It’s a hard-knock life when you’re paying to race, as Dale discovers. Note: This story was originally published on BridgeToGantry.com and Pistonheads.com back in 2013!
My burning hot dream of racing at the Nürburgring was nothing but cold, dark embers. Then I got a phone call; there was a paying seat available, half of it paid already, but the driver couldn’t make it. All I needed to do was scrabble together about a month’s earnings and pay the other half. Then I’d be the 3rd man in the Jaco’s Paddock 325i, racing the 4-hour VLN4 Simfy Trophy.
Not for a second did I think that I could afford it, so I offered it to some friends who promptly told me to “man the **** up” and do it myself. “That’s racing! Just do it!” they said. So I did.
Some grassroots sponsorship from friends and family saw me arrive at the VLN paddock that Friday brandishing freshly-printed stickers and a virgin 2013 National-A race license. Friday’s free practice session isn’t technically part of the race meeting, so I was roped into driving an E46 M3 to give team sponsors a ‘ring taxi lap. It was felt by the team that I already knew which way the track went, so I didn’t need the practice laps as much as the first two drivers.
Unfortunately this didn’t end well. On lap four a material failure on a bolt from the swingarm to the hub sent the M3, me and the passenger into the wall at mini-karussell.
It’s not my first crash on the ‘ring, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t shook up by it. Luckily I’d fitted my GoPro to my lid and the resulting crash didn’t damage the side of the car that failed. Otherwise any other team manager would probably never have believed me. That would have been the end of my race weekend right there at many other teams, but Jaco’s understanding and the video saved my skin.
Saturday was a new day, but I hadn’t slept well. I was getting really nervous. I finally got a good chat with my team mates too, Jin from Japan and Chris from the UK. Neither were new to racing, though Chris only had a dozen or so laps of the ‘Ring under his belt. Jin, by comparison, was introduced to me as the lead driver with several VLN and even Nürburgring 24 hour races under his belt. And he had a painted chrome helmet worth more than my own car, so I readily deferred.
Well, if good was slow, then damn, Jin was good. Chris did much better, and I did something that wasn’t too bad. The other 2 drivers then got out for another lap each, but not me as I missed the last lap by less than 2 minutes. Gutted, thanks Jin. “That’s racing,” smiles one of the mechanics. Humph. But I had a full 1hr20 minute stint to look forward to in the race.
Around 2.5 hours in, as I was pulling on my lid and fighting my HANS device (imagine a blind man fighting a facehugger from Alien, wearing gloves… now you’re close) I noticed people running in. Red flags were out. We started to plan the restart, but there were spontaneous tears erupting in every direction. Wolf Silvester, a previous two times VLN champion had suffered a presumed heart-attack, before crashing and rolling into Schwalbenschwanz. Race over, he was dead. My heart sank to the bottom of my second-hand racing boots. At least he died doing something he obviously loved, that’s still my consoling thought. The overal result showed us as 5th out of 7 in our class (V4, 2.5litre production cars). Not that it seemed to matter much in the circumstances.
And I scored 3.57 VLN championship points without even driving the car. And I even got a credit note towards the next race, for the tyres and fuel I didn’t burn, but it was still my most expensive lap of the Nürburgring to date. That’s racing!
Special thanks to all my friends, family and even co-workers who helped me get to the grid. You know who you are!