I’ll never forget that “Life Is Good” T-shirt staring me in the face.
As it sat there, in all its corny, self-assertive mantra resting on my adolescent bed in my parent’s house; at the time, the irony was tragic, yet sickeningly funny. I had just gotten picked up from the scene of an accident and the only clean clothing I had was a pair of my dad’s sweatpants, and a goddamn “Life Is Good” shirt.
Looking back, it’s funny how the world works.
About a year into my residency at 0-60 Magazine — a hub I thought at the time to be the best automotive magazine out — I was stoked to be buying my first “real” sports car: a one-owner, 1995 BMW M3 E36 in love-it-or-hate-it Boston green metallic with tan guts. It wasn’t cherry, but it was prime with opportunity. And, it was mine.
I remember texting (my then boss) Brian Scotto about the accident, who just happened to be with Ken Block at the time, and the first thing he replied back was, to paraphrase, “Ken hopes you were at least hooning it.” But I wasn’t! I can’t recall how many people thought I was trying to drift around the exit ramp; I “must have been getting it sideways;” I “had to have been speeding.” In reality, I was overconfident, immature and inexperienced.
Off-ramps are made for sports cars. The posted speed limit signs are merely suggestions with highly antiquated limits made for tractor-trailers.
However, I took the turn way too fast, over-steered, corrected too late and paid for it. The pendulum had passed the point of no return. They say time slows down when disaster is approaching and I would have to agree. The experience became a 240fps video, and it seemed cinematic: the horrifying sounds, the dramatic visuals, and the aftermath of climbing out of a Boston Green safety net that prevented my bones from turning to dust.
I was overconfident, immature and inexperienced.
The soot in my mouth from the soft dirt that padded my roll took a while to leave my conscience. I walked away from the crash unharmed. Not a scratch on my body and no trip to the ER. The M3: not so much. It was totaled and I quickly sold the car for $2,500 USD to someone with an E30 primed for a swap. At least someone got a proper organ transplant after death.
Days, weeks and months after the fact were more interesting for me. As trite as it sounds, I became more aware of my surroundings. Still receiving press cars to review (though my bosses may have been a bit hesitant at first), it took me some time to really feel comfortable behind the wheel.
Cars started to become a job where I would not only drive them for reviews, but also work to become smarter and more efficient at making it do its job better. I made it a point to learn how to drive rally cars, sports cars, and supercars to their limit. The throttle wasn’t just a pedal for stop and go, it was a linear curve of power and finesse. I learned to respect the awesome potential cars have.
Seriously, crashing was one of the best things to happen to me. Team O’Neil rally school taught me how to left-foot brake — a skill that would consequently save my legs from tedium in New York City traffic. Bondurant schooled me on being smooth. A motorcycle license helped me realize just how hyperaware you have to be while on the road with other drivers. These things taught me (this may sound hokey) how to become one with the car.
I made it a point to learn how to drive. I learned to respect the awesome potential cars have.
To this day, almost eight years later, I still think about owning that damn M3.
I may have crashed and burned, but the point to all this is I gained knowledge and car control. As unfortunate as it was, the incident made me a better driver. I had to become more skilled. If this was going to be my career, I needed to know how to control it. I skated severe injury and possibly death; another time I might not be so lucky.
The point I’m trying to make is that a terrible life experience actually made me a better, more aware driver. Do I still have room for improvement? Definitely. There will always be accidents and the lack of ability to not control other people around you, but if you can improve one iota with the proper teaching and instructions, you might just save that BMW M3 one day.