Happy Birthday To My M3

Recently, we celebrated our ’95 BMW M3’s 23rd birthday. It looks really good for its age. Well, it looks really good if you like stickered-up race cars, which I do. It has served primarily as a garage decoration for the past year or so, drawing oohs and aahs from delivery people and plumbers. But as an actual competitor, the M3 has been in semi-retirement through no fault of its own, except for an engine-mount failure in its last race that let the drivetrain torque to the right, tricking me into thinking second gear was fourth.

For most of its life, the M3 was quite active. Two years into its ownership, I had attended so many BMW CCA high-performance driving schools that I realized I was putting many thousands of miles on the car just driving to and from the schools. Not wishing to wear out the car on Interstate highways, I invested in a trailer and pickup to get the M3 and me to schools, at which the car could continue my driving education. Did I mention that the M3 was a great teacher?

A concern for safety led to a TC Kline roll bar, Schroth harnesses, and a fire bottle. Then came Koni shocks, M3 Lightweight springs, UUC sway bars, an early Jim Conforti chip, and track-compound brake pads.

At this point, I sense that many readers are either nodding or shaking their heads, having traveled this path themselves or knowing someone who has. The E36 M3 was such a hoot to drive fast that many of us couldn’t help but modify the car to be safer and quicker, and to handle better. In retrospect, all of that was fine—but the ultimate go-fast addition to the car was more seat time and good instruction.

When the car was five years old, I read about One Lap Of America. It sounded like fun, so I recruited Stu Raike, an excellent driving-school instructor, as my co-driver, and in May 2000, off we went.

The M3 did great. Stu did great. I stayed on track and didn’t crash, which for me was great. The entire One Lap experience was fantastic—so much so that in 2001, we did it again.

That was it for the M3 and One Lap, because in 2002 it became a club racer with a much firmer suspension, racing seats, and a full roll cage, all of which made the car not so comfortable or practical for a 5,000-mile road trip. After a few years in Stock class, I completed the transformation to pure race car by removing the interior and air-conditioning, adding a rear wing, taking out the sunroof cassette, and running in the Prepared class.

Funny thing about the sunroof: When Betty and I ordered the car from Baron BMW in Kansas City, I wanted it without a sunroof, which was a $1,120 option, but Betty and the salesman conspired to talk me into it. As I feared, I never used it. Eventually, to reduce weight, I removed the sunroof cassette and bolted in the metal roof panel. It did not look good, but fortunately I own a vinyl cutter, and covered up the sunroof with a huge BMW CCA logo.

For well over a decade, the M3 and I happily wandered the country, usually competing in one to four BMW CCA club races a year. The car was—and remains to this day—faster than I am, but I usually found someone to race with, even though I tended to finish toward the back. The important thing was that I was improving—and that I was still having fun. Intense fun. Wheel-to-wheel racing was something that I had lusted after since I was in college, and my ’95 M3 and BMW CCA Club Racing made that dream come true. Thank you, Scott and Fran Hughes!

Lest you think that I am kidding about the car being faster than I, I asked Scott Hughes to drive it once at Gingerman Raceway. He won his class. Another time, at Mid-Ohio, I asked TC Kline to race it. In the pouring rain on slick Hoosiers, he started from the back and was up to fourth place when a full-course yellow came out. As a driver, I’m mediocre; but as a team owner and car-preparer, I’m pretty good, as long as I have drivers like Hughes and Kline in the car.

In 2010, the old M3 Lightweight Motorsport flag decals looked dated, so I designed a new color scheme. If you can’t be great, you should at least look great, so I turned the M3 into a BMW CCA tribute car. Besides the big CCA logo on the roof and the club map logo on the hood and a lot of other places, I added graphics for the BMW CCA Foundation, Street Survival, Roundel magazine, and put BMW Car Club of America on the side in big letters. That way, no matter where I finished, I was promoting the club—as long as I didn’t end up on the roof.

Lately the car has been sitting idle, mainly due to scheduling conflicts. Scheduling conflicts? What scheduling conflict could possibly be more important than racing?

Well, it’s like this: Since Betty retired in 2014, we have been on the road. Or in the air. Or on a boat. Betty loves to travel, and so do I, most of the time. It’s hard—make that impossible—to say no to one of her trips, because she is a gifted travel planner. She chooses stellar destinations and performs extraordinary research on hotels, restaurants, and attractions. We have logged magnificent trips to national parks, fascinating cities, and even Europe. I’m a lucky guy.

Invariably, however, Betty’s well-planned trips and other unavoidable commitments coincided with the relatively few races that were within reasonable driving distances. Therefore, no racing.

I hope that this year is different. I showed Betty the dates of at least two races I’d like to attend, so that she could schedule our trips around them. So far, so good. Now that I have races on the calendar, I am motivated to fix the M3 and prep it for the season.

Our new building gives me the space I need to work on the car. In appreciation for years of faithful service, I gave the M3 a birthday present: a four-post lift. The M3 deserves it—and quite frankly, I’m getting too old to be working on cars lying on my back.

If events go according to plan—who am I kidding? That never happens!—the M3 and I should be ready for our chapter’s Flat-Out Classic driving school and fun-fest at Heartland Park in June. Then it will be off to Wampum, Pennsylvania, for the Historics at Pitt Race the weekend before BMW CCA Oktoberfest in July.

By the way, if you’re a racer and haven’t signed up for that event, slots are filling fast. It’s my favorite race, and this year will be even more special, since the event is part of the Pittsburgh Vintage Grand Prix week—and BMW is the featured marque.

Best of all, no matter where the M3 and I finish, it’s gonna be great.—Scott Blazey

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