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.