Why Don’t Readers Care More About Actual Driving?

Why Don’t Readers Care More About Actual Driving?


I spent a significant amount of time this week editing video and piecing together a write-up of my experiences at the Ford ST Octane Academy over the weekend for TTAC. I did all this despite knowing that it would probably receive less than ten comments and be read by virtually nobody.

What I’ve learned in my three years of writing for The Truth About Cars is that automotive blog readers mostly care about the following things, in order:

0. Shiny pictures of new cars

1. Talking about how you should never actually buy one of those shiny new cars

2. Talking about how financing new cars is only for idiots

3-999. Anything and everything other than how they can drive their own cars or rent racecars and drive on actual racetracks

1000. Driving cars on racetracks

I think I might know why that is.

Nearly all of us, at one point in our life, have shot a basketball, thrown a football, or tried to hit a baseball or softball. It’s an easily relatable experience. In contrast, very, very view of us have ever driven a lap in anger on a race track. Even comparatively few have done something as benign as autocrossing. And driving a race car? On television, it looks easy. Speed never translates well on television.

Have you ever noticed how slow a fastball looks on television when a pitcher uncorks one from the mound? It totally looks like you or I could hit it. However, the next time you watch a game, don’t watch the pitcher. Watch the batter. Notice how he starts his swing the moment the pitcher lets go of the ball. In real life, the batter has about .2 to .4 seconds to decide whether or not he wants to swing. That’s literally less than the naked eye can determine. But, on television, it looks like he can take all day.

How about tennis? Doesn’t it look like you could return those serves when you watch Wimbledon on TV? Go to an actual match someday. Even in the women’s game, the ball travels at blistering speeds.

So when you watch NASCAR or INDYCAR drivers driving in a circle at 200 MPH, doesn’t it look like you could do it, too? Here’s a secret—you couldn’t.  Not even close. I just got to watch eighteen people drive on track for the first time over the weekend, and I would conservatively estimate that they were driving at fifty to sixty percent of the possible speed of the car. I was completing my laps in the Focus ST at around 1:53. The track FWD Time Attack record is somewhere around 1:50. The other students in attendance? Around 2:15 to 2:20 for the faster ones, much slower for the others. When they got to do Hot Laps as passengers with the instructors (I watched the film—they were actually only running about 1:56), they literally couldn’t believe how FAST the instructors were driving the cars.

And no offense to any of the excellent instructors at the Ford Performance School, but they’re pretty far down the ladder of speed in comparison to somebody like Sebastian Vettel, or Jimmie Johnson, or Juan Pablo Montoya. It’s easy to forget this once you’ve acquired a modicum of driving ability, but even the very best weekend warrior drivers are likely four to five seconds per lap off of the pace of a professional. But their hands are so smooth, their inputs so precise, that they make it LOOK simple. How many times have you heard somebody say something foolish like, “Anybody can drive in a circle?”

So there’s the bizarre combination that driving at speed looks easy, but everybody’s also terrified to do it. Ask people why they don’t track their own cars, and you’ll get answers like, “I can’t afford to fix it if it breaks,” or “My car isn’t track ready,” or “It’s too expensive,” or really any number of excuses that could be easily remedied by anybody who actually, you know, wanted to drive on track. They’re just afraid. I know, because I was afraid once, too. But after a couple of years of track driving and wheel-to-wheel racing, the fear is slowly, but surely, dissipating.

Add together the boring spectator element with the fear element, and you have something that people who like cars should be interested in, but they just flat-out aren’t. I still believe that it’s important for TTAC to cover motorsports and to try to inspire people to get involved at a grassroots level, because the ability that I, Christian, and Jack have to actually DRIVE separates us from the other blogs out there, especially given that Travis Okulski, who is a fine driver, is leaving Jalopnik. In fact, I think that I’ve just given myself my Bark’s Bites topic for next week.

I don’t care if anybody reads about entry-level motorsports on TTAC or not. It needs to be written.



