One essential element to getting a racing class to take off, to drive fields large enough so everyone on track has fun — and people watching wish they were out there with them — is to have a shop in that region pushing hard to build, supply and support cars. That element doesn’t always fall into place.
If you’ve been to a NASA event in the Northeast, Mid-Atlantic or even the Southeast regions, you should be familiar with the DriveGear Spec E30s. DriveGear Racing is the shop that helped make Spec E30 go up and down the Eastern Seaboard, and the man behind much of that push was Andrew Zimmermann along with his business partner in DriveGear Racing Jonathan Allen.
A former Honda Challenge racer, Zimmermann made the leap to Spec E30 in 2009 or so and never looked back. Located in Cinnaminson, N.J., DriveGear Racing focused primarily on service, support and rentals of Spec E30 racecars in the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast Regions. DriveGear Racing fitted all its cars with passenger seats so that it could rent them to people in NASA’s HPDE program. That would often result in HPDE drivers buying the car from DriveGear Racing so they could begin competing in Spec E30.
“A lot of the cars out there used to be mine. I’ve sold many of these guys their cars,” Zimmermann said. “But yeah, I’m kind of the focus point, because I have everything in the trailer to fix the car. A lot of guys lean on me for that.”
On-site support means cars stay running and fields stay full, and, of course, nothing breeds success like success right? The more people see others having fun on track, the more they want to get in on the action. Zimmermann’s regimen was to do as much prep work on the cars at the shop, so they needed less attention at the track, another method for full fields of happy customers.
“You get guys who want to try different platforms. They’re not sure what they want to do, or they’ve been DE’ing a more modern car, and they come to realize they can’t race their 2015 BMW,” Zimmermann said. “It makes way more sense for them to get into one of these.”
One customer who bought a car from Zimmermann was Evan Luce, a Spec E30 driver from Newtown, Pa. Luce had been racing a Mazda Protégé in the old PTE class, with no competition. Zimmermann persuaded him to join the ranks of Spec E30.
“One night, he’s like, ‘Dude, what are you doing? You’re beating your head against the wall, you’re racing nobody and not having any fun. You car’s breaking all the time. Come join us. Buy one of these. I got all the parts here. I’ll get you a car. You’ll be fast before you know it.’” Luce said. “He sold me on the whole thing. I went home, told my wife. She said let’s find the money and go do it. So I bought the car off them. And I never looked back since. I still run that thing now.”
Because DriveGear Racing cross-pollinates between the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic regions, you get a lot Northeast drivers racing in the Mid-Atlantic and vice-versa.
“It’s been a blast. I mean, he’s a good friend. He’ like “The Don” of Spec E30,” Luce said. “Anytime somebody needs a part, anytime someone has a question, anytime somebody’s struggling with a car, anytime somebody’s not sure if they can make a race, you know, that’s who they call. So, without him, our class would be probably half the size.”
The remarkable thing is that DriveGear Racing has been a side business for Zimmermann and Allen, who both work full-time jobs apart from racing. Early on, Zimmermann and Allen were selling seats for endurance races, which would pay for their racing, too. They were gifted an E30 shell, which they built into a Spec E30 that Allen drove to second place at the 2007 NASA Championships at Mid-Ohio, behind NASA Mid-Atlantic Regional Director Chris Cobetto and ahead of Mike Skeen, who has gone on to make a name for himself in pro racing.
That got their name out there, and DriveGear Racing began building, selling and supporting Spec E30s. At their peak, Zimmermann said they were attending 20 events a year. He credits the longevity of the Spec E30 class, which is going on 17 years, to the durability and affordability of the cars, and good availability of parts. The close racing is the capper.
“The cars are great. They’re very strong, they’re robust. Parts are available. Cars are still available. Despite what people will tell you, they’re out there. You can find a $500 shell, and build a car, still. And the fact of the matter is, nothing’s really come along to compete with it. When you talk about Spec E46, that’s a whole other economic level of builds compared to a Spec E30.”
As with so many good things, DriveGear Racing is coming to an end so Zimmermann can focus on health issues and spend more time with his family. He’s hoping someone else can pick up where he left off so that Spec E30 can continue to thrive in eastern NASA regions.
“Nobody else is stupid enough to do, it right?” he said with a chuckle. “Now, I mean, you can make money. You could do well, but it’s a lot of work. And it’s a lot of time away. I’ve missed a lot of things because I’m not at home. I have two kids, and I’m kind of over that now. I don’t want to miss out on things anymore.”
The legacy of DriveGear Racing and Zimmermann will remain for the foreseeable future in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic regions, where Spec E30 continues to produce the kinds of fields people want to be part of.
“We probably, in the course of the last four or five years, conservatively, had 30 or 40 drivers rent his cars to go to comp school,” said NASA Northeast Regional Director Joe Casella. “He hit it right, at the right time with the right kind of car that appealed to a lot of people, that are easy to drive, relatively maintenance free. But if you break it, he can fix it, which is pretty cool. It’s helped us immeasurably over time.”
As Zimmermann looked back on his tenure in Spec E30, he still marvels at the closeness of the racing and, thanks to the amount of work he’s put in over the years, how much fun it is to race in this class.
“These guys had an amazing race today. They were four-wide through 2, 3 and 4, and, you know, at the end of the day, that’s what it’s about, being out there having fun, and doing that kind of racing,” Zimmermann said. “Some guys will never have a race like that. They’ll never be out there battling four other guys in a pack, right? They have no idea.”
|Region:||NASA Mid-Atlantic/NASA Northeast|
|Racing Class:||Spec E30|
|Sponsors:||DriveGear Racing, Zygmunt Motors|
|Favorite TV show:||“Wheeler Dealers”|
|Favorite Movie:||“War Games”|
|Favorite Book:||Bentley repair manual|
|Favorite Track:||Watkins Glen|
|Dream Racecar:||Datsun 240Z production|