SCCA autocross aficionado Zack Barnes explains the sport’s appeal, how it’s adjusting with the times and technology, and why it all should be fun
Zack Barnes is an SCCA Houston Region member who, in the last 13 years, has become intensely involved in the Solo community at both the Regional and National level. Zack volunteers with his Region, currently sits on the Solo Events Board (SEB), and always seems to toss his hat in should the need arise. It wasn’t all that long ago that he was heading down a different path, however. Then things came crashing down.
“Back in college, which was 1997 to ’01, I was a mountain bike racer,” Barnes explains. “I shattered my arm for the second time in 10 months — and by shattered, I mean I had plates and screws put in. The first time, I didn’t listen to my doctor. The second time, I was jumping a bike and I crashed, and I knew instantly when I hit the ground that something was bad.”
Following the first crash, the process of bolting Zack back together with a metal plate resulted in a stretched nerve. “I wasn’t in any pain the second time,” he says. “The doctor then had me sign a form that said he could take part of my leg or hip to put me back together again. I signed it, and the next morning I woke up and he checked my arm. It wasn’t until they took my cast off that I realized how bad things were.
“They were pulling out all of the staples from where they had to fix both plates – there’s now the better part of 17 screws and two titanium plates totaling just about two feet in my arm – and I felt nothing. He then put a cast on me from my fingertips to my armpit, and when that cast came off, my fingers had begun to curl, which is a sign that the nerves aren’t firing right. [The doctor] basically said I was never going to ride mountain bikes again. I was like, ‘What do I do?’”
Recovery came next, which didn’t quite go as planned. “I’ll spare you the details,” Zack says, “but I know where the opioid crisis came from.”
After he got sober, the doctor recommended an alternative to rehab. “He suggested I take up driving cars, because all of the work he’d done to my right arm and shoulder would be on the inside. So I took up racing cars.”
Performance cars were new to Zack but his late father had been a bit of a car nut, which helped pave the way for his son. “He always had some kind of car that was slightly ‘hotted’ up,” Zack says of his dad. “He had an RX-3 and he had a Triumph and a Porsche 944 Turbo, but the last one he had was a Volvo 850 turbo wagon. He put Porsche brakes on it and lowered it, and it had a little sport button that changed the boost and the way the suspension rode. So, even though I was a bike racer, you can probably trace all of this to him.”
Zack’s path to the SCCA began with a 1993 Honda Prelude. “I did some street and canyon racing and saw some friends get arrested,” he says. “But there was a local autocross club in Austin, Texas – Spokes – which is a great club, so we started going.”
Autocross, he says, was a great outlet because it was something he could do on weekends, leaving the weekdays for studies. “Slowly but surely I got more serious about it,” he says. “Then, in 2005, I went to the El Paso SCCA National Tour, finished third, and got my first National-level trophy at my first National event. The rest has gone from there.”