Done with autocross

In the grid at 2022 Solo Nationals

There’s a common refrain: “A bad day of fishing beats a good day at the office.” This phrase can be applied to many different pleasurable activities; for example, one can say: “A bad day of racing beats a good day at the office.”

And so there I was, sitting in grid with my (no longer quite) shiny new Mustang Mach 1 at Solo Nationals, having a bad day of racing and thinking to myself that I was an idiot to be out there spending wads of cash and burning vacation time instead of just being at home and doing work. That’s when I knew that it was all over.

I needed to take a break.

If it’s not fun, what’s it all for?

Lily and I were hosting a small hot pot party at our apartment for Kaushik and Anu.

Lily works for a company that makes souvenir photo maps where you can record the glories of your worldly travels. I had joked that I order such a map, but instead of putting in pictures of beautiful landscapes or selfies of myself in beautiful landscapes, I’d put in pictures of all of the parking lots that I’ve autocrossed in. One look at this thing and all you’d see would be a sea of gray asphalt and beige concrete.

Kaushik, being my former roommate, knew exactly what I was going on about, but Anu was in for a shock. She thought that when I said I went “racing” that I went around the US driving on actual race tracks.

Hell no, I said. I’m a connoisseur of the finest parking lots across America!

She starts cracking up. I continued on.

Not only that, I spend thousands of dollars every year for tires that I only drive on in parking lots!

More laughter.

I take vacation time — even unpaid vacation time! — to drive to parking lots across America!

The laughter intensifies.

I even bought a sixty thousand dollar car for the express purpose of driving around parking lots across America!

At this point, Anu is hysterical. She can’t stop laughing.

We’re all laughing. Because, quite frankly, this is ridiculous. Who in their right mind would ever consider doing such a thing?

Well, I did, for one. And did so for many, many years. But in the past, it was always easy to justify. It was fun. Expensive fun, yes, but fun nonetheless.

But when the fun runs out, all you are left with is the spending weekends at parking lots, burning vacation time to be at parking lots, buying tires and even cars for parking lots, and the absurdity that comes with it all floats to the top of my mind.

In the end, the joke was on me.

The rebound car

This implosion was a long time in the making. It had all the signs of a bad relationship unraveling.

At first, it was a quiet voice in the back of my head thinking that things weren’t as fun as they used to be. Fear of giving up something that was a core identity of mine led to the bargaining stage — well, maybe I should shake things up a bit if I’m tired of driving small lightweight sports cars and hot hatches, what if I reinvigorated things by driving something completely different, like a pony car?

Me buying the Mustang Mach 1 is like a couple deciding that a baby is what will bring them closer together again: a misguided blunder.

And that worked for a little while, before reality set back in again. I’m still the same driver that I was before, only now I had a new car and no way of getting around the fact that even the hot new car in the class still needs some setup and development work.

Still, I went to Solo Nationals high on hope that this time it would be different, and it turned out to be exactly the same result as in years before. But because my expectations were different, getting the same result as before now presented as a crushing disappointment.

And so, you get “fuck this shit.” I’d rather be in the office than there at Solo Nationals.

Burning out

Half of my burnout stems from the fact that I’ve been going nowhere as a driver, but the other half is undeniably the work I’ve had to shoulder for the Detroit Region Solo program as Solo Director.

Sure, navigating the pandemic wasn’t a cake walk, and it’s something that I can point to as an accomplishment that I can be proud of. But over the past two years, my energy for putting on the Solo program has dropped at the same rate as my waning enthusiasm for National competition.

The biggest problem is that the pandemic was a major blow to Detroit Region’s volunteer group. The number of volunteers we had before the pandemic was already thin. Then you have folks re-prioritize other aspects of life during the pandemic over autocross — perfectly understandable if you or loved ones got sick, you or loved ones are trying to keep from getting sick, dealing with job loss or reduced work hours, or increased childcare needs, among any other number of factors — for the right reasons, and the volunteer pool gets even smaller. Even with the pandemic abating, it’s still been difficult to get a consistent group of volunteers to show up at all the events.

Which means that I have to wear a lot of hats to make sure that our events run right.

Being the first one on site and the last to leave sucks. Because I’m always the one bringing the equipment truck, if my codriver is unable to make the event, I’m not driving my Mustang Mach 1. I can never just relax at events because I’m constantly being called upon to help fix the many problems that crop up. I frequently give up some or all of my runs in order to help keep the event going.

I’m just not having fun at local events any more.

Everyone’s moving on to other things

The other thing that I’m just coming to terms now is that most of the people that I’ve been autocrossing with locally for the past decade have moved on to other things.

People have kids. People move on to different motorsports. Some folks stop racing cars and go off-roading, ride dirt bikes, travel, and plenty of other hobbies that don’t require watching money go up in literal (tire) smoke.

It exacerbates the volunteer problem we have in Detroit Region. A lot of the folks that I would have called on to help out with things simply no longer autocross any more, or at least no longer regularly autocross with this region any more.

And that was the final straw for me. The two things holding me to this sport were 1) the fun and 2) the people. If the people were still around, maybe I’d be inspired to stick with it a little while longer.

Instead, I’ve decided to move on to other things myself.

Making a clean cut

Just like I did with swing dancing years ago, I’m making this change cold turkey. There’s no point in dragging it out.

That’s not to say that I’m quitting motorsports altogether. I’m simply going to head off in a different direction. I’m planning on doing a few time trials events this year and that will be enough to satiate me.

The rest of my time will be spent traveling with Lily to Japan, possibly traveling back to China to see my grandparents, and short trips to Canada and maybe the Caribbean.

You know, make some progress on a photo map that would have something more interesting than just pictures of parking lots.