Is racing a zero-sum game?

There can be only one 1st place. But, do you consider racin g a zero-sum game?

I’d be interested in your perspectives. I imagine how each of us views this is pretty different.

I was reading Giannis Antetokounmpo’a response to a reporter which made me ponder this:

Antetokounmpo, after being asked if he considered the past season a failure:

"Do you get a promotion every year at your job? No, right? So every year, your work is a failure? No. Every year, you work towards something, which is a goal: It’s to get a promotion, to be able to take care of your family, provide a house for them, or take care of your parents. It’s not a failure, it’s steps to success. There’s always steps to it. Michael Jordan played for 15 years and won 6 championships. The other 9 years were a failure? That’s what you’re telling me.

There’s no failure in sports. There’s good days, bad days, some days you are able to be successful, some days you’re not, some days it’s your turn, some days it’s not your turn. That’s what sport’s about. You don’t always win, some other people are gonna win. And this year, someone else is gonna win. Simple as that.

So 50 years from 1971-2021 that we didn’t win a championship, it was 50 years of failure? No it was not, there were steps to it, and we were able to win one, hopefully we can win another one."


For karting the goal should be to have fun and enjoy your hobby. If you’re doing that, then no, it’s not zero-sum.

Even if you are competing solely to win or for the result, it’s still not zero-sum, for me at least. Some of my best races where I felt I maximized everything within my potential, were 15th place finishes. And going back to the fun part; some of my most fun battles were not for podium places.

I think if your singular focus in racing is to win and ignore all the other possible positive outcomes, you not only will be unhappy in racing, but you’ll also perform worse, as you are so focused on the ultimate prize that you have blinders on to possible lessons or positive takeaways in the races you didn’t win.


I tend to share your perspective. For me, my best races are never wins, it seems. I get the most out of races that are contested and hard fought, generally. Wins have the least value, in a sense… I get the least out of them, driving wise. I’m up front, alone and just apexing. I derive more value from racing faster drivers who make my life hard.

Ergo, to me, racing is best enjoyed when others are also doing their best to enjoy it (and bringing it to you).

Why is why I scratch my head at Tanguy and Warrens views about racing being a very all or nothing demand of oneself.

Wins are nice tho, they compel us forwards yet again. So do losses, tho.

Bear in mind I’m not making a hobby distinction here. I’m sure there’s plenty of folks who are just out there for fun and reallly have no ambition to podium.

There’s a statement by I think Valencia Rossi (multi time MotoGP champ) near the end of the documentary “Hitting the Apex” about different reasons why people race. I thought it was a perfect answer to your question.

Me- I race to win, or I don’t race. I’m 56 years old. Winning is what motivates me to participate, what motivates me to perfect my craft. I can learn while I’m trying to win, but if there’s no way I can ever improve my chances of winning, I’m moving on. Karting is new to me, I am an old drag racer who stopped after 20 successful years because I didn’t have time due to focusing on my family. In hindsight, it would have been cool to continue at a less than perfect level just to get my kids involved. So yes, my philosophy is very flawed, I wish I could just go out and participate, but I’m not made that way. I wish I was.

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For me, I don’t consider commitment to winning, openness to learning/advancing, and the pursuit of fun to be mutually exclusive.

I do set very high ‘all or nothing’ goals going in, with the expectation that somehow I will find a way to achieve them. I do this because I believe doing so gets all of the ‘voices and roles’ inside my helmet aligned and doing their jobs without interference, doubt or noise.

When actually driving, it’s like a spiritual thing for me (or at least that’s the goal)… a way of losing or minimizing ‘self’ to the point that ‘I’ can connect to what is beyond me and my mind. In the perfect world, I don’t drive… I observe driving flowing through me. :yin_yang:

When the driving/racing is done, I either have or have not accomplished all of my goals (probably have not), but either way, I always do the following:

  • Look at what went well (and take enjoyment from that)
  • Look at where I fell short, honestly assess why, and extract the lessons from that experience.
  • Look at what I learned, and really enjoy that (I too appreciate a good step forward more than a dominant race)
  • Use reflection & imagery to extrapolate the entire experience in an effort to expand the breadth, depth, resolution, and interconnectedness of my driving knowledge matrix, so next time I’ll be better prepared to reach my goals.

