An American Odyssey
Tire Rack One Lap of America Presented by Grassroots Motorsports Magazine
On Saturday, May 6th, the same day the MDK/Racing to End Alzheimer’s team was standing on the podium at Miami’s F1 racetrack, James Clay’s legs were sticking out of the trunk of another purple-and-white clad car parked in a lot 1,300 miles away. While some of the racing world looked south, the BimmerWorld founder and his co-driver Evan Levine packed gear and dialed themselves in for an endurance race that would stretch them to the absolute limit. The 2023 One Lap of America is an event that manages to combine the best elements of high-speed racing with the meditative — some would say grueling — nature of long-distance road trips. It’s nirvana for car enthusiasts, and Racing to End Alzheimer’s was revved up to have the opportunity to honor the names of 100 champions during this year’s Lap.
One Lap, One Car, One Set of Tires
2023’s One Lap was the 37th installment of the beloved event masterminded by Brock Yates. A feat of logistics, the Lap began at Tire Rack in South Bend, Indiana, where competitors dipped their toes in the Tire Rack Wet Skid Pad. From there, a whirlwind of time trials, autocross, skid pad events and transits unfurled across Ohio, Georgia, Tennessee, Texas, Oklahoma, Kentucky, and back to Indiana. Every single one of the 3,500 transit miles and each lap on track had to be driven by the same two drivers, in the same car, on the same set of tires, all within a week. Eat, sleep and drive.
Two Men and a Machine
The heroes of this Odyssean adventure were a familiar face and a newcomer to the Racing to End Alzheimer’s team. James Clay, team driver and founder of partner BimmerWorld, is a certified veteran “Lap Dog.” Having participated in the event twice before, he had some memory of its challenges, distilled succinctly into a story he told Evan about driving across the baking plains of Texas in a cramped racecar with no windows. Luckily though, with enough time, suffering dulls to fondness and James agreed to take his third Lap.
Evan Levine, accomplished IT professional by day and blindingly fast racecar driver by night, came to One Lap by way of the Spec E46 racing class. As co-founder and series director of Spec E46, Evan brought logistical expertise as well as proven on-track mettle to the team. Equally as important though, Evan approached his first One Lap with enthusiasm that remained unbroken throughout — a truly impressive accomplishment.
With no limits on modifications, Evan, James and the team built a car that was designed for the unique hurdles associated with One Lap. The rig had to be fast on track but comfortable and capable enough to drive up to 700 miles per day. It also needed cargo space for gear, air conditioning (a lesson hard-learned in years past) and a suspension that could handle a pothole or two. Throw all of that together in a BimmerWorld shop, add some elbow grease, and you end up with the BMW M4 “GTMore.” The luxury sedan, with M4GT4 technology applied to a stock car, was a beautiful mashup wrapped in a striking purple and white, name-clad livery. A true team effort produced a result that was more than capable of victory.
Three Hours of Sleep and a New Transmission
During the first three days of the race, at Tire Rack and Grissom Air Force Base in Indiana, Nelson Ledges in Ohio and Road Atlanta in Georgia, the M4GTMore performed flawlessly. It handled nicely during skid pad, hit good speeds in time trials and shifted well during autocross. In transit, the guys hauled smoothly, enjoying a luxurious stereo system and eating up miles. By the end of race day in Atlanta, they sat within striking distance of the top position. But nothing is given in One Lap.
During their transit between Atlanta and Nashville, a relatively short leg, Clay felt the “transmission slip and get a little bit grumpy with us.” Within minutes, the duo went from riding high to sitting on the side of the road in a souped-up, four-wheeled paperweight. The event’s fate now relied less on driving ability and more on connections. The racing community delivered.
In a major stroke of luck, the team’s technical problem occurred in the Southeast, where BimmerWorld is headquartered. As a testament to the quality of the business, a customer named Mike Akard of Akard Commutator offered towing services, a full racing shop and a couple of beds at his house for the exhausted drivers. Phil Wurz and Dave Simpkins, veteran team members at BimmerWorld, drove four hours one way with parts for a full transmission and clutch replacement. They arrived at midnight, loaded up and got to work with the clock ticking down to the next day’s race.
With the car in capable hands, James and Evan decided to get some shuteye after being told, “Please don’t touch anything and we don’t need you to hold the flashlight.” By 4am, Phil and Dave had “thrown the book at it” and worked transmission magic. They turned the car back over to the bleary-eyed drivers who blasted to Nashville just in the nick of time.
Four Tires, a Wing and a Prayer
Coming off the kind of emotional rollercoaster that can only really happen at One Lap, James and Evan dragged themselves through the Nashville races and the 700-plus mile transit to Decatur, Texas, bolstered by the efforts of all those teammates in their corner. After a respectable showing at Eagles Canyon and another boost from a canceled drag race that gave them a chance to take a breath, the drivers hit the road again for 700 more miles. Between Jennings, Oklahoma and Bowling Green, Kentucky, however, ghosts of transmissions past emerged.
With the M4 GTMore transmission running hot in certain gears and slipping menacingly, it became clear that the one unavailable part in the BimmerWorld warehouse was likely a root cause, and the name of the game would be catastrophe avoidance. In consult with members of the BimmerWorld crew, they decided to not even bother trying to fix the problem. Instead, James and Evan (along with the BimmerWorld technical support team on speed-dial) focused on ever-evolving mechanical theories and responding driving strategies aided by the well-instrumented test vehicle. By the time they raced in Kentucky and made their way back to the final skid pad at Tire Rack, the M4GTMore had stabilized enough to warrant a long, smoky, tire-warming burnout as a preamble for the final timed event. The racing sedan, adorned with cherished names on a purple and white livery, finished heroically, ferrying James and Evan to a first-place finish in the luxury sedan class and eighth overall despite near-disastrous malfunctions. If a car can have heart, this one did.
At One Lap of America, a week can feel like a lifetime. Excitement and boredom, despair and joy, exhaustion, exhilaration, companionship, loneliness, luck and hard work, all bookended by runs on a Tire Rack skid pad. For those who participate, it’s the kind of thing that’s difficult to put into words. Long hours behind the wheel, bursts of intense speed and miles upon miles of asphalt can only really be felt. The rest of us will just have to be content with coming along for the ride. Thanks for tuning in.