Fast thrills in cheap cars
July 17, 2012
The thrill of automobile racing hit 2nd Lt. Michael Thompson at a very young age. One of his early childhood ambitions was to build and race go-karts, but due to a lack of funds, his parents could not afford the hobby.
It wasn't until after an impromptu discussion with a college friend one evening that the Port Angeles, Wash., native was able to realize his dream of becoming a race car driver.
During his senior year at North Georgia College & State University, Thompson's friend, 2nd Lt. Justin Dermond, mentioned an event that gives amateur racing enthusiasts an opportunity to drive cheap cars on world famous tracks; it was an up-and-coming endurance race called the ChumpCar World Series.
In order to qualify for entry into the series, the average internet value for a car must be $500 or less; however, money spent on safety equipment, repairs, paint jobs and any additional gear is at the driver's discretion.
Although Dermond initially mentioned the event as a joke, Thompson felt the race would be a good way for them to turn a childhood fantasy into a reality.
"I've always been into racing and wanted to be a race car driver since I was a kid," said Thompson, distribution platoon leader, A Company, 308th Brigade Support Battalion."[Dermond] and I looked around and decided to buy a $300 BMW we found on Craigslist. We were able to get it pretty cheap because it was crashed in the front, but it took lots of money to repair."
Outside of installing the required roll cage, racing seat and seat belt harness to make the BMW safe enough to drive at speeds up to 130 mph, they also had other major repairs to consider such as the installation of a new motor, radiator and tires.
As the time drew near for them to participate in their first race, the duo, who had officially named their team Fringe Class Racing, continued to put long hours into the finishing touches of their car.
For minor repairs, they each pulled from the knowledge they gained while tinkering with cars on their personal time, high school shop classes and previous job skills; while leaving the major technical issues to trained BMW mechanics.
"We figured with the car being on the track for over 10 hours, we should have those types of repairs done right," said Dermond, a native of Savannah, Ga.
The day before their first event, Fringe Class Racing's, 1992 BMW 325i looked far from a Chump; and after doing a test drive and tune, it seemed ready to take on its competition at Georgia's Roebling Road Raceway.
When the day of the race had finally arrived, things did not start off as planned. After the first two laps on the track, the vehicle's rear suspension broke, causing the team to spend the remainder of the day making the necessary repairs. With the event being a weekend-long endurance race, they were able to continue in the race the following day.
Both Thompson and Dermond have since learned that mechanical mishaps come with the nature of racing and feel it adds to the element of excitement.
It's been two years since their first race in Georgia. Since then the pair has raced in four ChumpCar events, as team Fringe Class - with each event having its fair share of hiccups, ranging from a blown head gasket and a broken fuel line.
"Every race is an adventure, even the bad things make it fun," said Thompson. "There are long nights working on cars, but driving the car you built and passing people is different from driving a regular car. It's rewarding knowing you built it, you feel more connected to it."
The two admit that through experience and diligent studies, they have come a long way since their first race.
"When we first started we were cadets and never raced before," said Dermond, who is now stationed at Fort Bragg, N.C. "Before our first race we were running around like chickens with our heads cut off, learning the ins and outs, but it was still exciting. Now I know the rule book like the back of my hand."
Even with Dermond stationed in N.C., and Thompson at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., the two plan to race together on the Daytona International Speedway, Dec. 8. But, until then, they continue to maintain their skills by racing with teams in their area needing extra drivers and studying the fine points of motorsports.