The First Autonomous Car Track Day Will Push Driverless Cars To Their Limits

Stanford University’s autonomous Audi TTS at Thunderhill Raceway
Stanford University’s autonomous Audi TTS at Thunderhill Raceway

Joshua Schachter knows a thing or two about going fast. He’s an avid Spec Miata racer and part owner of the Aston Martin-slinging TRG racing team. But the Silicon Valley entrepreneur and investor’s latest venture isn’t about getting humans to go fast in cars—it’s about making cars go fast by themselves, and it’s open to anyone brave enough to try.


Schachter is organizing what’s being billed as “The First Autonomous Track Day,” a racing event in the true American run-what-you-brung fashion, only with cars that drive themselves.

With autonomous cars becoming a bigger and bigger part of the future of transportation, Schachter wants to make racing them into a more accessible activity. He’s gotten quite a lot of interest, too, with the signup list including everyone from CEOs working on self-driving go karts to startup tech companies.

“It’s the SCCA equivalent of autonomous car racing,” Schachter told Jalopnik in a recent interview. “We’re trying to create something at the intersection of the racer crowd and the ‘maker’ crowd.”

The new racing series will start out simply as an autonomous car track day at Thunderhill Raceway in California at the end of May, with Schachter funding it all himself for the time being. There are currently 16 different companies and groups on the entry list, and Schachter wants it that way—accessible and not exclusive due to a big price tag.

Those entrants are deeply eclectic bunch. Schachter said they include a joystick-controlled Lincoln MKZ, a vehicle from famed hacker and iPhone-jailbreaking pioneer George “Geohot” Hotz’s new company, an autonomous car from nascent company Renovo Motors, and more.


Rather than putting a lot of money into the operation like the FIA Formula E Championship’s autonomous RoboRace, Schachter wants a casual series. He’ll “just have an event and see who shows up,” The Verge quoted him as saying.


From The Verge:

“Instead of throwing huge dollars at it like the Roborace guys are — and not to put them down, I want to be very positive about them, but they have 10 teams and an expensive, high-end car — if people showed up with a self-driving jalopy, I’d be thrilled,” Schachter says.


Schachter told us that it won’t be much of a spectator sport for now, possibly running time trials to start.

The first test is the weekend of May 28, and the program’s website—which has an open signup link—says it intends to extend testing into several events before integrating autonomous racing into the mix.


So, why is an avid racing enthusiast putting so much time and effort into a racing event in which humans aren’t behind the wheel?

“This is the future of cars, no matter what,” he told Jalopnik. For him, this event is about pushing the boundaries of autonomous driving much the way racing pushes the technological envelope for human-driven cars. These cars can learn things on a track they maybe couldn’t putting around city streets.


“We’re not trying to replace racing,” Schachter said. “I’d love to get in a car, fall asleep and arrive at the track.”

We’ll be at the event at the end of May and can’t wait to see how it shakes down.




Technologically it is impressive. As a demonstration of what is possible it is 100% amazing.

In reality, as a spectator sport, I don’t know a single person that would give a flying rats ass about an autonomous car racing. The point of watching racing is seeing driver and machine pushed to the limit, dealing with the ever present danger and pushing past it. Humans are inherently flawed, drivers make mistakes all the time, we watch to see the drivers master their cars, the track and their opponents. Watching a computer speed around a track is not interesting because it analyzed and programmed to perform perfectly.