I’m home from three days at Virginia International Raceway, the weekend in October that always marks the end of my National Auto Sport Association chapter’s racing season. 2023 marked my second full year of competing in the fast-growing Spec3 series, and while the car itself faced some challenges, the fact that I was having a blast regardless really speaks to the quality of humans involved.
In Which a 28-Year-Old Rubber Seal Threatens to Ruin My Weekend
The Friday of our three-day event was a practice day and I indeed practiced in the morning. The car drove great, I took it out solo and also with a passenger for a ride-along. My college car club helps work these race weekends and the students have been wanting rides in the 202 for a while, so I borrowed a second seat and harnesses and threw it all together. Rain came in on Friday afternoon and I wasn’t willing to risk the car for fun laps so I parked it.
Saturday morning comes around and I crank the car up after our all-hands meeting, then walk in to my trailer to change into my race suit. I come back out a few minutes later, hop in and my friend DJ walks past and happens to glance at the car. I hear “SHUT IT DOWN SHUT IT DOWN” in a panicked voice so I kill the engine and electronics and hop out. There’s about 1.5 quarts of oil on the ground where there once… wasn’t.
Okay, practice isn’t happening. Pop the hood and investigate and we see oil coming from somewhere higher up on the engine, eventually tracing it to the oil filter housing. The M50-and-variants’ oil filter is in a canister and the housing has these two plugs on the back that are kind of like freeze plugs, I suppose. They are held in with circlips and use an o-ring to seal. Over time, the o-rings crack and when they do, you have oil just dumping out of the filter housing assembly.
One of my friends had this happen in college on his M3 while road-tripping, and managed to limp it back to school while stopping every 15 minutes, eventually having poured several gallons of oil in the car.
It’s not easy to find the right size o-ring to repair the housing on-site, but a magic man named Al happened to be there. Al has an unofficial junkyard of sorts about four miles from VIR, exclusively housing old BMWs. He’s been a friend to the BMW race community for a while and when I found him, he immediately knew that he had another housing for me but “it’s been sitting under a tree for at least four years.”
I start disassembling my car – this housing is basically structural as the power steering pump and alternator bolt to it – and Al runs off in his Nissan Axxess van to retrieve the not-new new part. I had to transfer over my oil pressure line fitting and remove the cap covering the port for VANOS, as the replacement part came from a car without. It all went back together pretty easily, though my friend Paul was helping slip the drive belt on and goes “hey is your crank bolt supposed to be finger-tight?” Uh… no.
So Paul got the crank bolt as tight as he could, but I’m curious why that was loose because they are torqued to about 300 lb-ft.
Everything got buttoned up and I made the second of two races on Saturday.
Out of Class Racing is a No-No
Our races are gridded by class and each class in the race takes their own green flag to start. If you miss grid, you should go out at the very back of everyone and you get to play catch-up once we are all green, weaving through the Spec Miatas and Spec3s to catch your faster ST5 class, for example.
Someone in a ST5 Subaru BRZ shows up late to grid, goes out at the very back and somehow on the pace lap blows past all the Miatas, all the Spec E30s, and makes it to my door as we are approaching the point where we come to a full stop and do a standing start.
Standing starts are basically two-by-two drag races so having space to maneuver if someone in front of you bogs is key. Mister BRZ just sits next to me on the right and does the standing start with the rest of us. I stay ahead of him but within a few turns, he muscles his way in between me and my friend Taylor, another Spec3 racer, who are about to have a battle.
Rule number one of mixed-class racing is to never race someone out of class. If you encounter two people having a battle while you’re all alone – as this guy was – let the battle happen and pass when you can without disturbing the others. Meanwhile, this driver was racing me and making himself wide so I couldn’t get past. He ruined the race for me and Sam, another Spec3 who started next to me at the back of our pack. I stayed ahead of Sam, eventually got past the BRZ, and eventually got past Taylor when he mis-judged his braking zone and drove off track at Oak Tree.
As a result, it wasn’t the most fun or competitive race and the BRZ driver did apparently get quite the dressing-down from our compliance chief. You never ever pass someone under a full-course caution (i.e. the pace lap) and he passed… dozens of people. I finished fourth of six so results-wise, okay enough.
Sunday was spent giving more ride-alongs and the yard-find oil filter housing held up, though I’m going to have it rebuilt with new o-rings over the winter as a precaution.
Looking Back on the Season
It’s been a rough season for the car. Back in April, I sent an entire connecting rod through the engine block. Apparently twelve years of racecar shenanigans was all the original engine could handle. A local shop replaced the engine in time for Hyperfest in May, but the car then suffered a debilitating issue with the clutch and was sidelined for the entire flagship weekend.
It wasn’t all doom and gloom, though. A fellow Spec3 racer tossed me the keys to his car for a fun race during Hyperfest, so I got some competitive laps in regardless. Several other friends let me take their cars out for hot laps with more “track newbies” as passengers, giving them a taste of what this whole racetrack thing is all about.
Once my car was fully repaired, I did get back to a favorite track – Pitt Race – in July and return to New Jersey Motorsports Park after a nine year hiatus. While VIR and Summit Point, my two “home tracks,” will always have a special place in my heart, it’s equally rewarding to go somewhere new or new-ish and face new challenges.
While we have a few more events for Out Motorsports before our own season concludes, my NASA Spec3 racing season is done for the year. I’ll get the car off to my mechanic for a full going-over and start planning the 2024 season. Here’s hoping for even more fun with fewer mechanical issues along the way, though when you’re racing a car nearly as old as you are, things are just bound to happen.
The Spec3 boys (and potential girls, come race with us!) have been a true highlight of the last two years. Despite the “these come with racing” challenges that I and others have faced, everyone’s been supportive yet competitive – the way amateur racing ought to be.