A year that saw a major and very positive change to the car… but one not without consequences.
Looking back at 2011
Early in the off-season (late in 2010), I did some thinking about the cars in ST and how things seemed to be shaping up. Mike McAleenan was really settling into his E46 M3, Eric Krause seemed to have worked out the kinks with his turbo 968, and I’d heard of soon-to-be arriving E46 M3s and other cars with turbos. My car, on the other hand, despite being used as the “reference car” for the class, was getting a little long in the tooth. Yes, it was powerful, reliable, light, and relatively long-legged (i.e., had good gas mileage), but it was rapidly being overhauled in the power department. Having no more than 10 pounds per horsepower was developing into something that was not just a limit, but a no-worse-than requirement… and I was up around 12lbs/horsepower on my best day.
I’d long intended to add more power to the car, but the desired Sunbelt race cams were pretty much impossible to find. I’d been on a waiting list for nearly 18 months and there was no sign things would get better. Euro-spec S52 motors were both expensive and highly-strung, and had fallen out of favor as they’d aged. I knew that prices for the 3.2-liter S54 engine from the E46 M3 had come down, but a full-on engine swap seemed expensive and, jeez, the chassis-correct S52 in the car only had about 60,000 miles on it… what to do?
In early December 2010, at a party amongst racers, I was listening to a story told by Jerold Lowe about the pain he was going through with a customer car. I didn’t know Jerold all that well, but I knew he was a racer-turned-car-builder, and the pain he was experiencing had to do with Getting Things Done Right. Listening to some of the aggravations and frustrations he was experiencing in getting vendors to do those things he felt were necessary to make the racecar he was building the best it could be, I was struck with his integrity and dedication, as well as the up-front and honest way he told things: He didn’t sugarcoat the occasional mistake or poor decision he’d made (20/20 hindsight and all that) and it was clear that he’d worked “off the clock” frequently to make things right.
Anyway, long story slightly shorter, I contacted Jerold about doing an S54 swap into my E36 M3. He was pretty booked with other customers for most of the off-season, but eventually was able to get a decent motor in the car and hooked up to most of the existing parts. We just barely missed the first race at Portland in early May, but I was able to make that first race at Pacific Raceways. The one-off week-end I’d done late in 2009 notwithstanding, I was still really rusty with my car and now I was working with a new engine and its characteristics, but I could tell right away the new engine was going to be FUN! Still driving the car as if it had the old engine, and well out of practice, I was already turning laps nearly 3 seconds faster than my previous best.
Every session out, I made progress and improved on my laptimes at each track I drove at. There were a few niggling problems here and there (a stumble around 5000 RPM in Portland, some exhaust issues as some old-ish pipes tried to deal with the increased back-pressure of the new engine) but nothing really to worry about… until the “3 in 3” week-end in Spokane. For the first time, a Conference club was going to put on three races in just three days, which meant that people double-entered, like myself, would get to do six races in three days! Unfortunately, one of those “new engine teething problems” cropped up and the stumble from the Portland races developed into a full-blown loss of power just in the rev range where I really start to develop power. As those around me in the paddock can attest, Jerold tried all kinds of (noisy) things over two days, but simply couldn’t find the problem. (He was actually there to support another driver AND got sucked into working on another guy’s new car, too.) In the end, I would only finish one race (limping around slower than with my old engine), pull off after one racing lap for a DNF in another, and fail to start the other four races. My big plans for a strong season went out the window right then and there.
I ran two more races, one each at Portland and Seattle, and continued to see drops in my laptimes. Basically, but for running stickier tires (Hoosiers or the like, instead of Nittos), I was now driving a front-running car. Pretty cool!
Looking forward to 2012
Aaaaand… we’re done. Much as I’d like to do otherwise, a sense of fiscal responsibility has developed in my thinking and I’m giving up racing. Selling the car, hanging up the helmet; the whole deal. It sucks that I have to choose, but it’s a combination of factors, including a desire to do more for my kids’ college funds and my retirement plan, and the realization that the money I spend on racing has turned me into a one-trick pony so far as hobbies and other free-time pursuits are concerned. I don’t want to give it up, but motorsports has eaten up an insane amount of my money and it’s time to do something else. I fully expect that I’ll return to it in the future, but there’s just no telling when that future might arrive, so I’ve concluded it’s best for me to assume that it won’t.