runs. However, experiencing a National level SCCA autocross is certainly a great way to test your driving skills and potentially car setup, although some rules SCCA has are not friendly to track setup.

    This year, I’ve gotten heavily into track days / HPDE with a goal to compete in the NASA TT series. There is no substitute for being on track and driving at the limit. I highly respect wheel-to-wheel racers and envision doing that at some point, but I like my daily-driver too much to turn it into a pure track car just yet. For me, the challenge doing HPDE / Time Trials is to push the limits at track speeds and still drive the car home. A healthy fear and respect for mechanical limitations is there; from embracing and exploring going over the edge I experience a calm that never arose in any other context. There is a meditation space I can get into with HPDE that I look forward to. I may not be racing, but I certainly appreciate I’m at higher risk – and that higher risk brings a thrill, but more a calm acceptance than the whooping and hollering I used to do when turning a great autocross run.

    Driving the track at speed, using more and more of the berms lap after lap, setting up for the perfect pass to not ruin my lap time, watching corner workers for important flag updates – there’s a lot going on even at an HPDE that will make you a better real-world driver. It’s also made me a lot calmer on the street than I ever felt at autocross. I tended to still drive the street like I was autocrossing, but much less so since doing a track day about once a month. I could also just be getting more mature.

    While autocross was my official speed thrill, I believed I was indeed racing, but the only competition is really you understanding and working with your car. I don’t consider as racing any more – it’s a timed competition event. To give that hobby the credit it deserves, I highly recommend any aggressive driver who wants to jump on track to do at least a half dozen autocrosses first. Trust me, you WILL be a better driver when pushing you car to the edge, especially if you truly practice “looking ahead” and “slow in, fast out.” Autocross is also a good place to practice trail-braking with less risk than at the track.

    Having just attended an HPDE2 and working up to HPDE4/TT, I highly recommend NASA’s HPDE / Driver Education program. They ensure each HPDE driver is able to navigate the course safely and with awareness. That the SCCA lacks a real HPDE program is very unfortunate, but NASA fills that need – and also for road racing as well.

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