  1. Do go on writing. I know I don’t have any business being on a track — I was never a speed demon, and I’m not going to become one at this age — but there’s still something, I think, to that old business about “racing improves the breed,” and I’ve learned enough from racing articles to know (some of) What Not To Do in certain unfortunate situations.

    1. Gained some track time at the 24hoursoflemons.com, a few driving schools, and some “wring out what you bring out days” south of Houston. It is not easy to drive a car well on a track, and I have enjoyed your comments on teaching others to drive from the right seat more than some of your actual racing adventures. The BMW you filmed from the Corvette, a new driver that showed promise and took instruction well, ECT…

      Would be interested in your thoughts on the survivability of stock production cars on a race track. It is my perception that from the factory, most vehicles cannot sustain much of a pace for long.

      1. The one thing holding almost any production car back on the track is the brakes. They are typically just not designed to withstand the heat of repeated hard use of a track. Luckily for most cars this can be remedied with just racing pads and fluid. The second thing for some cars would be tires, not from the perspective of performance, but just survivability. A hot track can melt tread on a less than ultra-high performance tire in short order.

        Its down to expectations too. You can run a couple hot laps in almost any car followed by some cool down. If you want to run flat out for an entire 20 min session then you need to do a little prep.

  2. I read the piece and enjoyed it, and watched the videos with my two boys. I’m glad that you and Jack write stories like that, otherwise I would have never gotten the bug and signed up for 15 laps in an M3 at MSR Houston! It was a mind bending experience and I can’t wait until I can do it again. Thank you!

  3. I’m not sure about reasons 1 ~ 999 as I don’t give a rat’s ass about those things yet I still enjoy reading these blogs .

    I am a passable and dedicated driver who’s smart enough to realize I’ll never be competitive on the track but I still go out and have my fun behind the handlebars or steering wheel .

    I’ll never get why some will sit and watch the TV Sports when they could be out and about doing something them selves .


  4. I read and enjoy every single racing article you write. I love reading about racing at levels that I could conceivably compete in someday.

    TTAC is a very strange website. Every day I sift through what feels like hundreds of articles about Chinese cars and airbag recalls to find a good article about either racing, running a used car dealership, or interesting junk cars.

    I understand that China is probably a big deal when it comes to global car marketing, but I couldn’t care less and I definitely won’t waste a click on reading about it.

    1. Auto Industry news has been part of TTAC’s editorial mix since the days of Mr. Farago’s GM Death Watch. You can’t ignore the biggest market in the world.

      As car enthusiast, it’s also interesting to watch how the industry (and car culture) grows in developing countries like China and India.

      When I was young, you could probably say there was disproportionate attention paid to European cars and the European auto industry in the enthusiast publications. In the case of China, though, the market is so important to the global industry that it’s affecting the design of cars even not specifically targeted at China.

  5. There’s also something to be said that it’s inherently an extremely competitive activity. Even in something like this there’s the concrete – no way around it – proof that “THIS IS A THING YOU’RE BAD AT” when you see your times.

    No one likes being shown repeatedly how much worse they are at something than other people – regardless of how little it matters.

  6. I want to drive on the street. It would help if the rest of the “drivers” were similarly inclined.

  7. I’m really glad you write stuff like this. It inspired me to get Autocrossing and I joined a Lemons team with a great group of guys and will drive at Joliet next month. I’m also now making other Bad Decisions (the name of the Lemons team) like seriously considering a Chevy SS 6MT.

      1. Nick D — good luck at Autobahn! I guarantee you’ll have a great time. I did my first Lemons race with no previous track experience at all, in a car I prepared, and it is easily the most fun “car thing” I’ve done. Autobahn will be my 10th race, and it’s still a blast. Bark — I know there are a good number of teams that need a driver for the 24 hour race. Maybe we’ll see ya there!

