It Wasn’t Supposed to End This Way

I almost had them. It was a hot, sunny day at Summit Point and I’d taken the green flag about fifteen minutes prior. Starting toward the back of my German Touring Series pack, I had a decent start and was chasing the field, battling it out with a black Porsche Boxster, chasing down a brown Cayman and keeping Glenn in his white Cayman in my sights. We were all passing slower traffic from other classes in our “Thunder” race group and keeping it fun but clean.

Double-yellows came out. Someone had broken down and was pulled off on the side of the track, too close to the pavement to be retrieved after the race. Summit Point’s (fabulous) EV crew had to pick up “their customer” and tow them to safety before the race could resume. We spent a few laps behind Chip and his bright red Honda Civic Si pace car before he pulled back in to the pits and left us, a field of more than 50 cars, to all take one lone green flag.

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Just before the double-yellows came out. (Photo: Jaclyn Heck, Flickr)

Single-file restarts put me on edge, every time. Instead of each class taking their own, spaced-out green flag, everyone is nose to tail behind the pace car. It is absolute mayhem in the best of cases.

And so, the green flag dropped, everyone’s throttle plates snapped wide open, and the race was back on. Passes were being made by everyone in every class. I hustled to get by a few people and let others by me side-by-side as we all worked on having our own races. It worked out for most of a lap.

Approaching turn 10 and the front straightaway, I was tucked in track-left behind a slower Fox-body Ford Mustang as a few faster cars flew past on the right. I planned to get through the turn before passing the Mustang on the right, with a string of others behind me looking to do the same. A silver SN95 Ford Mustang slid past me, and a second string of cars to my right quickly formed.

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Mid-turn, about five cars ahead of me, a Spec E46 lost control and spun. Another Spec E46 immediately behind was unable to avoid the first one and made impact. The rest of the field all made calculations and decisions and executed on them as quickly as possible – of course, not in sync with each other. Several cars tapped their brakes, including the Fox-body ahead of me. I elected to dive off track to my left, into the grass and potentially the gravel trap. I might lose position or get stuck, but I wouldn’t rear-end the Mustang or hit the spinning BMWs ahead.

Another Mustang driver to my right was forced to make the same decision as the car in front of him also braked to avoid “an incident.” The Ford Mustangs that compete as part of the Camaro-Mustang Challenge series do not have anti-lock brakes, and this second Mustang dove left, attempting to shoot some sort of gap between me and the panic-braking BMW that had been directly ahead of him.

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Alas, I wasn’t far enough off-track and the gap being shot by the Mustang driver wasn’t wide enough. He made impact with the right rear corner of my purple BMW M3 and sent me into the gravel trap a bit faster than I’d planned. The car sunk up to the axles almost immediately, as designed, and another set of double-yellow flags came out so I could be rescued by a Chevy Silverado and a tow strap.

The last time my M3 was being repaired – a short three months ago – my mechanic mentioned that the next big hit might be the car’s last. After eight years of track use, half of that as a wheel-to-wheel racecar, he said the chassis was getting tired and he feared the unibody may not be fixable for much longer.

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This thought resonated alongside my very-loud heartbeat in my helmet as I sat in the car, Cool Shirt fighting the 90° summer day, waiting for that Silverado to show up and drag me back to the paddock. “Fuck!” I shouted to no one except my GoPro, quietly strapped to the roll cage, recording the melee. I couldn’t see how damaged the rear of my car was, but the rear wing looked pretty level from the rear-view mirror.

Back in the paddock, I shared my video with our Compliance chief and filled out a body contact form. About ten more drivers trickled in to do the same thing – the Turn 10 spin had been a Code Brown moment for many. And then I walked back outside to assess the damage.

The trunk was jammed shut, a result of the mid-1990s Mustang’s low front bumper nailing the right rear of the car underneath the tail light. The unibody was pushed up and in a bit, though the right rear wheel appeared to be in its normal place. I figured it could be pulled out, but immediately decided the person to fix the car wouldn’t be me, nor would it be Kevin down at FlimFlam Speed. We’ve both put a lot of time and sweat and money into the purple 404 E36 M3 over the years, and it’s just time to move on.

Sunday morning, with a fresh set of eyes, we got the trunk latch un-jammed to reveal perfect shock towers inside. The damage appeared to have been contained to the unibody. I borrowed a pickup truck and a tow rope, looped the rope through the right frame rail extension, and put the truck in 4 Low. My friend Taylor sat in the BMW with his foot firmly on the brake pedal, and I slowly pulled the BMW backward a few times. It worked, sort of, and I was able to get the unibody back to a mostly-BMW-shaped structure.

Despite the small victory, I elected to stay in the paddock for Sunday’s race and not risk anything. I’d already been in the mental space of “sell the car” when Kevin gave me the bad news in March, and the latest damage only confirmed my feelings that it was time to find a new car and a new class.

I’m excited for a new class, a new set of rules, and a fresh group of competitors to dice it up against, but I’m also sad to see the purple 404 leave my hands in this condition. I was 22 years old when the M3 found me, as a Cosmos Black street car with a torn-up Dove Gray interior. It had 144,000 miles of use and abuse from prior owners. I built it myself in a series of rented garages, using the little money I had after DC-area rent to buy secondhand parts one at a time. Two years ago, I had it painted Plum Crazy by the local Maaco so I could finally have the purple BMW I’d always wanted.

There are so many memories to share that involve this silly purple car, and I’ll share them in their own post. Everyone who goes racing knows their car’s fate can end this way, and we all hope it doesn’t. The 404 is listed for sale as a fixer-upper, ready to be driven more with enough dedication, or ready to donate all of its mechanical bits so another, cleaner chassis may be pressed into service.

It’s been a wild ride (understatement of the century) but damn, it’s been fun.

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