Note: This event originally took place on 5 June 2015. I’m a bit behind in my updates.
When I built the Spec E46, I intended to run it both in the BMW CCA Club Racing series and NASA racing, where the majority of other SE46s in my region were running. I had completed the BMW CCA race school back in January of 2014 at Texas World Speedway, which allowed me to run my first race at Barber with the CCA. Unfortunately that didn’t turn out so well and the car was laid up for serious repairs.
I had hoped that the NASA South East region would accept my BMW Club Racing license and allow me to run without attending their Competition School. Unfortunately they were not willing to do so for a Rookie license. I’m sure if I had multiple races under my belt it would have been fine. Since that wasn’t the case, I needed to get registered for their next available school. My luck was running even more thin when the next upcoming school was coming up in a hurry and I had no car ready to go. Unlike the BMW CCA school, which allows you to use your street car, NASA requires a fully prepped race car with current annual tech inspection. Waiting until my car was ready would have meant missing out on a good chunk of the season and having to attend the school at ViR with Mid Atlantic, a place I had never run.
I thought my luck had changed when a NASA-SE regular offered up his Scion FR-S for rent on the day of the Comp School. We agreed on a fair price, I signed up for the school, and off I went to Road Atlanta. It felt rather odd heading to the track with nothing in tow and only my driver gear in the truck. My father and I arrived late Thursday night to meet with the gentleman renting his car and get a test fit. I had already warned him that I was 6’2″, with much of my height in the torso, but he was confident that with the seat in the lowest position I would fit. Bad luck struck again; there was no way I would safely fit. My head was touching the roof cross bar, even scrunching down. It looked like I would be heading home sans certificate.
Before we gave up, I started making the rounds of the paddock, looking for anyone who might have a ride available. All the Spec Miatas were already claimed, not that it would be any easier of a fit. The regional director even tried to get me a Thunder Roadster ride, though that didn’t pan out (probably best for my own well being!) Then I remembered that a fellow CCA racer had previously offered up his K-Prepared E30 for rent. I got on the phone and tried to work out the logistics of getting the car from nearby Atlanta. Then I remembered; the car had to have a NASA annual tech sticker. Out of luck once more.
By this time the sun was dropping and folks were leaving the track to rest for the following race day. As a last ditch effort I text messaged a friend who was from the local area, just to see if he had any leads. He told me to standby while he checked on something. Perhaps this would be the solution. As it turns out, he was going to rent a Spec E30 the same weekend and planned to run it in practice on Friday. He checked with the owner of the car and came back to me, offering to give up his test day so I could complete the comp school. My luck had finally turned around.
Later on Thursday I tracked down the rental SE30‘s owner and we picked up the car from a nearby shop. Even better news was that I fit just fine in the car, the seat being a larger size and also on sliders. We parked the car with the rest of the SE30‘s and went to the hotel, finally able to relax and know that I had a chance to get this school over with.
The next morning started with a sprint which didn’t stop until the day was complete. See NASA essentially squeezes a two day comp school course into one day. So there is very little downtime between sessions and class. You are in the car, then directly to class, then right back out on track. I was even driving the car directly to the classroom, so that I could hop out and in. Having my father there as crew chief was a life saver. While I was in class, he was topping off the fuel, loosening the belts, and torquing the wheels.
The school itself went by without much drama. NASA does the school in conjunction with test n’ tune sessions, which provides extra traffic to negotiate, mostly much faster traffic at that. To me it felt as though the major focal point was ensuring drivers were comfortable in close proximity to other cars and obeyed flags. There was little discussion of race craft, as had been a key point during the CCA race school. Much of that can be chalked up to the school being on a accelerated timeline, giving very little time to really discuss the nuances of driving in a race.
Just like the CCA school, the day involved side-by-side drills, swapping places in corners, and ended with a mock race. Our first mock race was an inverted field and standing start. Apparently I was the fastest SE30, so I had the other E30s and SMs in front of me, with a gaggle of Mustangs, Corvettes, and a really fast GT-R behind me. I got a clean start, passing everyone in front by turn one and led up to T3, where a Corvette whizzed by. A full course yellow was thrown about midway though, and we got to practice a restart.
A “Fun Race” was set to conclude the day. I initially hadn’t planned to participate, as I was going to save tires/fuel and head back home that evening. That plan was squashed when I was informed the race was not optional and was a requirement for finishing the comp school. It was an hour long race, so I just planned to complete 50% of the leader’s laps and call it good. The start/finish stand marshal was kind enough to give a midway signal, and I pulled in unscathed and finished with the school.
I had never even driven a street E30, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. My M Coupe shares its rear suspension with an E30, so I was a bit worried it’d handle in the same manner (ie short wheelbase + lots of power + semi-trailing arms = never lift), but the SE30 was much more benign. The lack of power, tall gearing, and sufficient grip meant the car was very forgiving. I was nowhere close to pushing the limits with it (I certainly didn’t want to buy it) but still had a blast. The lack of power steering and soft suspension made it seem lethargic in comparison to my SE46, but I can still see why they are a fun class to race in.
All in all it was an enjoyable day, especially getting to drive something new and very different.