BMW CCA Club Race School at Eagles Canyon
by Ross Carmichael (aka YesIFit)
"There are only three sports: bullfighting, motor racing, and mountaineering; all the rest are merely games." ~Ernest Hemingway, or Barnaby Conrad, depending on who you believe.
Even though I was born in Spain, and played basketball there for two years after undergrad, I never quite got around to mastering bullfighting. And mountain climbing? Um, no thanks. (How can someone 6’9” can be afraid of heights? It’s not so much the heights, as the falling from them, that scares me.) But auto racing, that’s something I feel like I can seek my teeth into.
I’ve done my fair share of HPDE’s, with BMWCCA, the Driver’s Edge, and Apex. But, it was diving into a LeMons race that really got this all started. Some friends and I decided that we wanted to join the fray, so we built a LeMons car out of a 225k mile, blown head gasket having, e36. Our team (all 4 of us are BMWCCA members, and two are HPDE instructors) will have done three races by the time this is printed. So, I guess you could say that I had the bug ... wheel to wheel was where I wanted to be. But, what next? I didn’t want to just do LeMons races forever, and doing HPDE’s didn’t seem quite as much fun as before. (Especially in a MINI. You NEVER get the pass!) Enter the BMWCCA Club Racing School.
When Bruce Heersink first posted the information for the Club Racing School on MetroplexMINI.org, I was immediately intrigued. I got some advice from good friends, Brett Gabriel and David McBee, who race in Spec Miata and PCA, respectively. I also called Brain Wisler, a fellow MINI owner, and discussed the possibility of us both attending. After he said he was interested, so long as he could get some overheating issues resolved, I shot off an e-mail to Bruce to make sure that I had enough experience. Also, I explained to him that I was interested in the possibility of racing, but wasn’t 100% sold on the idea. He informed me that graduating the school doesn’t automatically guarantee you a Club Racing license, and that even if I decided not to race after attending, the car control skills that I could learn from driving in such close proximity to other cars would be extremely valuable. Additionally, Ron Checca, a longtime racer from the Northeast would be the panel chair, along with James Clay and David White, co-drivers of the #80 BimmerWorld 328i in the Street Tuner division of the Continental Tire Sports Car Championship. We would also have some fantastic on-track instructors with Bruce, Greg Smith, Dick Hunter, BJ Meyer and other LSC members. I was sold, so I hit up motorsportsreg.com and put my money down.
"I feel safer on a racetrack than I do on Houston's freeways." ~A.J. Foyt
We arrived Saturday morning bright and early, and it was already HOT! The forecast for the weekend was sunny and 99° both days, with humidity indexes into the 100’s. Hopefully, we’d all make it through the weekend with no heat-related issues … to the cars or the drivers. (More on that later.) I felt a little out of sorts in the paddock as my MINI looked out of place next to the e46 M3’s, race-prepped e36 M3’s, 911’s and even a Spec Boxster. Still, I was ready for a weekend of fun. Everyone checked their pressures, torqued their wheels, and headed up to the paddock. Once inside the classroom, Bruce introduced the instructors, ran through the schedule, then told us to get in the cars and head out.
The first session on track was pretty much a yellow/red HPDE session, mostly for those unfamiliar with the track to learn it. I had driven the track twice in the previous month, so I used it as an opportunity to see if there were any changes in the driving surface and make sure my car was set up the way I wanted it. Unfortunately for my friend Brian, his overheating issue resurfaced, and he was forced to retire. (He’s since started building it into one of the first R56 dedicated track cars in the US.)
After that run, we came back in for a quick classroom session, then it was back on track for some laps running three-wide. That’s right, three-wide around the whole track, including turns one and two. It’s easy to forget that the majority of racing surfaces can easily accommodate three cars all the way around them, with plenty of room to spare. In this exercise, we would stay three-wide though the turns, then shuffle around on the back straight and again on the pit straight, that way everyone got a chance to be inside, in the middle, and outside. If your group of three was spread too far out, then they made you get closer. I must admit, even though we weren’t going very fast, when you’re in your daily-driver and are just a few feet away from someone in his daily-driver, it does make you learn to respect the people you’re driving with pretty quickly. It also let us get accustomed to wheel-to-wheel at a slower pace. Following that exercise, it was back into the classroom and lunch, along with a valuable presentation from Brian Hanchey of Advanced Suspension Technology (AST). On a side note, the surreal moment of the weekend was sitting at a table and talking with David and James during lunch, while we watched the replay of their race at Mid-Ohio from the previous weekend on Speed.
