To Go For the Pass, or Not?!

To Go For the Pass, or Not?!

The art of getting around the other guy. It’s what racing IS! In wheel to wheel competition, it’s all about physically getting to the finish line before the other guy (or gal). When you go to wheel to wheel with another car, things get a bit tricky. 

Whomever is in front wants to keep you behind them, but you want to get in front. And as you can imagine, this can create quite the conflict! What happens next depends on the combination of skill and aggression from both drivers. Sometimes this results in good, hard racing. 

And other times a big crash!

Making The Decision To Pass

The chances of a successful pass depends on many variables and there are no hard and fast rules to define whether to go for it, or not. There are way too many variables to realistically cover every possible scenario. 

But let’s do our best to lay down some common fundamentals that all clean passes have.

The racing community often refers to the likelihood of a successful pass as a “(low)% pass”  or a “(high)% pass.”

Low Percentage Pass: one that was very risky and highly unlikely to work. An example would be attempting to out brake someone from VERY far back in a single brake zone.

High Percentage Pass: one that will be very easy to perform and very likely you will get by them no problem. An example would be simply driving around someone on a very long straight away when you have more horsepower than they do.

It’s always ideal for the racing driver to take advantage of as many high percentage passes are as possible during a race, and try and avoid the low percentage passes.

There is a multifaceted, internal algorithm that an experienced racing driver possesses. 

And realistically, there is no way to develop this algorithm other than experience.

Look at any successful professional driver today. They’ve all had their fair share of dive bomb passes, taking either their competitors or themselves out on numerous occasions. 

But let’s look at some things we can do as a novice or intermediate driver.

Risk Management

With passing, minimizing risk means placing your car in the most opportune spot at the most opportune time, taking into account your current position, goal position and length of the race.

There could be plenty of chances to pass someone over the course of a race, but which of them are the highest risk and which are lowest risk? That is the golden question. And the answer is actually overwhelmingly simple.

Trust your gut! The good news is that our natural survival instinct is pretty good at identifying danger. 

And if your insides tell you that going for the pass might be a bit sketchy, it’s going to be! Things happen quickly when setting up for a pass, but likely your first gut instinct was the right one. 

Drive Your Own Car, Not Someone Else’s

The only factor you have control over in a race is how fast your own car goes. You can only optimize what you have, you can’t out drive something you don’t have. It’s just like fitness- you can’t out train a bad diet!

Therefore, the decision to pass will essentially solve itself as long as you do two things:

1. Trust your gut.

2. Only drive your own car.

Whether you win or lose isn’t really up to you as the driver. 

In fact, it’s actually irrelevant and it’s a distraction. 

I could completely drive the wheels off my car, but that’s only the driver part of the overall performance equation. 

The point here is that if the racing driver’s only thoughts are optimizing their own car, they will perform their best and do it stress free.

Car Contact

Here is where we enter a touchy subject. And I look at it like this.

It’s racing. It’s going to happen eventually. 

The raw spirit of racing should include that hard, “cut throat” mentality while at the same time maintaining a level of respect of other people’s cars, money and lives. 

So how do you do both? 

Well, it’s tough. And that’s fundamentally why you see crashes in racing. Very few go out with the intention of deliberately wrecking another, and the conflict begins through escalation and emotion. 

While not justifying car contact in racing, the realization that mistakes will be made by not only you but also your competitors must be respected.

After all, you’re driving like a maniac trying to get somewhere before the other guy. What do you expect?


The decision to pass mostly lies in your gut, first instinct. That instinct and wisdom is developed over time through racing experience.

Car contact will unfortunately eventually happen as a result of racing. But at the same time, it is your ultimate responsibility as a racing driver to keep it clean while racing hard. Sometimes the two will mix and a line will be crossed, the inherent nature of not only racing, but life as well. 

At the end of the day, we are all very privileged to be taking part in such a great thing in life (racing.) 

And we’d all like to be respected and enjoy the sport. In the midst of competition, we need to respect the balance between the inherit need to go for it and looking out for one another.

Which is tricky, and we all struggle with that, admittedly or not

Jonathan Goring



From 2006 Skip Barber National Champion to 2015 Spec Miata SCCA Runoffs Champion, and with the 2008 IMSA Lites title in between, I’ve been in the racing scene for quite some time. I’ve been fortunate to race against (and beat sometimes) the best drivers in the world currently racing in various top level motorsports.

I’m very passionate about the art/science of performance driving and want to share that passion with you. 


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