Saturday, August 13, 2011

Autocross, Track, or Karting: What's Most Bang for Your Buck?

Asking me if I like autocrossing, track driving or karting better would be like asking Charlie Sheen if he prefers brunettes, blondes or redheads. Maybe a driving enthusiast's nirvana would be an event that combines all 3 types of driving. Something like zipping around cones in a fast go-kart at a racetrack like Watkins Glen. Just imagine a few cones strategically placed in the middle of the esses to spice it up a bit; or going flat out side-by-side through the Bus Stop.

Which One Is Really Best?
Recently I had an opportunity to sample autocrossing, track driving and outdoor karting back to back over a 10-day span. I’ve been involved with performance driving for ten years, but I had never combined the three so close together. Truth is, I still can’t make up my mind about which one I like best. And why should performance driving be limited to one type? After all, there are different types of music for different moods. Sometimes when I am pumped up I’ll crank up Led Zeppelin. Or I’ll listen to Lady Gaga if I catch one of her songs on Kiss 108. Or I’ll play Miles Davis if I am driving late at night.

The Case for Autocrossing
Autocrossing is highly technical in nature. You do a ton of transitions in one 80-second run. It teaches you to look ahead. You learn car control at the limit of adhesion in your own vehicle at safe speeds, and there is nothing you can hit if you lose the car. No other type of driving offers this opportunity. Autocrossing probably has the best application to real life driving. It is also a great opportunity for socializing and learning everything car-related from tire pressure through suspension set-up to mental attitude for performance driving – all while having fun. You also get a chance to find out how fast you really are and how much you can improve in one day. I also like the fact that we wrap up the events by 4 p.m., and a good size group gets together for a cold beverage and more socializing after the event.

The Case for Track Events
Track events, also called high performance driving schools, offer the most seat time. If everything runs smooth, you can get 100+ minutes of net driving time in one typical day of driving at the track. Of the three types of performance driving, this is the one that allows you to go by far the fastest. It lets you get a feel for the driving dynamics and overall capabilities of your car at high speed in a controlled environment. To me at least, driving at the track feels safer than driving on busy Route 128. I know that everyone has 100% of their attention on driving and that they are not checking text messages while going through the Fish Bowl turn at NHMS.

The Case for Karting
What I like best about karting is that you get a lot of seat time and the event takes less than 2 hours. Many outdoor karting event offers 30-40 one-minute hot laps in addition to a few warm-up and cool-down laps. This is also the only opportunity of the three types of driving for real wheel-to-wheel racing in nearly identical cars. Many outdoor karts available to the clubs and the public go up to 55 mph, which is plenty fast in a little vehicle not much bigger than a lawn mower. It even has a very similar engine slapped in the back. In addition, $70-80 cover all event costs and expenses. Based on “cost per seat time and thrill,” karting cannot be beat.

You can read all my thoughts on this comparison in my monthly column on page 22 of Boston Bimmer's July/August issue. I'd love to get your thoughts on this as well.