So to summarize, I shoot for the stars, if I get to the moon, that’s a good step, and it’s a nice starting spot for the next shot at the stars. :grin:


For sure, same here.
I think no matter the outcome there are always positives to take away from each session (and almost any situation in life) that will help you further your pursuit down the road.

I would say when I’m on the track I am “win or die trying”, but after I am cooled off I am able to reflect and learn and emphasize the fun parts, even if the race didn’t go my way.

One distinction that needs to be made I think, is that in racing, the level you are competing at is relevant to how you perceive the question of racing being a zero-sum game. If you are club racing a kart, fun is more important than outright results, or should be. F1 drivers have a lot more on the line and are competing literally to be the best in the world, so the mindset is maybe a bit more high-strung and focused on absolute victory, but of course even then they have to take lessons and benefit when the race doesn’t go their way.

In-between, if you are racing karts at a high level, like nationally or internationally, you probably are more focused on victory as the only acceptable outcome. When I compete at a big event, the emotional highs are higher and the lows are lower, because the monetary cost to go race is higher, the profile of the event is larger, and my personal stakes, a piece of my ego and self-worth is wrapped up in it more.


I guess like anything, racing many things to many people, therefore it is whatever you make it to be.


Yup and that’s why I’m asking. I’m interested in hearing from others how they experience the competitive side of racing, across the various levels of sport. It is entirely possible to be super serious about it while rental racing, for example.

My assumption is that the folks running around in National type events have a different way of approaching the sport and defining “success” than a rental or club racer. But, who knows what philosophies one might find.

Also, to be clear, despite all my nice guy BS, I’m quite competitive and race to win. I try to keep my better angels around when I go karting, tho. When the race is done, I’d prefer to do high fives and “good battles” than go home pissed at myself or someone else.

Yup. This. This is basically what I am chasing.

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Ironically, you can’t chase it per say; you have to just create a conducive mental environment (usually steeped in relaxation and confidence), and let it find you. :wink:

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Ironic, isn’t it? The moment you become aware that you have transcended you come crashing down to earth. I dramatize, but that’s basically it. It’s so fragile. I don’t know if accessing that level of abstraction at will and maintaining it consciously is possible.

This is a tough one. The motivation is to do as well as possible and hopefully win, but as pointed out by Lightning McQueen “one winner, 42 losers” I have to be realistic. As I get older I have to be realistic about my goals. Maybe my goal is beating certain drivers, maybe its a target lap time, maybe its making minimal or no mistakes. They are all goals. If my only goal is to win I don’t think I would still be doing this and I doubt many others would either.


My wife tells me that I used to have a lot more fun racing when I was not as good.

We always laugh because I know what she means, but it sure doesnt sound nice. :slight_smile:

Once I got a taste of winning (or doing well), that became the goal. Yes, I can have fun and not win, but if you are not trying to win are you even racing??


I don’t mean not trying to win. I’m pretty sure that everyone who grids up grids up to win, as best they can. And, to Derek’s point, the more competitive your results are, the greater your expectations of self are and that changes as we develop, I think. It’s possible to go from mild mannered, “I’m just here for the exercise” to “I’m gonna beat John Bonanno and become the fastest old guy in the NE” or something.

But there’s something there… if the end goal is to win, then why aren’t our wins the races we remember the most, generally? At least that’s what I’ve experienced. If our primary motivator is competition, winning, then that by definition is the brass ring, and any result less than win is pointless. And yet we persist. This is at odds with the way the world works. Negative feedback loops repel. By this logic we’d all quit and find something else we could win at.

Not sure where I’m headed with this.

