Nuts Behind the Wheel: James Cathers

Words: Richard Graves | Liaison/Video: Marcus Luttrell | Photos: As Marked


We’re back, ladies and gents, with our second-ever installment of Nuts Behind the Wheel, Forward Motion’s sometimes-monthly acknowledgement that there are drivers out there better than us.

You’ll recall, either because you read it or because you’re going to click on this link, our first NBtW feature.  That piece featured Mark Pilson, a multi-decade autocross veteran.  Today, we’ll be taking a look at someone occupying not-quite the opposite end of the experience spectrum.


James Cathers’ driving career currently spans less than a literal-handful of years.  Don’t make the mistake, though, of judging skill on tenure alone.  In that relatively short span, James has amassed quite the resume:

He’s won an ETR regional autocross championship (BSP class), ,  in his first national tour appearance he finished 2nd out of 18 of the best STR class drivers in the eastern U.S. ….and don’t ask us how many local autocross “FTD”s he’s posted.   Yeah, that whole “talent” thing must be nice.

Talent is difficult to quantify outside of actual results, but put it this way:  with few exceptions in our readership he’s probably faster than you….in your own car.   “Surely you jest”.  Nay, I shittest thou not.  In autocross competition he’s co-driven probably a dozen different cars, none his own, and beaten the (sometimes quite seasoned) car owner 100% of the time thus far.

“How is that possible?!”.  Well, aside from raw talent, James has been practicing a bit.  A graduate of the prestigious Skip Barber Racing School as well as a few autocross schools, James also hones his skills racing shifter karts where he holds several track records and a track championship

We sat down with James to see if we could figure out how to beat him….find out more about this driver-to-watch:

FM: How long have you been driving competitively at this point?

JC: 2008 was my first auto-x, so about 4 years.

FM: What got you started, and what was your first competition?

JC: Lucas Coleman was suposed to run the pelli event in march of 08′ I showed up with my old helmet from karting back in the day for him to borrow he never showed up, someone asked me if I was looking for registration…looked in my wallet and saw I had 30 bucks, so I went and signed up. ‘Won STM on my last run after several DNF’s.  Dad looked up the results – wasn’t mad that I autox’d the car, ‘happy that I was competitive. ‘Hooked from there.  ‘First three runs of autox were DNF’s actually, lol  (Actual Results)

FM: Now for a most-likely-impossible question:  How many different vehicles have you driven and/or autocrossed at this point :)?

JC: Only about a dozen in total. A few miatas, a few fwds, a couple awds, an ASP vette,  a turbo e30, skip barber formular 2000, the shifter kart and my trusty old Z. 


FM:  Since this has been discussed before, please educate the masses on the difference between a car “slut” and a car “whore”:

JC: Nationally competitive autoxer and original car slut Mike Casino filled me in – whores get paid, sluts do it for free. Mike and I fall into the latter category.. we’re not Pro’s.

FM: So, as Knoxville’s aspiring car slut, you’ve now driven an incredible variety of street cars in various levels of motorsports preparation.  However, you’ve also raced and autocrossed shifter karts as well as small formula cars.  For those of us who have only ever driven passenger cars:  How would you compare driving a fast road car, to a cart or small open wheel car?

JC: Slow motion.. especially in comparison to a shifter kart. The grip that gearbox karts produce on sticker tires is crushing… as is the acceleration. Quite a few indy and F1 drivers still run around on shifter karts during the off season for kicks/cheap training and practice.

FM:  What about driving vs. flying?

JC: I’m sure acrobatics or other forms of competitive or military flying are pretty intense.. but general aviation is pretty benign.. except for spin training – purposely losing control of a plane reaches motorsport levels of intensity pretty quickly.

FM:  Have you found anything from piloting a plane that translates to “piloting” a car, or vice-versa?

JC:  the raw hand/foot coordination and confidence from racing helps in flying the plane on the limit. I’ve taken quite a few of my students up into pretty windy conditions – 25 to 30 knots with quite a bit of crosswind to demonstrate the techniques always impresses them, landing when the plane feels “out of control” and is going sideways.

FM:  How is your vision? 20/20? Better? Worse?  Corrected?

JC:  20/15 distant, 20/12.5 near and intermediate at my last aeromedical exam lol…good eyesight/depth perception are handy with this hobby

FM:  Daily caloric intake on a typical Saturday?

JC: 4000

FM:  Routine at the gym?

JC: squat, dead lift, extensions, curls, calf raises.. incline barbell bench, T-rows, hammer curls, tricep press, flat barbell bench, preacher curls, lat pull downs, tricep dips lower body/upper body on different days obviously

(Sorry, phishing for speed secrets.  Moving along now)

FM:  What’s the best advice or driving instruction you’ve received so far?

JC:  smooth is fast – but first youve gotta be going fast. the overall understanding of car control and race driving I got from Pumpelly and Eversley at skip school was fantastic. learned alot in the classroom and on the track, sliding that car through T1 at road atlanta. and spencer stroking my ego, telling me I was the best of the bunch probably helped keep me in the sport.

FM:  What is the most fun you’ve had driving a car/kart/etc. so far?

JC:  Skip [Barber] school was some of the most fun I’ve ever had.. working up my race pace/racecraft at bakers creek to beat some quick guys in the karts was fun.  ‘Just learning how to drive fast back in the day up at the dragon in the old Zed

FM:  If a petroleum company/investment bank/someone who’s name starts with “Sheik” offered to bankroll you in any car, where would you go racing, and why?

JC:  GP3, with as much pre-season testing as money can buy. I know I have the talent to drive professionally.. but I’d want to prove that from the junior formula like everyone else. If I’m wrong, let me flunk out like everyone else at the lower level.. besides that no amount of money can buy a super license

FM:  Thanks for talking with us James!

We’ve watched James transition from a talented new driver, to a driving benchmark in the local autocross region. We hope to see watch him achieve greater things in the years to come.

Keep an eye out for James this coming season at your local track/autocross.  He plans to compete for top honors in ETRSCCA’s “Pro” class in 2012,  as well as improving on his runner-up performance at a National Tour or two.  James also plans to start up the NASA HPDE ladder with an eye on running time trials by year’s end.

Now, Somebody sponsor this guy so I can say I raced with a GP3 driver!

-FM out.


Some Video of James at “work” courtesy of Marcus Luttrell



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