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The Waiting is the Hardest Part

copyright (c) 1995 by Terry Coates

Two hundred twenty-nine days without a lap behind the wheel of a race car. That's approximately 32.714286 weeks or, very roughly, 8.18 months which is to say two-thirds of a year, or way too long. But who's counting . . .

I decided about March that the thing to do this year was to move to another class. I wanted to stay in Showroom Stock and since I'm not a fan of carnage, I rejected SSC as an alternative. That left SSA and SSGT. Which leaves SSA. I don't know much about SSGT cars except that there is really only one car and the future of the class is anyone's guess at this point.

There seemed to be little doubt before the season started that the BMW M3 was the car to have. I somehow convinced myself that I should figure out how to get one. More ghastly, I convinced my wife that it was the right thing to do. So we planned: Sell the Sentra to get a big deposit ready. Get an even bigger bank loan. Write the ads that we'll run in early October to sell the car we can't afford to keep.

My standard get-a-race-car dance was in full swing by late February. I found a dealer, Midwestern Auto Group, who was interested in what we were doing and who had an M3 that we could still order. We stripped it of all options, thereby creating the most rare factory-built M3 on planet Earth--just try and find one without a sunroof. March 17th: The deal was inked and we waited for the scheduled April build date.

On April 14th, my white-with-grey-leather-interior car was born, the better part of half a planet away. It would be some six weeks before we finally got our hands on it--four days before the CD-ROC Mid-Ohio National race. The AutoPower cage arrived the next day. The manic activity began.

George Bozer at Hightech Signs made the graphics on short notice (again). These folks have been so good to me and I got them to set up a deal for the rest of OVR. Ask for George, tell them you read this thing, and George will get you a nice discount.

Since I've previously used this space to show how I build a car, I'll skip the details. In short, we got the required equipment in and managed about 850 break-in miles before heading to Mid-Ohio. The car still had air-conditioning, air bags (disabled), factory alignment, factory brake pads, and only half of its graphics. But it was legal and ready to run. The inspection holes were still warm from the drill when the logbook was issued.

Out of time, we opted to run the street tires in the morning practice. A most magnificent downpour was unleashed just before the session began and I had the time of my life playing in the rain. The down side was that the first "hot laps" in the car would be qualifying laps.

Qualifying did not go well as we managed only fifth, well off the pace. The car's handling was pretty awful out-of-the-box so we messed with the toe to help things some. We had no idea what to do about tire pressures, so we guessed.

The car handled better during the race, and the leaders were a little ways up, but not disappearing. On lap four, however, I put an end to our chances. I came upon some American Sedan cars slowing each other up in turn one. I usually use fourth gear there, but I was slowed enough I thought third would pull me out better. I had the time, so rather than snap the shift lever, I eased it up to request third gear. The very-smooth gearbox allowed me first gear without hesitation. I eased off the clutch and the motor made some very expensive noises. A small amount of washer fluid was forced onto the windshield by the sudden deceleration. The car lost power.

I had already moved to fourth place, but my forward movement stopped. Some power came back, but the car was still off the pace and I neither gained or lost positions. We finished a disappointed fourth.

Monday evening, Walt Berchak at Midwestern BMW tore the head off (while I mostly watched) to reveal a slew of bent exhaust valves. Fortunately, BMW had those valves in stock and we had them sent in overnight. I had to be out-of-town for five days, and in my absence Walt got the motor back together. I picked the car up with a day-and-a-half left before we had to leave for the June Sprints.

Keep reading, this has a happy ending . . . With the rest of the graphics in place, real brakes, no air conditioning, and an aligned car, we headed off to Elkhart Lake.

Other than a quick stint lost in the ghetto area of Milwaukee (the first time I got lost in a "bad area", I had to be towing a brand-new BMW), the tow was uneventful.

We qualified second after the first session, Friday afternoon. My rusty-ness was still slowing me down. I had only raced here once, two years ago, and the track had been recently resurfaced. It was a different track for everyone, although my chief competition was Tom Brecht, a Californian who had never been to the track before. We weren't off much, but we were off.

The second qualifying session was in the morning, so the track was somewhat faster. Most folks gained around a half second. We picked up over two full seconds, leapfrogging Brecht on the grid. He was a little stunned. We were getting a little confidence back.

On the start, I got away cleanly and had a pretty good lead, but four miles of following bunched-up SSGT and A-Sedan cars whittled that to nothing. Coming out of the slowest corner, Brecht was getting a heck of a run on me. I shut the door the first time, figuring it was an anomaly, and that I'd soon run away. The next lap, same thing, only this time he had me clean, so I let him by. I also figured out what he was doing. He was grabbing second gear when I was staying in third. Now his advantage was gone. I was sure we could win.

I was content to follow him around a bit, letting him wear his car out, but I felt that I was faster in several parts of the track. We stayed close for the next lap and I passed him under braking into the slow corner. I grabbed second and got away nicely. The gap grew for a few laps until he had trouble with traffic and later slid off the course. I had a safe margin and concentrated on making no mistakes. We won.

My wife, Cheryl, was so happy she cried on the victory lap. It was nice to have such a good run after the pure letdown at Mid-Ohio. It's good to be racing again, but we've got ground to make up. The June Sprints kicked off a set of three consecutive race weekends. We're going to be busy!

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