Zennish Autocrossing

The weather debacle and subsequent paper-flying uproar at the Solo Nationals last Friday got me thinking about how Zennish the sport of autocross really is. Usually.

If you haven’t heard, the 5th (and last) heat was stopped due to lightning, but only after 30 or so drivers had a dry first run. No big deal, happens all the time, right?

I left the site just as the rain began traveling sideways at high velocity. On the way to the hotel the windshield wipers were overcome by the deluge, the roads began to flash-flood and intense lightning cracked all around. Poor course workers, I thought!

No, that’s a lie. I was mostly worried about getting struck by lightning in my sheet-molding-compound (plastic) bodied Corvette, which I’m reliably informed provides no protection from 500,000 volt discharges.

Weather happened to our local club the last two events. In one case we called it and all had to stand on runs from the first session. The second case we were able to restart after a delay and get our remaining (wet) runs in, which were obviously slower than the first session. Anyone who coned the first three runs: too bad.

There’s something very Zen about a sport where you spend years in preparation, learning, and practicing, as much mental and emotional practice as physical, all the while banking a store of unconcious knowledge, accessible but perhaps not explainable, so that someday you’ll be able to perform at the highest level for 60 seconds, two days in a row, and win a championship.

Or, maybe instead, you’re the last competitive car to run in your class after 5 reruns from other classes get inserted between you and the next to last and it starts to pour just as the starter says “Go!” (Happened to me at Wilmington one year and, yes, they really should have let me go with my class.)

In Lincoln last week the racing was restarted after a two hour delay. I don’t mean they picked up where they left off, I mean they really restarted, as in, from the beginning. As in, the Steward decided to throw out the prevous dry runs. As in, no precedent for this ever. As in, no rule or authority given to the Steward to support such a decision.

A bunch of people threw paper, i.e., they protested the event. Because Zen violation.

Autocross has always accepted that weather is variable and therefore often unfair. It has always accepted that sometimes you’re the bear and sometimes the bear eats you, even if it means there are National Champions that might have just been extraordinarily lucky. Old Basho would have understood. No car, no course, no driver, no weather, nothing to strive for… the drive just is. The outcome just is.

Last week someone messed with the perfection of the stormy moment and tried to manufacture fairness. In Zen terms, this was an exhibition of the personality over acceptance of the weather-consequence reality. It took an act of ego to exceed given authority in this manner and accept or ignore the explosion of negative human feelings it was sure to generate from the competitors that got screwed (by taking away their luck) in a totally unpredictable and unprecedented manner. Zen teaches that any such act of the personality generates negative consequences, even if done with good intent. This is the Beware of Do-Gooders tenet within classical Zen. (I may have just made up that last.)

Then, bless their hearts, the protest committee upheld the protest and reinstated the dry runs. Thus, the Universe was restored to balance and all sentient beings became enlightened. Right? Not quite.

Unfortunately, in a second act of overwhelming lack of Zen, the Steward gave notice of intent to file an appeal of the decision. The upshot is that the question will be decided by a higher power and the result won’t be known for weeks.

I bet there was someone in that group of early drivers that deserved, by all that is Random and Holy in Autocross, to win their first ever Nationals trophy, after who knows how many years of trying, and walk across the stage at the banquet that night and accept it to the applause of their friends and fellow competitors, but didn’t get to. May never get to.

If you happen to see me in grid, muttering something that sounds like “no car, no course, no driver…” please, please give me the Zen stick by slapping the side of my helmet quite hard.

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Mike’s Cup (at the West Course start, 2016 Solo Nats, ready to go)

2 thoughts on “Zennish Autocrossing

  1. Well said and written. I have autocrossed for a few years and been the victim and the beneficiary of mother nature and her wonderful ways. I have always lived with “it is what it is” moto and moved on.

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  2. Having done wheel to racing in several fashions, I totally understand the notion of “a win is a win” and “that’s racing.” But that’s usually because you can’t go back and re-run a race. What’s done is done. Autocross has the unique opportunity to level the playing field in the face of adverse or uneven circumstances, by only comparing the runs made in the same conditions. Why not embrace such a unique position as the special advantage that autocross has over other series?

    On the other hand, where do you draw the line? Should we be measuring the surface water depth and scrap runs not within a certain standard deviation? Someone will surely throw a fit over a temporary adverse headwind. I can see the merit and faults in both positions. And then we return to, “that’s racing.”

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