Steve Smart - BMW Enthusiast

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Close Encounter with the NP01

NP01_fuzzyI’m not a racer. Not a real one, anyway.  I am a frequent flyer at local arrive-and-drive karting tracks, but that’s a different story. As a racing fan, NASA’s Elan NP01 caught my attention a few months ago. While recently at Gateway Motorsports Park on business, I was very happy to have a chance encounter with one. Up close and personal.

Being relatively new on the scene, I’m pretty sure that the NP01 is generally unknown by the average motorsport fan. This Mazda powered prototype, however, captured my interest when videos circulated on social media.

The car was developed when NASA approached Elan Motorsports Technologies to design and build an affordable prototype race car. It fulfills its mission through tube frame construction (no carbon) and smaller body bits that are less costly to replace than large panels. If the Elan name rings a bell for you, it’s because the Braselton, GA company was founded by Don Panoz of ALMS fame.

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Ernie Peters – Door Handle Ninja

My E36 M3 is known to be one of the nicer examples in the St. Louis area, despite having 109,000 miles on the clock. In reality, it shows its age in ways that sometimes bugs me.

Such is the case with a few pieces I’m replacing these days. The cracking door handle gaskets and a piece called the windshield wiper cowl cover are at the top of my list.

I read up and watched some videos on the door handle gasket. I’m somewhat mechanically inclined, but my skills are limited. Frankly, I’ve found that my interest in wrenching has been diminishing as I age. These days I pretty much keep it simple and stick with what I know. Not as “game for adventure” as I used to be. Kind of a shame, but there it is. Having done my my research, I figured that I would need help with this. I was right.

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I thought I was fast, until…


Many of my friends know that I’m a great fan of arrive-and-drive kart racing. Indoor, outdoor, gas or electric, I’ll take it any way I can get it. Most of the time I’m at or near the top of the charts, but I have to admit that I don’t often compete against the fastest guys in town. Such was the case at my recent visit to the Gateway Kartplex with some friends from the St. Louis BMW Club.

In the first race I was gratified to get the jump on my friend Wayne, the guy in front of me, at the green flag. I lapped most of the pack and took second place. Oddly, the winner of the fastest lap was the guy I passed right out of the box. “Yeah, I think my fast lap was when you passed me and I followed your line,” he said. Maybe that was it, or maybe he’s just faster. I did, however beat Wayne in race #2. We had some great back-and-forth between us .

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2016 IMSA Race with the BMW Club

One of my favorite places in the whole world is pit out at Road America. I’ve attended several sports car races there, starting in the days of ALMS. I miss that series, but still enjoy going there for the IMSA races. Being a member of the BMW Car Club of America makes the experience even better.

Clay Filson on the Rahal Letterman IMSA Team

I’ve often been impressed to see the highly choreographed efforts of the Rahal Letterman Team when the BMWs are pulled in from a session on the track. They work like a finely tuned machine. I had the opportunity to talk with Clay Filson about that when I was at the 2016 IMSA race at Road America.

Clay provides support from the BMW factory to customer teams like RLL. He shares his observations on why the team works so well together, along with some challenges related to working with a car that’s in the first year of its development.

IMSA Hot Lap in a BMW M3 at Road America

Of the many things I enjoyed about the IMSA WeatherTech sports car race at Road America this year, the hot lap was certainly memorable. I’m glad I got it on video. IMSA has a Hot Lap program, designed to get fans on the track in cars represented by the racing field. The drivers of the 2 BMW M3s, were instructors at the BMW Performance Driving Center in Greer, SC.

I have to admit; It wasn’t the all-out, change-your-underwear mind blower I thought it might be, but it was still great to have that rare experience. I got my ticket (very limited in supply) through the BMW Car Club, of which I’ve been a happy member for over a decade.

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Motor City Roots and the Making of a Car Guy

When people ask where I’m from, I tell them, “I rolled off the assembly line in Detroit.” Although it’s my city of birth I haven’t lived there (Harper Woods, actually) since 1969. I’m sure my appreciation for the automobile has something to do with those roots.

What goes into the making of a car guy? Something in their DNA? Social influences? Does it happen gradually or in the blink of an eye? Some remember that one single match that started the flame burning. In my case, it was a slow progression. But I think the ball got rolling, however slowly, when I was a little boy.

After decades of having been away, it was time to vacation in Detroit. I visited my boyhood roots, and the seeds that were planted that eventually turned me into a car guy. I returned to Belle Isle, Harper Woods, Grosse Pointe and toured the Edsel Ford Estate and the Henry Ford Museum. Tons of stuff to see at the Henry Ford. Finally, I stopped by the world’s biggest tire on my way out of town.

Check out the video, with a tour of the Henry Ford Museum –  Run time 8:13

Spring 2016 Detailing Clinic

Spring has arrived in St. Louis. It’s time for us to get our cars cleaned up and ready for the driving and car show season. Mark Parafiniuk of Clear Auto Bra and Saul Davidson of A&G Auto Spa hosted a detailing clinic for the St. Louis BMW Club and the Porsche Club. Clear Auto Bra has a great facility and the perfect venue for an event like this. Mark has installed the clear bra on several of my cars. I’ve been impressed with the quality of his work.

Lucky Winner

A Porsche owner was the lucky winner of the drawing for a free detail. His beautiful 911 was pulled into the work area for inspection. Saul talked with the owner about some areas that could use a little work. To me it looked like the car was in great shape. But Saul has an eagle eye and works at a much higher level of perfection than I’ll ever achieve.

The A&G crew then washed the car outside while Saul talked about some of the fundamentals of detailing and related products. They then used detailing clay to fully prepare the 911 for closer inspection.

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