that's pretty much spot on. the Cat 3 field in New England is a little ridiculous at the big events.
but I don't agree that "fast 3s" need/should make the leap to the big show because even some of the "fastest" amateurs are still no where near being able to ride competitively at the next level - it's a *huge* leap. from what I see, there are a few that could (and probably should) do it - but it's not like the top 20 Cat 3s are ready to upgrade.
and there's just no incentive - getting lapped, most likely riding by yourself and few other stragglers for 60mins (if you don't get pulled from the race), no "top finishing Cat 2" premium, more expenses (UCI license, higher entry fees),etc. why upgrade and get absolutely worked when you can be in a tight race with others of a similar ability, continue to improve and maybe enjoy some good results? saying, "well, I was only 10 minutes off the win today" isn't really encouraging. to be clear, I'm fine with being pack fodder . .. but paying $100/weekend to be a DFL contender every weekend is silly.
Personally, I think the 10 race 4->3 automatic upgrade is bogus. The 3s in New England are jam-packed because of this upgrade, and a lot of these riders should still be racing 4s. Earn the upgrade, and upgrade when you know you'll at least be - and this is generous - in the top 60 or even 75 of a big race.
The 10 race 4->3 upgrade isn't automatic; it's discretionary. Totally up to you.
3s are jam-packed because they don't want to dwell in 4s, where they beat up on first-time cyclocross racers.
3->2 wouldn't be such a jump off a cliff if everyone had already been flowing upstream like they're supposed to. It's still early in the upgrade revolution. I think things will improve.
The existence of local 3/4s validates the need for a 5th category; if you consider 4s as 5s, 3/4 is a "logical" 4, then you have 3-2-1 liftoff to greatness. But calling it 3/4 just makes it another option in a sea of options; it needs one number and people always assigned to race in it. Then other problems begin solving themselves.
i'm with 'ya. but like all things discretionary - some folks just don't use discretion. a lot 4s take the upgrade simply because they can, or they don't want to get up early, or their buddies race 3s, etc. - not because they're winning, training harder or wanting to race in a more competitive field to up their game and be smarter racers. so we end up with the "merry-go-round-of-BS" (that's fantastic, by the way) with the inevitable first corner crash, the ensuing pile-up, taking a ticket for a run-up . ...
I totally understand not wanting beat up on newbies and dwell in the 4s, but why not earn the upgrade? with all due respect to the new 'crossers, they should expect an ass-kicking, right? and the 4s aren't just for newbies . .. i know a lot of older racers who race 4s to be competitive because their age group races are really fast (think 35+field in New England). they race 4s because that's where they can best compete, which makes sense to me.
in any event, you're right. Cat 5 would help. In the meantime though, just require the 4s to earn 10 points . ... hell, 5 points before upgrading. the way the sport is growing, something needs to be done soon, because the Cat 3 field (in New England, anyway) is the last upgrade most racers will make.
Actually the Oregon system is how the cross system used to be and the transition was C=4, B=3, A=1,2; The first cross race I did was a beginner race in the Crusade series. The MFG series in Seattle has introduced this new concept of "true beginner" to allow new riders a gentler introduction, as cat 4 is full some fast riders from a beginner perspective all decked out in team gear with fancy equipment.
Personally I found the upgrade from C->B pretty easy, couple seasons later making the jump from 3->1,2 was certainly a tougher transition.