I wish I were smart or clever enough to make a presentation on Club Memberships in a witty way like John Oliver on HBO’s Last Week Tonight (who did not give me permission to use the screen grab above and I beg of them not to sue me for it’s use)…. but I’m not. So instead I’d like to share my two cents on some observations I made about clubs I’ve had the fortune and misfortune of dealing with, and what those experiences have led me to believe.

For the love of God, it’s important to issue a disclaimer that YOUR experience may differ and not necessarily be anything like mine.

So there are two types of clubs I’m going to talk about… automotive clubs like those I come in contact with though my ownership of the Mazda Miata… the MX-5 Clubs. And Motorsport clubs, like those I have worked with in my racing hobby as a volunteer.

I love and hate clubs, all at once.

How is that possible? What does that even mean?

I love it when you reach out to a club and something positive happens. This is especially true with my Miata hobby. If I’m travelling to France and reach out to a Miata Club in Paris to see if any of it’s members want to join me for dinner, hang out and chat MX-5 talk… and they respond positively. I’m thrilled with an experience like that. It’s absolutely lovely when like-minded individuals half way around the world want to share their enthusiasm and passion with you, even if there are language barriers or scheduling conflicts, or anything else in the way of obstacles that we overcome to make things happen.

I hate it when clubs are so bureaucratic that unless a president of the club or some high ranking officer blesses your request to make something happen, none of the members will participate in whatever it is you propose to do. Whether it’s a meet-up. A dinner. A car show, etc. I hate it when people act like sheep and only follow their leader instead of making decisions on their own to do what they may actually enjoy without the input of their president, or some random individual with a “power” position in the club. That has been a pretty negative experience in my view and one I’ve had experienced a number of times both in Miata community and the racing community.

I hate it when clubs take the position that unless you join their club they won’t talk to you. Or hang out with you. Or meet with you. Joining the club typically implies some sort of membership fee. So basically you have to pay the club to even talk to you. Owning a Miata and being enthusiastic about it isn’t enough, you must kick some cash in to the club’s coffers so that other members of the club even consider accepting you as an enthusiast. That blows!

For someone that travels like me, joining every club I come in contact with is not a practical solution. If I drive through Jacksonville, Florida once or twice a year and want to meet up with a few fellow Miata owners… I love it when the meeting actually takes place. If I drive up to Watkins Glen and want to meet up with the MX-5 community there, it would be nice if that materialized too. But paying to every club I wish to meet with would be ridiculously expensive and in my view completely unnecessary. If only there were one Global Miata club one could join that would back you up as a paying member recognized by all the smaller clubs around the country and the world. Wouldn’t that be nice? Yes it would.

And this is where my Motorsport volunteering hobby kicks in. I’ve joined a number of clubs along the way since I started marshaling in Singapore in 2011. Some clubs I’m still a member of, others not so much. In Singapore I was only the “insider” when I lived there, but when I moved out of the country I was very much treated as an “outsider” and no longer part of their club. That’s fair. Even if it wasn’t a pleasant feeling to experience.

Once back in the US I joined the main club for American volunteers and have had nothing but problems since. And because of that experience I have been super reluctant to join any more clubs. Even though at one point it was costing me close to $200 a year to pay for memberships and participation fees, which I’m now basing my experiences on.

So in general terms it’s been my observation that clubs typically are made up of three type of people:

  • People in Power
  • People that feel Powerless
  • People that don’t give a fuck, the oblivious type.

Generally speaking, when joining a club and paying a hefty membership fee, newbies like me feel enthused and eager to contribute. That enthusiasm typically comes off as a threat to people in power and they tend to either flex their muscles to put people back in their place or point out that their ass must be kissed for anything to happen in the club. And therefore newbies either lose interest because of their powerlessness or accept the fact that it’s not worth the trouble pushing for something to happen and remain oblivious, stop giving a fuck, and like sheep follow what their fearless leaders say.

And that’s where frustration sets in. As a paying club member you expect to get something worth your membership fees. In the example of my Motorsport Volunteering hobby I was hoping that regular training would be offered, as it is around the world and many parts of the country. Instead I was shut down and reprimanded making me leave the local region and joining GUAM. A region that doesn’t necessarily really have any actual racing in it, but has a club.

So why would they shut down someone who enthusiastically wants to better the club?

Hard to say… but it probably has something to do with Money!

There have been many stories in the news concerning the club and racing in America as a whole where shady shit takes place to fund this expensive hobby (and Industry for many involved). There was a story of embezzlement where the person at the top of the club hierarchy stole money from a business to fund their hobby. There were stories of multiple racers as a group cheating on a massive scale to ensure that all involved would be at the top of their respective racing groups. Even worse, these guys were in the Spec Miata group, a series that I enjoy to watch very much. There were rumors that people are getting thousand dollar budgets to participate in Motorsport industry events to help them make contacts and build leadership skills… I spent less than a thousand dollars on a month-long trip to Europe last year volunteering three major events in three different countries. An expense that cannot reasonably be justified! There are other rumors that when big series like IMSA or PWC pay tracks for providing marshals, that money doesn’t necessarily go back to be spent on volunteers but instead is used by the club to promote club racing, like supporting up-and-coming racers. Another idea that seems so absurd but most likely true. How is all this crap happening and kept on the hush. Anytime you talk about money in the club, you’re public enemy #1! Why is it OKAY to be a jerk, but if you call someone for being a jerk you’re the bad guy?

I truly don’t understand the cool-aid drinking nature of club members as a whole who don’t ask questions about what they’re getting for their money, and don’t want to know anything about it. But are ready to jump down someone’s throat for even questioning the decision making patterns of people in power at the club.

This makes no sense!

Is there a utopian club that one could join where everything is perfect? I doubt it… The story of SCCA is full of people leaving and starting their own clubs. USAC is the most direct and probably oldest descendant. NASCAR had it’s start in a similar manner. NASA did too. But those clubs experience the same shinanigans since too.

What is one to do?

Other than reluctant participation, pointing out the wrongs while praising the rights, I don’t know what one could do to be a member of any particular club out there. Even if it is a hugely unpopular position to be in and one that will probably result in many attacks by fellow members.

How dare you have a different opinion than the majority in the Club?

Surely there’s more to club membership than just Politics…