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Bitten by the racing bug

Or, "0-130MPH in 25 years"

I've been a fan of car racing since way back. It started with random viewings of the Indy 500 back in the mid-'70s, but didn't get serious until I stumbled across a BBC feed of a Formula 1 race in 1980 or '81. I don't know what it was about the race I saw, but I wanted to see more, so I made an effort to find the next telecast. And then the next telecast, and the one after that, and so on. Now you have to realize that these were shown live and mostly from Europe, while I lived on the west coast of the US. We didn't own a VCR in those days, so I had to drag my not-a-morning-person self outta bed at anywhere from 3:30 to 5:30 in the morning to watch!

Over the years, I had to chase F1 around the TV dial, as it moved from CBC to ESPN (although the Grand Prix of Monaco was usually shown by ABC), then to ESPN2, then to Fox, then Speedvision (which became SPEED Channel before it got NASCAR-ized and morphed into Fox Sports 1), and "finally" NBCSN... I somehow managed to never miss a race in all that time. We eventually got a VCR (and a TiVo in recent years), so I could finally watch at a normal time. Also, since the days of Speedvision, the coverage expanded from just the races to include Saturday qualifying and even one of the Friday practice sessions.

In about 1995, I started getting a little bored with F1, so I flipped on a couple of CART races. I wasn't too excited by the oval races, but the rest was awesome! Not only did I start catching all the CART races, but it helped rekindle my interest in F1. Looking back, I realize it was also the beginning of a different phase of my interest in auto racing, one that was a little more... I dunno, mature? Sophisticated? For one thing, I came to realize that oval races (at least in CART, and here I'm mainly speaking of the super-speedway stuff) weren't the "Bubba goes left" affairs the sports car snobs would have you believe. For another, my primary interest started shifting from the overall spectacle of the race and toward the technical and driving aspects of auto racing.

Of course, between my newfound interest in the "doings" of the sport and the access to SPEED, I discovered a whole new pile of races and racing series to follow. It started with some of the bigger endurance races (Le Mans, Sebring, Paris-Dakar, etc.), moved on to sports car racing in general, and then on to development series like Barber Dodge and, recently, rally racing.

I suppose I should've expected that, as my interest in the driving side of racing began to grow, I would want to develop my own high-performance driving abilities. This first manifested itself as a growing dissatisfaction with the cheap (but reliable), used econoboxes I'd been driving all my life, leading to:

1995 Chrysler Sebring LX
Taken out front of the Nissan dealership where I traded it in. It looks a little dated now (although way better than the styling from '97 on, in my opinion), but I was still getting compliments on it in '99.

A 1995 Chrysler Sebring LX, which I bought off a lot in 1995. It was just about the absolute base model (I had intended to buy the V6-equipped LXi, but... well, long story short, I haggled over the price so long that someone else bought it.), but it had the manual transmission I wanted, was surprisingly quick for a 140hp four-cylinder, and handled like it was on rails once I'd put on Eibach springs and moved up to 225/50 V-rated tires on 16" TSW wheels.

2000 Nissan Maxima SE
One of the "glamour" shots I took when the car was for sale. You can't really tell from the picture, but the exterior was a deep, rich green.

A 2000 Nissan Maxima SE, which I ordered in June of 1999. This was a good deal more powerful (222hp V6), a whole lot more luxurious (leather, Bose stereo, moonroof, etc.), and was still performance-inclined (the SE is the sporty model, which I'd ordered with a manual transmission, plus I replaced the stock springs with Eibachs again), but was ultimately a little lacking in panache. That, and I really prefer coupes to sedans.

2002 BMW 330Ci
This is from the second time I took it to the track.

A 2002 BMW 330Ci with the Sport Package, which I ordered in November of 2001. Now this car... well, I just totally dig this baby. First, 'cause I've wanted a BMW coupe since I was about 15. Second, 'cause, well, it's just way too much fun to drive.

On paper, the performance numbers for this car are really very similar to that of the Maxima, but the reality is quite different. The handling and brakes, especially, are just exceptional. And there's something about the way that BMW inline 6 sounds....

2002 BMW 330Ci
Just a couple of the photos I took before I got brake dust all over my new wheels.

October 2003   I just can't seem to leave well-enough alone, even when it comes to a BMW. I've gone and installed some performance upgrades from Dinan Engineering: What I'm calling the "Dinan S+ package," which consists of the "Dinan S" program (air intake, cat-back exhaust, ECU software, and front strut tower brace) from the Dinan Signature Series plus the high-flow throttle body and Stage 3 engine software from the "Dinan S1" program. Peak HP is up to 240 from 225, while peak torque is up to 224 lb-ft from 215. All in all, and especially after taking it to the track post-modification, I'd say the only thing an E36 M3 has over my car is the limited-slip differential.

October 2004   And the updates keep a-comin'... This time, I decided to do some handling modifications: The first was to dial out some of the native understeer (that's "push" to you roundy-round types) that virtually every car comes with from the factory. In my case, that meant replacing the stock BMW Type 68M wheels and Dunlop SP Sport 8080 tires (225/45 on 17x7.5 in front and 245/40 on 17x8.5 in back) with 235/40 tires (Michelin Pilot Sport PS2) on 17x8 wheels (O-Z Racing SuperLeggera) all 'round. The second was to replace the OE "sport" suspension with a set of coilovers from H&R, which have lowered the car about 1.5" and tightened up the handling a bunch, but without drastically compromising ride comfort. (While I'll take it to the track again, this car's used 99% of the time on the street.)

March 2005   I took the car to a popular dyno shop the other day and, well, I'm not sure what to make of the results. My peak horsepower (at the wheels) was 209.6 and peak torque was 209.9 lb-ft during a run that exceeded 160 MPH (guess that factory top-speed limiter really is gone!). Assuming the "standard" drivetrain loss of 15%, this works out to 246 horsepower and 247 lb-ft of torque, well beyond the numbers (especially for torque) predicted by Dinan. Interestingly, there was another 330Ci there with the same Dinan parts I've got, so we did our runs back-to-back and he ended up with ~205/205. (Running on 89 octane vs. the 92 in my car is why, we think, but who knows?)

The next step was to take a class or two and head to the track. Although I'd always intended to track the Maxima, I never got around to doing it. In fact, it wasn't until a few months after I bought the Bimmer (and, let's face it, this is a car that really wants to be driven hard) that I took it down to Pacific Raceways in Kent, Washington for the "One Day High Performance Driving Clinic" from ProFormance Racing School. The first half of the day is spent on driving in emergency situations (something they should really teach in Driver's Ed), but the second half is spent with an instructor on the track. Hoo-boy, now we're talkin'!

Once I'd taken the class, I was qualified to zip around by myself on lapping days. It was after a couple of these lapping days, where I was able to (somewhat) compare my abilities with those of other driversincluding guys who were already racingthat I started to believe I might not be completely deluding myself if I thought I could step up to racing.

It was time to start looking for a race car.

Continuing the whole "history of Steve's cars" thing:

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