We don’t spend nearly enough time here talking about actual racing. Sure, we love producing the in-house developed upgrades for your Audi, BMW, or VW, and we certainly love seeing our parts put to good use on the track, but much of our focus for this series has been geared towards folks who spend their time on the street rather than a closed track. This week, we’re happy to bring you some of that racing flavor as we explore the road to competitive driving with our good friend Eric.
Eric, like most of us, grew up around cars. While his neighbors had yards to play in, Eric had his father’s seven-car garage that dominated their small property and housed the Corvettes, British sports cars, and bikes that captured his early interest. To say Eric was born into racing and car enthusiasm wouldn’t be a stretch. He can trace his current interest that is, by his wife’s account, somewhat excessive, to being so exposed to this world in his youth.
Growing up, Eric followed his dad from track to track and watched him race. Racing as a hobby was something his father fell in and out of while he was young, so spending time around the racing scene was nothing new to him. However, it wasn’t until the past few years that he found himself with the racing bug in his own right. Fortunately, there’s no time restriction on when someone can find themselves in this world. Like many good ideas, Eric’s decision to start exploring high-performance driving happened as the result of a ‘what if’ discussion with a friend. They spitballed about hobbies they would enjoy together and, thanks to Eric’s car-centric childhood, they landed on racing.
The pair took their daily drivers, which at the time were Eric’s MK6 GTI and his friend’s Subaru WRX, and began to participate in local track days.
“I always had a desire to be in motorsports. I knew I was going to be an engineer and just found that racing was the same for me that it was with my dad. I had a conversation with a friend about racing and one thing led to another. We took my daily driven commuter MK6 GTI and that was sort of the first dip into competitive driving.”
What started as a stock MK6 GTI quickly snowballed into a build that was no longer suitable for dual-duty between the street and track. After cutting his teeth with the sport in the MK6, it was clear to Eric that he needed a dedicated track car. With the experience he’d accumulated during racing, it was also clear that this was going to be something bigger than just a hobby. It became a distinct and tantalizing goal for him to transition from a less competitive field to something more serious.
The need for a dedicated track toy and the goal to be more competitive helped Eric decide the route he would take. He hung up the keys to the GTI and found himself behind the wheel of his current car, a BMW E46 330i, which he decided would be the vehicle that would tickle that racing itch and serve as the platform that would grow with him.
This change, from a front-wheel-drive, small-displacement, turbocharged hatchback to a naturally-aspirated, rear-driven, three-liter BMW could seem odd to some, but for Eric, the switch was necessary. Around the time he began looking for his dedicated track toy, SPECE46 was gaining traction. What began as a small league, SPECE46 quickly grew in the past few years to one of the bigger SPEC classes thanks to its accessibility and the qualities of the E46 330i. Naturally, Eric was immediately drawn to this growing class and the timing was perfect. All he needed to do was learn the car, build it as he grew, and use the SPECE46 rules as the guide to get him and the car where they needed to be for entry.
Despite being a SPEC class, make no mistake about it, the cars running SPECE46 are purpose-built and fully-kitted racing vehicles. When we say the class is accessible, what we mean is that you don’t have to race with your wallet to get involved off the bat. One of the biggest draws to the class is the upfront affordability of the car itself and the relatively low cost of outfitting it to compete when compared to more elite classes. All in for the car and parts, you’ll still have to spend somewhere between $15,000 to $20,000. However, as Eric found, the best way to do that is incrementally and with a rigid budget in mind.
Sure, if you have some deep pockets and the sudden urge to go racing, you could do it all at once and just jump in. However, to be competitive, there is no ‘buy-in’ price for seat time. A driver on the most modest of budgets with plenty of time behind the wheel is going to run circles around someone who bought their way into the league with the best car and fanciest parts. Unfortunately, that seat time, experience, and muscle memory are only achieved through session after session of pushing your limits on the track. For Eric, this was exactly his plan from the get-go. Unbeknownst to his wife, but known to us, he laid a roadmap out for himself and the car to be ready for competition in a few short years.
“It was just supposed to be a hobby, or so I told my wife. But privately, I was hooked from the get-go. How much is it going to take was the only question.”
With the E46 in his possession, Eric spent the past few years learning the car, growing alongside it, and building it to the specifications of his intended class. There was no buy-in on his part aside from the hours of wrenching and days upon days of track events either racing or testing his BMW. This reservation to build with his skill level in mind must have taken extreme diligence and constitution, but it will have all been worth it in the end to do things the ‘right way.’
