"You comin' this weekend?" asked another member of the Spokes autocross group at our Friday group lunch. "You haven't been to an actual autocross in a while. You've been busy with road racing or LeMons or something." Oh my gosh, I thought—I hope he doesn't think I've turned into one of those guys.
Those guys. Everyone in motorsports has encountered those guys. You know the ones: the ones that claim that [series/discipline/etc.] is total poopsauce and lets the entire world know why he thinks what you're doing sucks.
Granted, everyone has favorite activities, so it's hard not to accidentally let your own personal that guy-isms slip out. I'll admit that I like having a giant chunk of enduro seat time over the minute-long runs of an autocross. Plus, that familiar burning sensation on the top of my head right now reminds me that I'm not exactly made for standing out in the sun for an extended period of time.
But those guys take it a bit farther: "buncha goofy cone-dodgers," "just farting around in a parking lot," "way to waste an entire day for five minutes total of drive time," etc., etc.
It's almost comic for me to hear those kinds of remarks, but to some, they're genuinely hurtful. As someone who is more used to nice patches of grass, kerbing or walls telling me where not to go, autocross completely breaks my brain.
It's a completely different style of driving, and a whole different challenge every time. There are no track notes to study before you go, and the course is definitely not available on a sim racer. Sure, there's advice on how to take different elements like slaloms or sweepers online, but you won't usually see the specific combination of those elements until you show up for race day.
I can usually get the smoother, faster sections down okay, but autocross sometimes has turns where taking the shortest distance around the turn is faster than the straightest line possible (wide entry, tight at the apex, and then going back wide on the way out). I have trouble wrapping my head around that sometimes. That's my excuse, anyway, and I'm stickin' to it. (Also, I frequently get lost on course.)
To put it nicely, I suck at autocross. Badly. Thus, it earns my respect. Don't knock the parking lot warriors until you've tried it. It's a decent way to learn how to not panic when your car gets out from under you, too.
That guy is not a phenomenon limited to autocross, either. Ask any drifter about the numerous snotty comments about being involved in a sport that's really difficult to do well but still judged on style points. "It's the ice skating of motorsports!" say numerous dudes who don't get the implications of that comparison. You know what else requires a lot of talent, coordination and practice to do well, especially when competing at a top level? Ice skating.
We can have that whole "do judged competitions count as a sport?" debate later, but only when those guys can finally admit that maybe (maybe!) those silly youngsters in the flat-brimmed hats are doing something special: bringing an interest in cars and driving to people who otherwise probably wouldn't care.
Goodness knows, half the known universe doesn't even think that motorsport of any kind counts as a sport anyway.
I'm sure oval racers and drag racers could write a novel on this subject based on all the silly people who think that their particular twisty form of motorsport is the only kind of motorsport that should exist. I used to join in with snotty comments about both of those until I realized that keeping a decent pace in a pack of incredibly aggressive drivers is pretty difficult in its own right. The same goes for keeping a completely insane dragster going in a straight line for a limited amount of distance. It's not my cup of tea per se, but I can respect it.
As a person who's mostly done crapcan racing, I'm intimately familiar with various permutations of that guy telling me that the 24 Hours of LeMons isn't real racing, that ChumpCar is a bunch of inexplicable beater snobs and/or that crapcans as a whole are all dangerous vehicles to race in. (Never mind that crapcans are held to the same safety standards as many club racing organizations nowadays, and that ChumpCar in particular is one of the most strict groups I've seen when it comes to required safety equipment.)
Yeah, anyone who wants to make that claim about LeMons should have found me after we lost an hour to a fuel leak on the 944 at Eagles Canyon, and then told me that my (then slightly hopeless) push to get us into the top three in Class B wasn't "real racing." I'd imagine you may have gotten a nice, adrenaline fueled punch in the face (served up with extra grouchiness from being extremely cold) if you said that the wrong way.
Is an overall or class win the highest award there? No. Does that mean racing doesn't still happen at a LeMons race? Also no. Don't forget that the Index of Effluency is a racing award, given to the team who does the best job of racing the most unlikely hooptie.
Likewise, let's not forget the "Spirit of ChumpCar" award, which is officially given to the teams that best embody the spirit of the competition. It usually goes to a team who's clearly there for a good time and the camaraderie of a race weekend. For example, teams who offer significant help to others and teams who brought the least likely racecar and raced it well have won it in the past. It's not their highest award, either, but it sure has a familiar, warm and cozy feeling to anyone who enjoys a good LeMons race. The concept of fun does, in fact, still exist in the "serious business" beater racin' group.
Given that there are several series trying to differentiate themselves from each other in the same "budget" space, I understand more that not everyone who slips out a that guy-ism is doing so out of malice. Many such comments are fueled by personal preferences or past experiences. A dude who had an absurdly lengthy black flag penalty with one group or who likes the format of another may be trying to be nice by sharing his experiences, but just not phrasing it the right way. So, when faced with someone who's totally off the that guy deep end, always be polite in return.
I've even caught myself making snarky comments about the differences between the series before and no, sir, I don't like it. Honestly, I consider this article by Eric Rood that gives an overview of the crapcan series without a clear bias towards one or the other to be one of the most difficult things anyone has ever written on the Internet. That's right: ever.
I've learned to look past the chorus of those guys over the years, but some haven't. Some take these slams on the things they enjoy—hobbies they spend time, sweat and money on just to do—to heart. Less savory comments get taken personally because it sounds personal when you tell someone that they're a participant in something you deem inferior.
We're all nuts to be doing this sort of thing in the first place, but in my experience, we're all nuts who haven't strayed too far from the same tree.
In my experience, people are generally friendly in every single motorsport-related event I've been to and they don't care what your background is as long as you're respectful, you're there to learn something or try something new, and (most importantly) you have fun.
So, if you want to encourage people to try something new that may be of interest to them, don't be that guy.
Instead, keep it positive. Focus on the similarities or the useful skills they might pick up from doing trying out a different form of motorsport or an event organized by a different group. Dangle the chance to get more racecar seat time right in front of their noses, and don't stink it up by slamming any other forms of racing. Everyone wants to feel included and wanted regardless of what they do. Coming off as exclusionary or aloof from the start is one way to ensure you won't grow your chosen automotive hobby among similarly nutty individuals who should probably give it a try.
It's also bad karma. The cones know what's slipped out of my mouth on occasion, man. They just know. They put themselves in front of my car because they know.