After a Crash, Part 6: The Thrash to Meet a Firm Deadline, the SCCA Runoffs

By christinaylam
May 15, 2020 | Safety, Crashing, After a Crash | Posted in Features | Never miss an article

Read Part 5

Read Part 7

The race was on to make the SCCA Runoffs at VIR, one of my favorite tracks. A tight timeline to build a new E46-chassis M3 to replace the one wrecked meant that I had to plan out the remaining weeks carefully to ensure we would make it on time for the race. Every moment needed to count. 

As we pulled damaged parts off the old shell, I made a list of everything that needed to be replaced. Typical to most projects under a tight deadline, I spent more than expected building the second car. I was committed the minute we decided to build it. Nothing was going to stop us. 

The car was at Hi-Speed Motorsports in Milford, Connecticut, which is a solid six-hour drive from my home. It made the most sense for us to have the car there rather than at home because we were taking parts off the old car and moving what was salvageable right over to the new one. 

My summer was suddenly filled with weekly travel to Connecticut. Driving six hours each way on a broken foot was not exactly what the doctor ordered, so instead I caught the train. 

On Thursday evenings after work, I’d catch the train out of D.C., straight to New Haven, Connecticut. I’d arrive at the shop around 11 p.m., with the work started that night and often not ending until 2 or 3 in the morning. 

On Sunday nights, I’d catch the midnight train out of Connecticut, which arrived in D.C. by 7 a.m. and allowed me to be in the office by 8 a.m. Monday morning. 

I dedicate a huge amount of time to my racing, so it often comes as a surprise to people that I have a “normal” job during the week. A shortened work week meant longer hours during the week, coming in early and leaving late to ensure the work got done and the bills got paid. It was a balancing act to juggle: a full-time job in the office and then another 40 hours at the shop on a long weekend. 

For my day job, I’m a program manager for a government agency, so I put those skills to use for my race car project: While plotting out a timeline, I looked for risks and potential schedule slips that could prevent us from making the Runoffs.  

It was easiest breaking a project into smaller weekend chunks. A big whiteboard leaned against the car with a big To-Do list for that weekend. All those items had to be complete before boarding the train each Sunday night. 

Any questionable parts that could have underlying damage were replaced. It was not worth the risk of reusing a small part that might have hidden damage, only to cause a bigger failure during the race. 

The next six weeks were a blur. Hi-Speed Motorsports became my second home. Hugh gave up his summer dreams of fishing at the beach in order to work overtime on this project with me. I felt like I was functioning on pure adrenaline that kicked in the day I hit the wall and had not stopped since. 

The weeks leading up to the Runoffs were nerve-wracking. There were several moments in the last few days of the build where I thought we weren’t going to make it. 

The car was back together and yet wouldn’t fire up. 

Air, spark, fuel. 

It was missing fuel. In the big crash, the fuel pump had exploded into many pieces. After piecing it back together, the pump ran fine and the car fired up, only to chatter like something was loose in the motor. 

After quickly turning off the engine, I pulled the valve cover to find that the crash knocked several shims loose. Lifters were flung loose, so Hugh pulled out the shim kit to adjust valve lash. 

Things never quite go according to plan. If they did, we wouldn’t be building a race car in under 60 days. What matters more is how you deal with these detours and take them in stride while never losing sight of your goal. 

Despite staying on schedule, these were hard weeks. Often it felt like we toiled over the car for days straight only to step back and feel like we made no progress at all. If I had a dollar for each time that we went to Home Depot for hardware, only to turn around and go back an hour later, I’d probably have enough money to buy and not have to build a new car. 

But building a car is half the journey in motorsports. There is something so satisfying about building a car with your own hands and then racing it, too. 

Hugh and I kept our sanity throughout this because we had fun during the build. That is an important lesson I learned from Hugh’s coaching throughout the years: Always have fun. If you aren’t having fun, then it is not worth doing at all. We kept our smiles despite the pressure and kept our goal in sight. We were going to make it to the Runoffs. 


Read the rest of the series:

Part 1: Three Types of Wrecks

Part 2: The Day After the Wreck

Part 3: Seeking Racing Justice

Part 4: Building a New Race Car From Scratch

Part 7: Before Returning to the Track, Time to Make It Look Like a Real Race Car

Part 8: 60 Days After Destroying the Race Car and Building a New One, It's Time to Take the Green at the Runoffs

Part 9: Pondering Future Racing Plans


How Christina got her start in motorsports.


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Wizard_Of_Maz Reader
5/11/20 8:16 a.m.

Hugh sounds like a wonderful person and pretty much the best possible partner to have through this ordeal (and in general, too). Great column as always, and the train rides/constant journeys while still working a regular job show your dedication to the craft.

Unfortunately, every time I read this column, I look up E46 M3 info/prices. Like you, I completed my penance in the form of E36 M3 seat time and feel the E46 is the next logical step

christinaylam (Forum Supporter)
christinaylam (Forum Supporter) New Reader
5/11/20 9:28 a.m.

