I Got Dinner with David Tracy from Jalopnik and Of Course We Worked on a Mini Cooper First

I grabbed a cup of coffee yesterday afternoon and sat down to take a break from work for a few minutes. My browser loaded the Jalopnik home page and the top article was titled, “I Tried Fixing My Friend’s Mini Cooper S But I Screwed Up And Now The Car Is Stranded,” written by one David Tracy. I chuckled and sent him a message. “So am I meeting you for food and drinks or am I meeting you to work on a Mini?”

Turns out, we met up for both. I’ll leave the full description of Mini problems to David (go click the link above to read all about it) but the short story is that David’s friend’s 2015 Mini Cooper S had a bad engine mount. The dealership fee to replace it was deemed excessive. David was already going to be in the DC metro area for a few days and offered to bring some tools and help change it. He and I had already made plans to get together after my work day ended, but I figured we’d meet for happy hour in oh-so-DC fashion.

This, predictably, did not go according to plan. David and his friend Jeb worked on the Mini on Sunday afternoon, and one bolt holding the Mini’s engine mount got cross-threaded upon insertion. I spent the first part of my Monday evening standing in a garage in Northwest DC watching David spray PB Blaster on a tap while carefully (desperately) trying to fix the threads so Jeb could get to work with his only vehicle.

Given David’s tenure at Jalopnik and associated history buying and working on vehicles – mostly Jeeps – of questionable integrity, I had to laugh when our evening catching up started off with a Harbor Freight tap and die kit. See, I feel partially responsible for enabling David Tracy’s hobby-slash-madness about ten years ago.

We went to college about an hour apart, I was at James Madison University and David at University of Virginia. I was the then-president of JMU’s motorsports and car club, Madison Motorsports. While U.Va had a car club, it wasn’t very active, and David was trying to change that. I invited him over to chat about what worked and the challenges we faced, in the hopes of getting his school’s club back off the ground.

David drove his maroon 1992 “XJ” Jeep Cherokee over Afton Mountain and we met at my rented townhouse. He had asked if we could also change his Jeep’s valve cover gasket while we talked, as he had very little automotive experience and it was leaking. My experience level was marginal at best, but better than nothing.

We discussed car clubs and motorsports and university support while spinning bolts under the hood of David’s Cherokee. The valve cover gasket got replaced and I believe we also changed the oil or spark plugs. This one wrenching session, says David, showed him that cars aren’t that scary to work on, and his hobby and passion grew with tenacity. I believe it – I had a similar experience as a college sophomore when two friends showed me how to put my 1995 Mazda Miata on jack stands and change the oil. It’s a snowball effect for some of us.

jake e30
One final photo, in my college townhouse parking lot, with my $700 spray-painted BMW E30. A lot of wrenching happened in these parking spaces, including the work on David’s XJ Jeep Cherokee.

I graduated that spring and moved up to Northern Virginia to start my career with AOL (really). David went on to work for Fiat Chrysler Automobiles and a few years later, started writing for Jalopnik. I’ve since owned an excessive amount of older BMWs, and David followed suit with older Jeeps.

After an hour or so of working on the Mini, we ran up the street for some Mexican food. Given our collective history, it felt fitting to catch up at dinner while smelling lightly of PB Blaster and noticing bits of car crud under our fingernails. As we parted ways, David had one more question for me.

“Do you think I should buy a $500 Jeep Comanche?”

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