In this week’s edition of Better Know A Driver, we caught up with Steve Topping, the driver of the most American E36 you’ll probably ever see. A familiar face on the MDU trail, Topping racked up three podium finishes in 2014.
SMASHED: How did you get into drifting?
Topping: My evil “friends” took me to my first event to watch, It took me all of an hour to go buy a tech card. Been downhill ever since.
SMASHED: You’ve been running one of only a couple E36s to be a regular in MDU over the years. What made you go the German route instead of jumping onto the S-chassis ship like most people?
Topping: Honestly, when I first started, I just wasn’t into 240s. Most of the ones I saw when I first started were clapped out S13 pig nose cars. I’ve always loved BMW so at the time it was an easy choice for me.
SMASHED: You’re also a fairly outspoken proponent of the LS engine, obviously running one in your car. Has that been under the hood since the beginning, and if not, what was there first and why did it have to go?
Topping: I flew to Arizona six years ago to go pick up the car. A guy that previously did SCCA events owned it. So it was already on coils, had a perfect cage in it, and had every bolt on for the factory motor you can buy. It was great to learn with. Might have made 200 at the flywheel. After a year I was pumped for more power. We made up a budget to turbo the car, or to LS swap the car. The LS swap was a little bit more but had way more room to grow when I was ready. So we went that route and I wouldn’t change it for the world. As far as me being a proponent of the LS motor in general, I respect it for what it is. It’s affordable, you can get parts anywhere, someone that lives down the street from you probably builds and tunes them, and they make absolutely nasty power when you do them right.
SMASHED: We’ve seen your livery change a few times over the last couple years, going from the all silver to the current patriotic theme, the split German/U.S. flag hood, and last year at the final round had “Comeback Express” with old-west style wanted posters for Rolando Alfaro, Dan Sommer and Brian Peter. Why the frequent changes and what was the meaning of the “Comeback Express?”
Topping: Well at the start of the 2014 season, I got hooked up with the rad dudes over at Vinyl Images. We talked for a couple months just trying to be ready for 2015. But with that last event of 2014 being local, they were nice enough to dress the car up a bit. We just wanted to do something fun, nothing to crazy or time intensive considering I also had to swap in a new motor before the event. The German and American flag idea was fitting for me on a few levels. My mom’s parents came over from Germany during the war and my dad’s family has been here since the Wild West days. To top it off my car is German but powered by the red, white, and blue. Just worked too well not to let it fly. The comeback express was brought up because going into round four I was sitting in 4th place chasing my Pro 2 license. I was gunning for a top three in what would be my first full rookie year of competition. Rolando Alfaro, Dan Sommer, and Brian Peter were the guys in front (not in that order). We had a killer set up for the last round. The car was hot. I was feeling good. But that week of all-nighters to get it running and tuned before the event…that cost me the hunt. During the rebuild it would seem a 3/8″ nut somehow made it into my IC. It took 8 dyno pulls, and 5 laps of Gateway MSP to push it clean through the motor and out the passenger header. Motor was toast. Nothing I could do. Ended up finishing twp points out of a license. But that’s “racing.”
SMASHED: What would you say your ultimate goal is with drifting?
Topping: I want to become the best driver I can be.
SMASHED: What’s your biggest motivation to reach those goals?
Topping: My friends are my main source of motivation. They keep my head up when my weekend is falling apart, and they keep me grounded when I’m being handed some hardware.
SMASHED: What is/are some of the biggest hurdles you’ve had to overcome to get where you are now?
Topping:Relationships that can’t withstand the amount of hours I spend in the garage, on the road, and at the track. The self-discipline it takes to be an adult, and a drifter. Last years season as a whole.
SMASHED: What was up with last season?
Topping: The 2014 season had the highest highs and the lowest lows for me. Six events total, three podium finishes, three blown motors. Two were in practice, one on the last run of LS Fest.
SMASHED: What advice do you have for those just starting out in the sport?
Topping: Start slow, keep your head level, and enjoy every moment. Ask when you have questions or when you need help. Support the companies that support drivers and the sport in general. There are so many good companies out there that build parts just for you. STAY OFF EBAY. Built it once. Build it right.
Hometown: St. Louis, MO
Current city: St. Louis, MO
Car: 1993 BMW 325i
Suspension: BC BR custom spring rates, SLR angle kit
Wheels: Cosmis Racing MRII front and 005r rear
Tires: Star Spec 2 front, Sumitomo HTR ZIII rear
Sponsors: Enjuku Racing, Vinyl Images, Paint By Lemon, Grip Royal
Years drifting: 5
Day job: I build and install custom indoor waterfalls that humidify your home
First drift car: Same as currently driving
Favorite Track: Gateway Motorsports Park