AER, Jalopnik, and the Art of Racing in the Rain

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Racing takes skill, knowledge, and experience. A slow racecar at a 24 Hours of Lemons event is a great way to gather those. American Endurance Racing (AER), like 24 Hours of Lemons, is another cheap-ish car racing series that has recently started up. You may have seen it, as the series seem to promote themselves quite well on Facebook. My knowledge of it is limited to what I have read about it on the internet, but they basically want to offer a race series that is a step-up from Lemons but still affordable – faster cars, better drivers, none of that theme crap, and teams that have their shit together who want to race rather than rebuild engines before the green flag ever drops.
In order to further promote themselves, AER organizers brilliantly invited Road & Track and Jalopnik writers for a little friendly autojourno competition in exchange for some exposure from both outlets. I am assuming that race entry fees and fuel were covered by AER, as were the cars provided to them – two Spec E30 BMWs.

spec e30

Image source

For those without a clue, the E30 is a generation of 3-series BMWs made between 1987 and 1991, which are damn amazing budget racers. They are relatively cheap, parts are easy to get, and the cars provide a great front-engine rear-wheel-drive chassis configuration and even weight distribution. Bring a Spec E30-like car to a Lemons race and you’ll be promptly placed in class A, earn a dozen penalty laps, immediately become hated by everyone, get black-flagged for not using a blinker, and have your ass handed to you by a math teacher in a Volvo wagon.
From AER’s website:

Driver eligibility:  Drivers must have, or have had, a racing license with the above governing bodies OR have competed in five LeMons/Chump races

The problem here is that some of the invited autojournos did not meet this eligibility, but AER did make an exception for them on probationary basis, after training the day before. Poor Raphael Orlove, Jalopnik Writer, who I have met several times, whose writing, ideas, and adventures I love. He has no wheel-to-wheel racing experience, but he has done rallies, autocrosses, and other track events. He was driving a fast race car that he spent several hours with the days before, on a track that he learned the day before, in the rain, and this happened. And he followed it up with this.

I cannot emphasize enough what a skating rink Mid-Ohio is in the rain, and it rained juuuust enough to make the track a slippery disaster without actually washing away all the crap that causes spins. Several cars spun our crashed early on like we did. Even the most seasoned drivers on track had trouble out there.

Jason Torchinsky, Jalopnik Associate Editor who has raced in Lemons, spun out in the same corner earlier. I can’t speak for AER, but if you spin out in Lemons, the whole team gets called in for a chat with the judges. They ream you out, tell you to slow the fuck down, and make you do something humiliating. No, that won’t prevent others on the team from making the same mistake, but it will force you to remember that mistake.
All wet tracks suck, not just Mid-Ohio. On the Hellcat press launch I had to handle a 707hp beast in torrential rain, which pretty much required me to re-learn everything I knew about driving. Sunday morning rain at NHMS, where I was racing in the 24 Hours of Lemons, caused multiple spin-outs and crashes. Even long after the rain has stopped, wet portions of the track were very slippery, causing me multiple momentary scares during my two-hour stint.
Racing isn’t easy, it isn’t something one just starts doing and masters within minutes or days. This Monday morning quarterback says that Raphael should not have been in that car, on that track. I’m glad that is not hurt and I hope that his bruising will soon heal. Most importantly, I hope he gets back onto a track and into a car soon, a slow one, with an experienced instructor. In the mean time, I recommend this book. Baby steps.
Updated for facts after I spoke with Patrick George from Jalopnik.

8 Comments

  1. “…OR have competed in five LeMons/Chump races.”
    There’s their first problem: I’ve driven in six LeMons races but I believe it’s fair to say that I haven’t competed in any of them. This is not an enforceable standard.

  2. I definitely fucked up, and I’m definitely lucky to have my health (and no bill over my head for $10,000).
    And I definitely would get back out on track again, maybe just a little bit wiser.
    And you’re correct, I had zero wheel-to-wheel experience going in to this race, which was a (possibly unwise) exception to the rule from AER.
    But I will chime in very briefly to say that the team with possibly the most and highest level wheel-to-wheel experience on track, the Grand Am-level Cayman team, also spun out on the same lap as I did. The team in the pit stall next to us was also running a Spec E30 and was run by the guy who won the Spec E30 championship last year. They spun out on the very same corner as I did, but managed to end up backed into the wall on the inside, rather than left on the racing line on the outside.
    Also just to say that I’m not a total novice, I’ve done some rally school, a couple autocrosses, a couple track days in my car and some faster, I’ve driven a couple drift cars from lower levels up to FD, I’ve driven the car that won the Dakar rally, and I competed in the SCCA RallyX nationals last year. I’ve been kind of rusty these past few months, and I’m very far from good (clearly).

    1. Glad to hear you’re okay. The cage was the one major component of my car that I was happy to farm out to a competent professional. This cost more than everything else combined but I don’t consider it to have been expensive.

    2. Hey! Right, and after talking to your boss I corrected somethings.
      I run into people all the time that think they can DOMINATE right from the get go and that’s just not the case. I would not feel confident at all in a E30 spec car in the rain on any track. Shit, I almost effed myself a Buick on a wet track yesterday too.
      If there were so many spins-outs, perhaps the track should have been red flagged? I don’t know.

      1. I definitely know what you mean about the WE’RE GONNA DOMINATE feelings, and yeah, this is wise advice to take a gander at before such plans are undertaken.

  3. So how many math teachers did spin out?

    Seriously, I read about this on Jalopnik, too, and what I took with me is that nobody involved was seriously hurt. You’ll be back!

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