Of course, the temptation to just go all-out and build the car to its full spec was always there. The downtime, like now during the cold months, is a dangerous thing. When he wasn’t behind the wheel, Eric had to stop himself from pouring everything into his car so he could get to SPECE46 faster. But, with a goal in mind and a clear path to get there, he managed to stick to his plan for step-by-step upgrades, careful never to let his car’s performance growth outpace his own. Now, only a few minor tweaks to the car stand between Eric and competition.
“There’s the giddy little kid in me that wants to just build the whole thing all at once and jump straight into it, but I have to hold myself back. I’ve managed to focus on one step at a time. Make your improvement or adjustment, test it, get used to it, move on to the next step or go back and fix what I don’t like. It’s a constant internal battle (not to build it at once.)”
Upon the conclusion of this past season, Eric and his car are nearly there. Apart from the cage and software tune required by SPECE46, his car is finished. Unfortunately for those of us hotly anticipating his SPECE46 debut, that likely won’t be this year, but that’s by intention thanks to his continued dedication to his plan. The upcoming 2022 season will be Eric’s final stretch before reaching his ultimate goal, one that Eric knows will be the necessary seat time with a proper spec car to feel confident he’ll have a strong chance of success for the 2023 SPECE46 season.
Now sitting solidly between the previous season and the next, Eric has had a chance to look back at the past seven years of his racing career. It’s this opportunity for reflection that gives him the ability to impart some wisdom to those of us who have an interest in doing something similar. Thankfully, he’s more than open to helping shed some light on the process, or at least his experience with it.
Part of that reflection is an appreciation for both sticking to his plan and maintaining this hobby. It can be too easy, especially the more one invests, to just drop something. There are probably a dozen hobbies you had in the past that you’ve all but forgotten, even things that used to consume your life as racing does for Eric. It takes true dedication to a passion to stay with it, even something you enjoy. For Eric, it’s been all about keeping an eye on the end goal but never abandoning his plan to get there by trying to shorten the timetable. He set the plan in place and followed it according to his needs and the car’s needs, which has allowed the hobby to remain affordable. Naturally, that carries with it some advice for anyone interested in a similar racing venture.
According to Eric, it’s about making yourself get out there. Just like Eric with his daily-driven GTI, it’s less about having a track car and more about taking what you have to the track. In his own experience, he’s seen everything from stock commuter cars to straight-up minivans out on the track with their drivers benefitting from instruction to learning racecraft. Regardless of what it is, as long as it runs and stops, Eric’s advice is to just get out there and start driving.
The second caveat to that advice is to never overbuild your car. That can mean overbuilding it for how you use it or building it beyond your skill level as a driver, but the result is the same. You want to improve with your car, not rely on it to make up the difference in skill. You also want to consider how you use your car. If it takes you to work, around town, and to the track itself, you probably shouldn’t build it to a point that it only really works on the track. When you start building past the point of no return, you limit what that car can do. Eric learned this from experience so you don’t have to. If you find you have a love for racing and are still using your daily driver, it might be time to consider a series you want to participate in and what car you need to build to get it there.
It’s also important to understand and accept the risks involved with racing. Not just the fear of death, but the irreplaceability of your car. Even with dedicated track cars like Eric’s E46, the thought of completely writing the car off after a wreck is something that keeps him up at night. It’s not only financially irreplaceable but also something he has bonded with through the years of wrenching and driving. That said, every time he jumps behind the wheel, he knows the risks. The time he’s spent learning and growing to get him comfortable at 10/10ths for the duration of a race is what he has to rely on to ensure he won’t have to replace the car.
Finally, Eric stresses the importance of patience. It can seem counterintuitive for someone with a penchant for speed to harp on taking things slow, but it’s completely necessary. Just like he said throughout this article, your abilities will always be directly connected to your seat time. You can’t move your goal closer out of impatience, you have to get yourself up to that goal. No amount of money or cut corners will result in the driver that could have been, so take it at a pace that makes sense for you to grow along with your car and build accordingly with a plan in place.
For Eric, this plan is finally coming to fruition. It’s been a long road, from growing up around racing to entering the racing scene himself in his adulthood, but he’s about there. One last season remains before he steps into the competitive world that is SPECE46. Thankfully, his experience is something we can all learn from, especially if we are interested in getting out there ourselves. So, if you’re like Eric and want to go racing, all it takes is a plan, dedication, and a bit of patience. The rest of it is just nuts and bolts.
Thanks for reading!
A special thank you to our friend Eric V. for taking the time to chat with us about his journey. We can’t wait to continue supporting you as you make the jump up to SPECE46!