“If you ain't first, you're last. You know, you know what I'm talking about?” ~Ricky Bobby
Now it was time for something completely different, rolling starts. (Alternative title – YEE-HAW!) After some explanation of how rolling starts generally work, and the rules involved, it was time to practice them. We all gridded up two-by-two and made our way around the track. The pace car kept us at about 35 as we came up the front straight, then it pitted in. It was now the job of the first line of cars to keep us at the proper speed, and the rest of us had to make sure we stayed close enough to each other that it wouldn’t allow any “running starts.” If the officials saw any big gaps, or thought we were going too fast, they would waive off the start, and we’d have to go around again. (Waive offs can be the most nerve racking, because you’re all amped up to get on the gas, or you’re already on the gas, and you have to suddenly back it down while not hitting the car in front of you and not getting rear-ended.)
As we came up for the first rolling start, I was trying to stay focused … watching the car in front of me, the car beside me, the car behind me, and the official at the start/finish. It seemed like it took forever to get up the pit straight, then suddenly, GREEN! We all floored it, fanned out 3 and even 4 wide down the pit straight, then had to brake hard for turn one, probably the slowest turn on the track. Amazingly, no one made contact, no one spun, we all went through cleanly. From there, it was a full-on race all the way to turn four. Once we reached turn four, it was back to yellow-flag speeds. We then swapped spots, front to back, inside to outside, etc., and came back around to practice another start. This continued for the rest of that session and into the last session of the day.
So that was day one. Much sweat, much learning, and no breakdowns/incidents. Well, no major incidents anyway, just a newbie mistake on my part. Before the last session of the day, I decided to pull my wheel to check my pads. The outer pad looked fine, but they seemed to be getting softer. Lo and behold, the inner pad had completely warped, and the middle section was almost down to the backing plate. All I had with me were the OEM street pads, and it was too late in the day to find any locally. So, it was going to have to be street pads for me for the rest of the weekend, on one of the hardest tracks for brakes in these parts. Why must all my lessons be learned the hard way?
“I just need you to move me to the fastest run group so I can drive my car flat out. That is how I drive … flat out.” ~Richard Allister
Day Two started off pretty much how Day One ended. (Well, at least for those of us who hadn’t locked our keys in our cars.) We practiced some more rolling starts, this time racing all the way around to turn 6. As I look back on it, I think having to drive on street pads actually made me a better driver, as I had to brake much earlier and smoother, get my lines right, try to carry as much speed through the turns as possible and get back on the throttle as early as I could.
One of the things that turned out to be the coolest part of the whole weekend was that, unlike at a DE where the instructor is in the car with you, the instructors were on the track in their owns cars, racing side-by-side with us. Many times, even though they were much, much faster, they would come up right behind you and stay right off your bumper, making sure that you could hold your lines and keep your car under control with other cars inches away. Additionally, driving two or three wide, two or three cars deep, into various turns around the track required learning new lines and driving through dust/gravel/marbles at full speed while maintaining control. It was like doing a wet and dry DE all in the same session. We did have one classmate lose his brakes going into turn 11, slide into the haybales and start a small fire, but he was fine and his car wasn’t too badly damaged.
We finished up Sunday with a rolling start into a full 20 minute race. I can’t say that I won, but I definitely wasn’t last. The racing was good and clean and damn fun. We finished up with one more classroom session, and Bruce informed us that the instructors would be getting together after the school to discuss whether or not we graduated. I’ll admit, that made me a little nervous. Finally, there was a Q&A for those who were contemplating getting into Club Racing. I hadn’t really thought that much about it beforehand, but I stayed and participated in the Q&A … because I was hooked.
“Lotta people go through life doing things badly. Racing's important to men who do it well. When you're racing, it's life. Anything that happens before or after is just waiting.” ~Michael Delaney
It didn’t take long until we got our results. About a week after the school, I received an e-mail from James Clay informing me that I had graduated, and that I was eligible to receive my Club Racing School jacket from BimmerWorld. I ordered that sucker ASAP.
I would highly recommend this experience to anyone who might be interested in racing someday. I wasn’t 100% sold on the idea beforehand, but am now. I know I learned much more in that weekend than I ever imagined I would. I’d like to thank the Lone Star Chapter, along with BimmerWorld, for putting on a fantastic program. Additionally, I would like to thank Autoscope and Lone Star Bavarian, whose donations made it possible for this event to take place.
In the meantime, I seem to find myself perusing the BMWCCA Club Racing rulebook, checking out all the different classes, picking the brains of current Club Racers on the LSC forum, and checking Craigslist over lunch, searching for the perfect candidate.
Note: There is a discussion thread in the forums here. Please feel free to comment, discuss and ask questions there.