In reply to Wizard_Of_Maz :

Hugh is the best! He wants to see all his Hi-Speed customers reach their fullest potential in motorsports and will do everything he can to help them along the way. It is rare to find somebody who is focused on improving the driver, and not just trying to push fancy parts. We make the most out of our equipment at a fraction of the cost of our competitors. 

The E46 M3 is a great next step after the E36 M3. It is more aerodynamic and a more stable platform. The move will feel natural, it will be faster and better. Few more articles to come, so maybe by the end of it I can convince you to pull the trigger on that E46! ;) 

IndyLegend33 New Reader
5/11/20 10:27 a.m.

Christina, seems like you had quite the summer last year! Yikes! Your dedication is unmatched for trying to get this car done for the Runoffs. Back in my day, we spent the entire year getting the car "ready" leading up to the Runoffs - that involved fine tuning (for what was available at the time) and making sure it didn't blow up, which often it did. You built another car from scratch. That alone should be applauded. I hope the younger generations in motorsport realize that if you want something badly enough, don't give up. You, Hugh, and the rest of the team faced some obstacles but overcame them. Well done and hope to see part 7 soon!

David S. Wallens
David S. Wallens Editorial Director
5/11/20 12:53 p.m.

No spoilers, but I have read Part 7. smiley

Look for it next Monday. 

roger_waltman New Reader
5/11/20 3:56 p.m.

Besides the shims being loose, did you take apart the engine any further? Having no experience in engine building, are there other things internally that can become loose after an impact?

christinaylam (Forum Supporter)
christinaylam (Forum Supporter) New Reader
5/11/20 8:00 p.m.

In reply to roger_waltman :

We didn't take it apart any further, and yes there are a few other things that can go wrong. Another friend of mine had a big hit and reused his motor, found out his crank had moved and was causing issues. We were short on time, firing up the motor for the first time less than a week before loading up for the Runoffs. Decided to take the risk that it would be okay. I had a spare motor sitting in the shop, so worst case we brought it with us to Runoffs just in case. Luckily we didn't need to do any overnight motor swaps and this one ran strong. 

Tom1200 Dork
5/11/20 8:34 p.m.

I was wondering what you did for a living and I'm not surprised you're a program manager.  Your ability to herd cats shows through in your replies to our posts.

Note: I'm a purchasing analyst for a government agency.

BigsexySVG New Reader
5/12/20 6:31 a.m.

Wow!!!! This seems like a ton to do for anyone in 60 days. I see professional teams doing stuff like this. All with a broken foot. I can't imagine the pain of the foot and lack of sleep alone would make me quit. How did you deal with that? 

tuna55 (Forum Supporter)
tuna55 (Forum Supporter) MegaDork
5/12/20 7:08 a.m.

Feel free to ignore, but can you share how many dollars were spent rebuilding this thing? Did you have any sort of insurance on the car? Did your health insurance cover your medical bills even though you were racing?


And, the same question as last time, are you still healing well? I still hate that this happens among people who we expect to be respectful competitors.

christinaylam (Forum Supporter)
christinaylam (Forum Supporter) New Reader
5/12/20 8:47 a.m.

In reply to tuna55 (Forum Supporter) :

Oof... I'll be honest, this second car cost us more than expected which is almost always the case when it comes to projects. Our initial plan was to move what was salvagable over to the new shell. It was not until we were pretty deep into the project I realized how many parts I was just replacing because the original was smashed or too damaged. I didn't keep tabs on exactly how much this new car cost, but it did wipe out a large chunk of my savings. There is no insurance on this car. Back when I DEed the E36, I bought track day insurance, but once you get into any sort of timed competition like NASA's Time Trial or W2W racing, there is none. I did find a company a while back that was willing to insure a racecar, but the annual premium was $15k so out of the running budget.

Health insurance is a big one. And each year during open enrollment I read the fine print very carefully before signing up for insurance considering rules about "out of network" care. My fear for years was that someday somewhere, this hobby was going to send me to the hospital. In this case, after alot of phone calls my insurance, they did end up covering a good chunk of the bills ($30k to date). Initially they thought it was an automotive accident on the street and refused all coverage, asking me to go after auto insurance first. It took many hours of phone calls before they understood it was a "off road" incident and then paid up. A few weeks after, they came back with legal looking for the name of the offending driver. Insurance is in the business of making money, not taking care of its patients. It again took many hours on the phone to explain the waivers from both the track and SCCA before they agreed to not pursue the guy. 

SCCA also has a secondary insurance policy that will cover anything that your primary does not. I did not have any luck getting in contact with the secondary insurance to cover what remained from my medical bills. 

Healing well! For the first time since the accident I was able to take a walk for a mile around the neighborhood!!! This might not seem like much, but ever since breaking my foot and eventually getting out of the cast, I've been very diligent about my PT exercises. It is quite ironic because I can drive just fine, but walking is a different story. Slowly making progress thanks to some great docs. While it might be a while before I can run a marathon I'm cleared to get back to racing. :) 


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