This week, I got back to my roots: I went go karting. Specifically, I entered the GoPro Motorplex Fall Rental League. I competed in their rental league two years ago, and I had a blast. After autocrossing through last year and driving thoroughly nothing this year I’ve decided to get back to wheel-to-wheel competition. This is mostly because I’m desperate to race anything, but also because I’ve concluded the following: Rental karting is simply better than autocrossing.
Comparing the two is like comparing an apple to a pomegranate. An apple can be eaten immediately and completely without much effort, while eating a pomegranate takes preparation and patience just to get the littlest taste. Each provides its own nutritional value, has its own unique flavor, and can be really good if executed properly. Ultimately, it comes down to what you’re looking for in your fruit or in this case motorsports. Each offers something that the other does not. Autocrossing offers the pride and joy of painstakingly and lovingly preparing your own autocross car. Rental karting offers the excitement of wheel-to-wheel racing without concern for the associated risk to your property. Both will hone a driver’s skills, but in very different ways. Some will argue that autocross is not actually racing, a point which I will not take up in this article except to say that it is in fact a challenging competition of motor vehicle skill like any other form of motorsport. Others will contend that rental karting is an empty pursuit because you don’t have anything to show for it except a sweaty helmet. In doing both, I have realized some things about the two as well as about myself.
Over the course of my first rental karting season, I learned and grew as a racer. I went from a top 15 driver to a top 5 contender, picked up appreciable speed, and re-learned some of the racing techniques I had gained in my Bandolero days. The competition was fierce and exhilarating; No matter where I was in the field I had someone to race against. The karts were also dynamic. The tires and track would come to temperature and eventually begin to fade. By learning to adjust my driving style I could continue to climb the ranks throughout the race as I adapted faster than my competition. I always came off the track out of breath and with a beaming smile.
Over the course of my first autocross season, I learned and grew as a car owner and crew chief as well as a driver. My season opened with the disappointment of learning that a modification of yore, a lightweight flywheel installed during a clutch replacement, would bump me to a class well beyond my budget. Alas, I had bought my sticky tires already so there was no turning back. Despite lacking competitive speed, I learned and grew. The laps seemed fast and frantic at first but that gave way to a calm preparedness for what was ahead. I learned to read the car’s reactions to my inputs, diagnose the behavior of the car and to adjust my driving accordingly. Eventually I upgraded the brakes for better stopping power and response as well as camber bolts to correct the McPherson-induced lack of contact patch. It was exciting to make a change and feel the result. Driving and preparing my own car filled me with pride and the technical challenge was enjoyable.
In both seasons I had fun, learned, and didn’t break the bank. Neither type of racing is prohibitively expensive, so choosing is not necessary, but if I had to choose then I would choose rental karting. Despite the fun aspects of autocross, at the end of the day the value just isn’t there. You spend ten plus hours standing around and shagging cones for a total of five MINUTES of driving. In less than one third of an autocross day I can compete in three kart races each with a qualifying round and main. For many, autocross is just as much a social engagement as it is a racing event. For me, I just want to drive. Racing wheel-to-wheel with someone is just so much more fun than racing the clock! Sure, I’ve never got mad at anyone at an autocross, but maybe that’s a sign. Beyond the racing there’s the material aspects as well. I don’t have to worry about something failing on my car and needing a tow home (only because my daily is much more reliable than my autocrosser). I don’t have to worry about having the right car for my class or buying new tires regularly just to remain competitive. For some that’s part of the fun, but for where I’m at in life those are hindrances. I enjoy tinkering on my car just as much as any other gearhead, but I also like seat time just as much as any other racer.
At the end of the day, it’s up to your taste. Perhaps if I had a competitive and cheap Miata, or if I didn’t have an awesome kart track and group of competitors like I do at GoPro Motorplex, I would feel differently. Honestly, I don’t think you can go wrong with whichever you choose, if you choose at all. Either way, you’re embracing the need for speed and getting out there. The point is to have fun, and for me that’s better achieved in a gokart than at an autocross.