M3 Road Trip


Written by Joe Gearin

From the June 2014 issue

Posted in News and Notes

Non-car people think we’re weird. They smirk when we name our cars. They roll their eyes when we refer to our machines as “him” or “her,” and generally don’t understand how we can develop a personal relationship with a collection of metal, rubber and plastic. They can’t fathom washing a car by hand, or changing their own oil when they can pay someone else to do the dirty work.

To them, a car is just another appliance, like a TV or toaster. These poor, misguided souls go through life without ever feeling mechanical sympathy. It’s a shame, really.

Back when the grass was green and the leaves were full, we took an epic road trip in our trusty 1997 BMW M3. While on this trip, we visited friends, caught up with business partners, and finally realized our long-standing dream of driving this keeper around the legendary Road America circuit.

We Hit the Track

Our guides through Road America’s idiosyncrasies were the experts at Laps Inc. They’ve been organizing track days throughout the Midwest for years–including annual pilgrimages to Elkhart Lake.

We began the day with a thorough drivers meeting and tutorial, the latter warning us of the mistakes that newbies frequently make at this landmark track.

We were then paired with driving instructors who showed us the correct line and gave us tips on getting around as quickly as possible. Fortunately, our helmet microphones worked well, making communication easy and clear. Track days have the uncanny ability of inflating and deflating egos in equal measure. This was certainly the case with our day spent with Laps Inc.

At one point, our 15-year-old, 240-horsepower BMW was reeling in a C6 Corvette. Sure the Vette would dust us down Road America’s long straights, but we were gaining on it through the twisties.

Our confidence was soaring, right up to the point when we spied a pesky 200 Scion FR-S in our rearview mirror. Sure enough, the little Scion was carrying much more speed than we could through the Carousel and curvy bits. We justified this by telling ourselves that the Scion likely had suspension modifications and was on stickier rubber than our BFGoodrich Comp Sport 2s. It seemed plausible enough, and was kinder on our ego than admitting the Scion driver was more talented than we were–which was likely the case.

The Rewards of Mechanical Sentiment

The day was especially rewarding for us, as we were able to introduce a great friend to the joys of driving on track. Luke Symonds has been a friend of ours for decades. While Luke was an autocross hotshoe 20 years ago, life has since blessed him with five children, curtailing his race car driver dreams.

Luke always puts others first and is one of those rare individuals who is always ready to lend a hand–even to complete strangers. This day, we were able to give back and let him live out the dream of driving unbridled on a world-famous course. While the first session on track left his ego a bit bruised, he was up to speed and having a blast before long.

By the end of our Midwest swing, our M3 had traveled more than 3600 trouble-free miles and returned an average of 25 mpg. BMW’s E36-chassis M3 may be made of metal, plastic and rubber, but mixed together in the right quantities, these materials create a machine that is able to strengthen human ties. The sentimental feelings aren’t always about the car itself, but what the machine enables us to experience.

Those non-car people don’t know what they’re missing.

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May 19, 2014 8:20 p.m.


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