The little white Bimmer was right ahead of me in the Saturday-morning tech line for this past weekend’s NASA race at NCM Motorsports Park. Freshly wrapped in a fascinating PopArt-ish line-and-pattern vinyl, it had laminated copies of the original Monroney sticker taped to the rear quarter window. Thirty years ago, it had been sold as a new 325i by Dayton, Ohio’s sole BMW dealer, possibly at the same time that I was working down the road at David Hobbs BMW in downtown Columbus. I chatted with the owner and his co-driver, who was either his brother or someone who just happened to look exactly like him. I’d call them “good kids”, but that’s my age and detachment speaking. In truth, they seemed to be good men, bringing this very nicely-finished car to the track after months of hard work and detail-oriented effort.
A few hours later, after Danger Girl expressed some concern about how her slicks had behaved during qualifying, I borrowed her car and hopped in the “HPDE 4” session. DG was right — the tires were an absolute nightmare, completely grained and displaying some really unpleasant grumble-slide-grip characteristics. The young fellows in their BMW were gridded right behind me. I waved them past early in the session and then spent a lap or two trying to re-surface the slicks by heating and cooling them. I rolled back up behind the 325i just in time to see their newly-built car, on which they’d spent five months’ worth of effort, hit the wall.
A few hours later, I saw the two men loading the crashed car onto the trailer. “I’m really sorry… what are you going to do with it?”
“Oh,” the owner chirped, “we will be back tomorrow!” And they were. According to an email I received afterwards:
We made it back today and for 2 sessions after replacing rear trailing arm, bearing, hub, Front upright, coil conversion it, control arm, tie rod, alignment, and bled brakes.
That sounds like a long night to me.
After nearly two decades on racetracks I have come to believe that sooner or later everyone will hit the wall. It’s what you do after that counts. In Danger Girl’s race on Sunday, she was struck by a 944 driver who lost control under braking and plowed into her MX-5, crumping much of the car’s rear end and knocking her out of second place with just five laps left. It was a stupid and regrettable move by the 944 dude but, again, everybody makes mistakes. His behavior afterwards, on the other hand, was neither typical nor acceptable, and that’s all I will say on that topic at the moment.
Some people make a big mistake on track and use it as an excuse to quit. Others decide to blame the weather, the car, the circumstances — everything and everyone but themselves. Then you have those ones who hit the wall and come back stronger and smarter despite the damage and misery involved. Unsurprisingly, that’s true for life in general as well. At some point, each of us will experience what Robert Bly, in Iron John calls “ashes time”, those months or years where we grind through unfiltered misery, despair…
…well, clearly it’s different for some of us than it is for others.