A universal roof rack mounting system includes small, nearly imperceptible, permanently attached pads and removable cross bar towers. The pads extend only about one quarter inch from an automobile roof and may be painted to match the color of the roof. The cross bar towers may be quickly and easily attached and detached from the pads, and the cross bar towers include a passage which accepts known roof rack cross bars including, both round and rectangular cross bars. An adjustable latching action between the pads and the cross bar towers allows a range of cross bar tower lean angles, thereby allowing the mounting system to adapt to any vehicle roof. The cross bar towers include locking release covers, and the cross bar towers are easily removed, with or without cross bars attached, by unlocking and lifting the tower covers, and the rack system can be lifted off as a unit.