Loyalty to a site?

Oscoda under night skies

If you didn’t know what was going on, judging by the posts on Facebook, you’d think someone had died. Long form eulogies for a patch of concrete and of good times past, photos from the wayback machine, people swapping memories, and so on.

The news came out not too recently that Oscoda was no longer an autocross site. Airport operations had expanded, and that meant that the alert pad upon which we ran our events was no longer available for us car clubs to use.

As I was reading through the Facebook posts and comments, I will admit that half of my thoughts were “oh, this is sad” and the other half were “what the hell.” It’s now been a week since the site announcement was made, I’ve been doing some thinking, and I think I figured out why part of me is so frustrated with everything.

The “Oscoda Region”

Years ago, I and small group of friends decided to paddock together at Solo Nationals. The Detroit Region part of the paddock was typically anchored by the a couple of spots up in the Chiefs’ row, but we weren’t chiefs so we found our own space further away in the back.

For shits and giggles, when it came time to name our paddock group on the online reservation tool, we called ourselves the Oscoda Region.

At the time, a significant portion of the Detroit Region Solo season was run up at Oscoda. We would essentially leave the Detroit Metro area and run all of our summer events at a site that was a three hour drive away, required competitors to commit to a weekend away from home, and figure out lodging (or camping accommodations) at a vacation destination filled with leisure seekers. All of these summer events were Saturday/Sunday back-to-back events, and they counted for so many points in the local championship that it was impossible to win a class championship without going to Oscoda.

There was not an insignificant amount of grumbling that the Detroit Region didn’t really prioritize local-to-Detroit events — and these folks were right.

Count myself as one of those folks. Don’t get me wrong, an event at Oscoda is a fun time, and the courses are great, but the heavy reliance on that site didn’t seem reasonable. It was the equivalent of deciding to eat at a super duper fancy steakhouse three times in a single week; I’ll dress up to the nines, bring out the fancy car and hand it to the valet, and order an extremely expensive dry-aged steak and enjoy it perhaps once in a week, but going through all that more than once in a week is unreasonable.

During the summer months, the people that didn’t want to go to Oscoda would stick around Detroit and run events with the local independent car clubs. I do think that the undercurrent of hostility between SCCA and the Detroit Council of Sports Car Clubs here in SE Michigan can be traced, in part, to this duality of organizer groups. In most other places, the folks who run SCCA chapters and local clubs tend to be the same group of people; here, you can split them into two camps, the folks who think Oscoda is the bees knees and those who don’t.

This little mini rebellion could be found on the paddock maps at Solo Nationals for one year. Up front in the Chiefs row, all the important Detroit Region folks. In the back, Oscoda Region.

Loyalty to the game, or to the people?

This is where I become conflicted.

On one hand, the loss of Oscoda means that we lose out on a certain type of Solo experience. Large expanses of concrete aren’t easy to find, and driving a really fast course on a super grippy surface is a shit ton of fun. For sure, if you’re competing in a certain type of car — a kart, mod car, prepared car, etc. — then this is pretty much the only type of site that you’d want to run on.

For those reasons, losing Oscoda is a huge blow.

But as I was scrolling through those Facebook posts, I noticed that most of them were filled with good times and memories with people.

Which is important. This is a sport that is inherently a little bit silly. Come for the competition, stay for the people and all that.

But the people are still here. And this is what I’m so frustrated about.

Oscoda may no longer be around, but your Detroit Region friends are autocrossing down at Schoolcraft PSTC, so come join us. Oh, you won’t? Okay, well then…

I’m sure it’s the same sentiment when someone goes only to Oscoda events but doesn’t attend SVR’s events at Barstow, or if someone goes only to Toledo Express Airport events but doesn’t attend NWOR’s events at Owens.

Now, I understand that the experience of autocross at smaller lots isn’t the same as the experience of running at a big huge site, and someone is well within their rights to stop autocrossing if the experience no longer meets their expectations.

But if the people were the most important part, we are still here. We are still trying to make things work, and we could really use your help. Every single time I hear someone say “well, I used to autocross locally but we don’t have any good sites, so I don’t autocross anymore (or I only do National events),” I seethe just a little bit. Milwaukee Region and WCDR still have Solo programs. They may not be as glorious as they were in the olden days, but people are still putting in the work to put on events. Is their company and community not worth your time to come out and do something you enjoy, even if it’s not the ideal experience you want it to be?

Like I said, there’s a limit to the amount of suck that each person can tolerate for a hobby. I can’t tell someone to suck it up for a local event that they won’t enjoy.

But I find it incredulous that some folks — frequently National competitors — who are the ones that stomp their feet the loudest when something shifts underneath their feet are also the ones who are unwilling to help try and solve the problems Solo faces. And while all of the National stuff gets the attention — where are we going to hold these big National events, let’s argue about these classing proposals, should there be clipboards at corner stations at Nats, etc., etc. — it’s the local stuff that gets ignored or deemed unworthy of attention.

Scrolling through Facebook, I saw a lot of posts from a lot folks whom I thought, “great words, shame I never saw them at one of our Solo Planning Meetings.”

That site is gone, but the people with whom those memories you’ve made are still here.

And that’s my frustration.

The game is changing

I don’t want to be the bearer of bad news, but the game itself is changing.

First of all, no one is buying cars anymore. Our future pool of available (and most importantly entry level) competition vehicles is quickly declining.

Even the electrics won’t stem this tide. Even among electric vehicles, the overwhelming number of these are large SUVs and trucks. They’re built for comfort and excess, not for driving enjoyment.

Second, our sites are going away. Malls are dying. No one wants to have massive parking lots any more. Of the massive parking lots that exist, owners are putting up light poles and islands. It seems that our most reliable sites are stadiums and airports, and those can be easily lost if the economics change.

Autocross is about to become a lot smaller. What used to be the expectation for a “normal” Solo event is going to have to be adjusted downward. Are you going to cling to what autocross used to be, become disheartened, and then just quit the sport?

Or are you going to accept the new normal?

We all knew that Oscoda was on borrowed time as a site. Airports are notoriously hard to hang on to as event sites. We all thought it was gonna be the Space Force that displaced us and not Kalitta Air’s expanding 747 salvage operation, but it’s all the same in the end. Airports are business where they are most useful and profitable when there’s airplanes on the tarmac, not autocross cars.

It will be very interesting to see who is still standing in five years. I’m not just talking Solo programs for individual regions, but people who still autocross at all.