  8. Back in the 80’s and 90’s I ran track days with a revolving cast of characters here in the southeast. When some found out that I also drag raced, they pooh poohed that as “anybody can do that”. I invited them to come out sometime and show the rest how easy it was. There were a handful that decided to give it a try for what they thought would be an easy trophy. 3 backed out of it before the finish line, as “the car felt loose”, another lost control right off the line due to wheel spin and smacked the wall. Any that did come out and give it a try agreed that it wasn’t near as easy as it looked on tv.

      1. The chance of finding someone who would let you borrow their full on drag car are probably right up there with borrowing a LeMans prototype. However, there are other ways;

        I haven’t been to this myself, but know a couple of folks that have.


        The folks I know were pure rookies and did fine, so it should be relatively easy for you.

        If you wanna go all in;

        http://royhillsdragracingschool.com/classes/ (scroll down and click “Top”)

        I don’t know anyone who has had this course, but Roy Hill is very well known in drag racing circles.

        Like any other form of racing, speed equals money. How fast do you want to spend?

    1. @Dirty Dingus McGee Are you the same Dirty Dingus McGee who used to post on alt.climbing about a decade ago? I used to post there then, and if it’s you, hello and glad to be able to see you in action again. You were always one of the best there, one of the few who had proven to be reliable in your assessments.

  9. The reading is enjoyable even if it doesn’t incite me or others to comment. Its like the opposite of a DeMuro post but that’s the state of the Internet these days!

    I happen to have done a bit of everything over the years, drag racing, auto-x, track days and I have had lots of friends who have not, even though they are “car guys” so I think I get it. I have a different perspective on why most don’t do those things. Honestly I enjoy your perspective of “this is what I like to do and spend money on”, your counterpoints to the anti-fun brigade are great. On the other hand you come off a little braggy “they’re just afraid” and you are the big macho man out there driving on the race track. From my perspective I think the others just see the risk/reward is not worth it. Track days for me were always a commitment, cost a bit of money, had to prep the car with pads and fluid at the least, purchase more expensive tires more frequently. For most track days from Boston I was driving and staying over. Taking days off from work for a well priced weekday. And it is tough on the car. You and I know in most cases it is perfectly fine. But to the first timer it is “beating” on the car at a whole new level you don’t approach on the street. My friends were just not that into the idea to get up over the money barriers to do it. And they don’t care.I don’t think they are “afraid” they are just not that into it.

    Its a big world out there not everyone who is into cars is even into that. Drag racers think auto-x is silly. Auto-xers say track days are just practicing not racing. Track day lovers say drag racing and auto-x is boring. Some dudes like to go to cars-n-coffee and impress others. Some guys have pristine classics, they are the stewards of un-blemished chunks of history. Some just like modding their ride and making it unique. To them the fact you can’t turn a wrench worth a damn is ridiculous, you are afraid of fixing your own stuff, are you a man or what?? That stuff goes both ways bud.

    Automotive enthusiasm is way bigger than racing it is a much bigger part of culture than that. Amateur racing is just one thing you enjoy. Keep writing the articles I enjoy them and you might be encouraging some who are on the fence about trying it out.

  10. I don’t usually comment on track articles, but I enjoy reading them. Don’t let the number of comments dissuade you… people will always be more vocal on subjects dearer to their hearts.

  11. I gained the utmost respect for race car drivers when I attended a McLaren 650S press event at Laguna Seca. I am not an idiot. I ride a motorcycle competently, if aggressively, and I drive a very nice sports car very hard on back roads. But I hadn’t even completed my first lap at Laguna Seca before realizing I know almost nothing about driving. I didn’t embarass myself, but did seriously wonder whether I had any business being out there. I did the best I could, and got enough of a sense of the car to write something intelligent, but I also realized I had only glimpsed what the car was capable of. So I asked Chris Goodwin for a ride.

