I first met Roy Hopkins this summer at the Vintage races at Pittsburgh International Race Complex… the Western Pennsylvania road course formerly known as Beaverun. For folks that don’t know his name, I’ll give you a brief summary:
Roy has been around BMWs for pretty much forever. He’s a calm and polite fellow with a quiet sense of humor. He takes his driving seriously and he along with highly accomplished co-driver Adrienne Hughes have won the infamous Targa Newfoundland week-long rally 3 times… in a row. In a 1969 BMW. A BMW named “Woodstock”…A little car painted like a clown…on some "yet to be outlawed" home-made drugs. This rally is run through neighborhoods. Woods. Towns. and seemingly ALWAYS in the worst weather imaginable. Horizontal rain. Mud. Trees. Buildings. You get it all. They didn’t win this rally in the 70s, when that car was fresh and young, they won it after the car had sufficiently aged about 35 or 40 years, against cars costing 10 times as much and still under warranty from the dealer.
I wandered up to where Roy and his crew were paddocked during the Pittsburgh race and introduced myself.
They had a problem.
One of their 2002s had shattered a water pump pulley, and the remaining day and following week of racing depended on it’s replacement. We made some calls, and then I suddenly realized I probably HAD the essential round thingy in my old BMW parts stash. I’m not a hoarder of such things, but the small stuff I try to hang on to. Pulleys tend to congregate among the aforementioned “small stuff”. Roy cruised the 11 miles up to my house and picked up the beastie, along with an extra fan belt. Karma was restored. 2002s got driven. And it was good.
Months later, I received an e mail from Roy, asking me if I’d be interested in some racing crew duties in Newfoundland or elsewhere. He and Adrienne were given the task of driving a new Fiat 500 Abarth for the event. Gawd that sounded like pure ass-kicking hilarity. Scorpion decals adorned their helmets, which whispered a statement of miniature Italian menace and intent to their already proven abilities. Don’t know the name Carlo Abarth? Before you coo and gush over the new Fiat 500, you SHOULD. Abarth tuned Italia is the stuff of legend, during the 1950s- 1960s golden era of European racing and rallying. I couldn’t afford to take a week off work for the Canadian madness, but the Chump Car Racing series later in the season held some potential.
Yes, it’s really called the “Chump Car” series. A bunch of races held across the US at various road racing tracks involving cheap vehicles prepped for competition. It’s an attempt at making automobile racing affordable and accessible for those lacking limitless budgets…and for those saddled with shit box cars that still run. I’ve never liked the name “Chump Car”. I always thought there were other, far more descriptive and hilarious terms used for the vehicles and drivers involved. After a quick review of the term “chump” in my handy Random House dictionary (a 2000 page 14 lb tome of the English language, that’s been in my family’s possession since the 1970s) I stand corrected. Here, printed without express permission, is the definition of said “chump”:
chump: n. 1. informal: a blockhead or dolt. 2. a short thick piece of wood. 3. The thick or blunt end of anything. 4. slang: the head. 5. “off one’s chump” slang: crazy; mentally deranged
Now… this isn’t just any race of crazy people in rolling, overflowing toilets of grease and rust, mind you. This one qualifies as the longest endurance race in the US. It’s 25 hours, 25 minutes, and 25 seconds long. The goal is to complete the most laps in that given timeframe, without catching on fire, crashing, vomiting, or getting anybody pregnant. The cars must be valued at $500 and no more, however the money spent on safety equipment is unlimited. This means roll cages, quality helmets, fire-proof driving suits and gloves, and whatever improvements you can make to the car, generally based upon rusty crap you steal from other cars is allowed. If the car is too pretty however, you get laughed off the track. Oh, about the pregnant thing? I made that part up. I think.
Our car was to be a 1996-ish BMW 318i. A solid but wimpy-engined car with many podium finishes in previous races, and piloted by a group of 4 accomplished and highly skilled drivers to share the duties of driving it around and around for 25 hours in rain, dark, sun, mud, and spilled oil. This car is sort of red and a little green, and covered with the paint marker scrawlings of various children.
It’s affectionately known as “The Possum”. Because I have a few screws loose and a box of metric tools, I said yes.