Ten years ago, Andrew Zimmerman drove in his first car racing event at Pocono Raceway. Soon after arriving at the track, the unabashed fan had engine problems, and the car quit.
Zimmerman continued the race—in a rental car.
Although he experienced a mishap, Zimmerman realized a possible business opportunity.
A native of Cinnaminson, Zimmerman grew up far from the car racing tracks he visits 20 times a year. From his first time behind the wheel of a race car, Zimmerman was hooked. Shortly thereafter, he began competing in National Auto Sport Association (NASA) Spec E30 events on the East Coast.
“For me, being at the race track is like an addiction,” Zimmerman, 38, acknowledges. “It’s a friendly cohesive environment.”
Through racing events, Zimmerman met Jon Allen, another Spec E30 competitor, and the two became fast friends.
In September, Allen came in third in the Spec E30 NASA National Championships in Ohio.
By the end of 2007, the friends partnered and launched DriveGear Racing, a Cinnaminson-based company specializing in renting race cars.
It’s a pretty simple concept: Racers not only pay to use DriveGear’s cars but the rental company provides driving advice, food and drinks, and a lot of camaraderie.
“I go to these tracks throughout the year anyway,” Zimmerman explains, “so why not make some money.”
The duo bought their first car, a BMW 325i, from eBay. Cars cost in the neighborhood of $1,000-$2,000.
The cars—1984-’91 BMW 325is—are rebuilt from the ground up. To crank it up for racing, nearly $12,000 is spent making them racer-safe.
“A complete overhaul happens,” Zimmerman says. “Brand new bearings, brakes, bushings, you name it. The cars obviously have to be extremely protected. We have a good team of mechanics that we trust.”
DriveGear splurges on the cage—a specially constructed frame built in the cab to protect the driver—in the event of a crash. The wisdom being, a certain measure of quality must be sustained if the cars are intended for customers.
Rental opportunities come in a variety of ways, Zimmerman says.
“We have about 10-15 regular clients,” Zimmerman says. “Some are pros. But, some guys are just getting started in racing”—as part of the driver’s education program.
Still others rent cars from DriveGear because they want to keep their racing credentials current. Others just aren’t interested in maintaining a race car.
The majority of race car enthusiasts are men, “brothers in speed,” as Zimmerman says. However, more women are crossing over—possibly because of women racers like Danica Patrick, who has competed in the IndyCar Series and NASCAR Nationwide Series.
But, it’s not a sport for the meek or mild. Even elite drivers sustain enormous G-forces, which can stress out the body.
“We drive at speeds of 130 mph or more,” says Zimmerman, who is married and the father of two toddlers, and when not on the raceway drives a Volvo station wagon. “There is plenty of elevation on most tracks. Sometimes people feel nauseous when they drive up and down.”
It’s not cheap to rent.
For the racer renting for driver’s education, it can set someone back $500 a day. For the more serious, club-level racing can peak at $2,000 a weekend.
There’s usually a damage deposit—typically $3,000-$5,000 fee. In the last four years, Zimmerman says their biggest repair bill was $2,500.
The partners have a fleet of four cars—two at a time fit nicely into the 50-foot trailer used for transporting.
For now, DriveGear remains a side job for Zimmerman, and he plans on keeping his day job selling promotional products.
“We don’t just rent out cars,” Zimmerman says. “We provide a service that brings people together for the same hobby. Like I keep saying, car racing is like an addiction.”