    I never suspected for a moment that he and I were in the same league, or even close. I’m not stupid. But five laps with him and I knew we weren’t even playing the same sport. He drives. I operate an automobile,

  12. I don’t have the inner ear for racing. High g forces give me motion sickness, which is a drag because I like cars that handle. Doesn’t matter what kind of racing. Even go-karts, or a quick enough standing start will do it. A couple of weeks ago I was able to take a hot lap around the Belle Isle course in an ATS-V driven by Cadillac factory team driver Johnny O’Connell and it’s a good thing it was only one lap. There was a two day Toyota event a while back where they brought all the hybrids and EVs they sell around the world. The first day we drove them around Ypsilanti. The next day was at the Aisin test track in Fowlerville. After the fourth time through the handling course I was getting queasy.

  13. Someone told me once: everything looks easy when it’s performed/done by a professional. You name it.

    TV or video games don’t show you the real speed. And there’s a big difference in going 100 kph (65) and 180 kph (112), nevermind 320 (200).

  14. Well, okay. I’m interested. But if I can’t afford a second vehicle and I don’t want to risk my daily driver, how do I start?

    1. I track my daily driver all the time. There’s really very, very little risk, especially if you drive within your limits. That’s really what Track Night in America is all about.

  15. It’s like the difference between buying cameras and photography, or collecting guns and actually competing in the shooting sports. Not that there’s anything wrong with either option, none of this stuff we do is compulsory, we do it because we like it. Just because I want an M3 or a 911 or whatever doesn’t necessarily mean that I want to track it, but for those who do, more power to them.

  16. I know my particular problem is knowing really how to get started. I live about an hour from the new NCM motorsports park and have been trying to find a beginners session that lines up with my schedule. So far not so good, but I have enough respect for the kind of car I drive and knowledge of my inexperience that I would need a little tutelage with prior to trying to put it through its paces at the track.

    I know it is something I would love to do. The little hooning and drag racing I have done tells me so ha ha…

      1. I appreciate the offer, but once again I’m foiled by work. On the 17th I start a two week exercise.

  17. I grew up reading Road & Track, and Car & Driver, and they imprinted on my boyish brain the idea that if you’re really into cars, you *have* to race them. In the same way that you can’t be into music and not try and play something yourself. As soon as I was old enough, I did, and it’s been as good for the soul as it has been bad for my bank account.

    Ironically, racing has made me more indifferent to what I drive on the street – modern sports cars are really too fast to fully exploit on the street, making them less fun (“slow car fast > fast car slow”). And a true track car will set a faster lap time than a leather-lined “super car” for a fraction of the cost.

  18. Heh, I really want to drag people kicking and screaming into motorsport if I can over on Jalopnik. “No, this is a thing, and you can go do it. Yes, in that. Or in this cheap thing over here. Or in someone else’s cheap thing. Stop merely idolizing the feats performed on TV and go try them. It’s fun. Really.”

    Then again, I pay more attention to the racing/driving stories because that’s what I’m interested in. Keep ’em up. Always a great read.

  19. Count me in with the group who enjoys reading about track and racing exploits. Scattered thoughts: Autocrosses and track days/schools are the gateway drugs. However, a wise man once told me “don’t take anything to the track unless you can afford to leave it there.” There is ALWAYS a risk of damaging or destroying one’s street car at a track day. This is why I drive an aging Boxster S on the street but race a neon in Chump & LeMons. I think that some people who drive something quick and respectable on the street – an M3, a Corvette, a 911, whatever – have a little trouble accepting the image hit that might come with racing a cheap & disposable car. I used to see this a lot in the T1 and A Sedan (burly, V8-powered he-man cars) racers back in the days when I raced in SCCA Showroom Stock C. Endurance racing is a great place for a mid-pack driver like me. It’s possible to win races by being quick enough, making wise choices in traffic and taking care of the car. Plus, it’s fun to work with your teammates and watch your car progress throughout the day. By contrast, there’s only one way to be successful in a sprint race: be lightning quick, be aggressive and win the race. There’s not much fun to be had when finishing at the back of the pack in a 25-minute race.

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