Welcome to the brand new Top Dead Center series, Co-Driver. Here, fellow gear heads have an outlet for their automotive passions, whether it’s a exciting story to tell, photos to share, or the retelling of an epic adventure. Co-Driver’s inaugural entry comes from Shawn Pierce, a talented writer and photographer and friend of TDC, who had the chance to shoot a mint track-ready BMW e36 M3 and tell its owner’s unique story. Be sure to check out the Shawn Pierce Photography Facebook page for more of Shawn’s work.
You know the old saying: When life hands you lemons, make lemonade? Well, when life totals your Cadillac, what would be the equivalent of making lemonade? For BMWCCA driving instructor, Laura Fallis, it is made entirely of Bavarian lemons, clad in triple black, and wears an M badge.
On a slick, rain dampened highway in 2006, Laura was involved in an accident that sent her Cadillac ETC off to the scrap yard. While trying to avoid an oncoming car that had veered unexpectedly into her lane, she hit the brakes, swerved off the road, and wound up against a guardrail. “I hit the guardrail hard. I watched the on-coming traffic as the car was launched off its wheels,” recalled Laura. “Only one wheel rode the bottom side of the guardrail, the rest of the car was airborne. I remember the car jolting and I thought it was going to roll. As the car landed sideways in the fast lane, I’m looking at on-coming traffic again and I’m thinking: please stop.” Thankfully they did and Laura walked away from the accident with just bumps, bruises, and minor whiplash. The Cadillac, however, was a wreck and Laura was left with the task of finding a new daily driver.
It was just prior to all this that the track bug had bitten Laura hard. She completed the performance driving course at Skip Barber Racing School at Lime Rock Park in Connecticut, and after that she was off to the races… literally. “I always wanted to race and I found myself with the opportunity to do so,” Laura explained.
A while later, Laura found a 1997 BMW e36 M3 that would eventually fulfill both her daily driver needs and track day desires. “I happened to drive by this BMW with a for sale sign on it,” said Laura. “For some reason it captured my eye, so I turned around, never suspecting this might be the one. But it was love at first sight. I took it for a test drive and the next thing I know, I have the title in hand and I’m off to get plates to pick her up.”
Laura quickly set about making her new M3 track worthy by asking one of the Northeast’s premier BMW tuners, Turner Motorsports (TMS), to work their magic. Kevin Holmes of TMS gave the car a thorough inspection. He found that overall the car was in good shape (it had been in a minor collision at some point but repairing it was simple), and he set to work on the upgrades to make the M3 the track rat Laura wanted. The car had already been equipped with an AFE cold air intake system, so Laura decided to focus on the suspension. She installed H&R sport springs and a Bilstein sport shock and strut set. She upgraded the front and rear sway bars and added reinforcements all around. They also added a BMW shark injector engine software upgrade which provides an increase in horsepower and torque, quickens throttle response, increases the rev-limits, and removes the top speed limiter. All things you want when pushing the limits on a race track.
After purchasing the M3 she became a member of the BMW Car Club of America (BMWCCA) and began attending numerous track day events with the club. Eventually, her driving prowess got her noticed and she was asked to be an instructor for the club. “I think they felt it an asset I am female,” said Laura. “I could make students comfortable and also give them that sense of instruction that none of the other instructors could.”
Laura has owned her M3 since 2006 and has driven it nearly every single day since. It now has more than 169,000 miles on the odometer, 109,000 of which Laura put on herself. Over the years she has made upgrades to nearly every major system in the car including further upgrades to the suspension, a new cooling system, a Borla cat back exhaust, and an upgraded transmission with a short shifter out of a BMW Z3. She estimates three to five percent of those miles were put on during track days.
When asked about her unique vanity plate (VIXEN) Laura said, “A number of years ago at a track event there were a number ice racers there. There were a couple of vehicles that had Santa’s reindeer’s names on their plates. I thought… too cool! What better plate for a chick’s M3?”
– Many thanks and much respect to Shawn Pierce for his time and effort in creating this piece.