Hmm. More fun or a different fun? I wonder if we get to a point where that all we’ve got talent wise and the joy of it falls off and you get tired of not improving. Interest fades. My experience has been that the racing almost makes your talent irrelevant in that there’s others in the lack at same level, which makes race interesting regardless of where you are in pack. So the competition is what keeps you coming back, the battles. You may not be getting faster or improving much but the racing is its own discipline, with its own rewards. So to me, the racing may be zero sum in some ways but the whole enchilada requires everyone in track deriving value otherwise they would not return week after week.

There’s a lot to unpack here…
First, I don’t think you must have just ONE goal. That is, even if your conscious goal is to win (however YOU define a win, and at whatever level you are currently able to compete), there are accompanying/supporting, implicit goal such as driving to your current potential, executing racecraft to your current potential, pushing/expanding your own personal limits, etc.

If you ‘win’ but you haven’t driven to your best potential in terms of driving execution and/or racecraft, or you haven’t pushed (or been pushed) beyond your limits, or you haven’t learned anything, then I think a win can feel hollow. Conversely, if you don’t achieve your ‘win’, but you do execute to your current driving potential, or you successfully apply your racecraft, or you learn some things that help elevate your driving potential and/or your racecraft, then you get that feeling of accomplishment that drives your desire to continue racing and improving.

That said, you must be willing to push your own limits if you want to improve, and you must be willing to make a mistake in so doing. You must take yourself to the ‘edge’, and lean over that edge up to your ‘limit’, then next lap, lean over just a tiny bit more. If you didn’t scare the :poop: out of yourself, then your original limit was a false limit, so carry on pushing. If you did scare the :poop: out of yourself, but you survived, then dig into that experience… YOU pushed YOURSELF, out of YOUR comfort zone, but then HE (your subconscious inner driver) stepped up and said “I got this” and saved your A**. Used wisely, a self-created experience like that could be an important lesson about what HIS real potential is compared to what YOU think YOUR potential is.

It can get really crowded, really noisy, and really contentious inside your helmet, so one important step to reaching your potential is to take control; not necessarily of the actual ‘driving’ but instead to take control by managing the ‘players/roles’ that are involved in such a complex and demanding task. When you decide who gets the microphone, and when allow the best ‘role’ available to take care of important tasks like creating your plan, executing the driving plan, evaluating the results, Specifying any plan or execution adjustments, implementing any adjustments, etc. then YOU are in control of the whole driving/racing process, and you control how well you execute to your potential, where, and how much, you can push beyond you ‘limits’, and what you can learn/apply from those experiences to progress… and progress ALWAYS feels good.

Anyway, perhaps I’m senile or crazy, but I just feel that driving can be as much about self exploration is it is about external performance optimization/improvement.

Working on it. This is the hard part, not just shutting up the extraneous voices, but learning how to make them either work for you or recede into the background.

Thanks for posting that…I know as a parent it’s great to read that and “check yourself,” because if you have kids in any type of sports, you know it can get very sideways at times. I have been in the top levels of travel baseball with my oldest 2 sons, and the things I have seen with parents will blow your mind. I’m looking forward to my 2 younger sons getting into karting…but I know the crazy is everywhere. Good reminder to us parents, that it’s most importantly about having fun and letting our kids learn life lessons and develop into adults.

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Roger that; ice hockey with my son… UFB some of the stuff we saw and heard.
In a semi-related topic, this commercial cracks me up because it’s both tong-in-cheek funny and a brutal slap in the face at the same time; brilliant marketing.

I’m going to be a bit of an outlier here, but I found karting to be a zero-sum game for me. My experience was that the cost of entry was so high that I could buy in, but then did not have enough money left over to get a kart properly set up to enjoy.
I sometimes think that if I was in a different part of the country that maybe I would have enjoyed it more… the truly awesome camaraderie on KartPulse is not something I have experienced in Georgia.

Those of you can actually enjoy this hobby please keep doing so, for not all us are so fortunate.

Grr that sucks. It’s a pity there’s no chill club scene to participate in. Sorry to hear that.