We're all familiar with Star Trek's legendary Captain James T. Kirk: defeating alien monsters with cunning wit and clasped-hands punches, bedding exotic alien hotties with indefensible charm, and generally being a magnanimous, inspiring humanitarian and starship captain. We also know his ship, the USS Enterprise: able to accelerate at warp speed and travel the universe undeterred, in fearsomely undefeated form. But it's young Kirk, played by Chris Pine in the reboot films, who's so important to who the legend would become. Fearsome? No, but fearlessly ambitious. Young Kirk never backed away from a fight, but for a long time never won a single one, either. He even had to scuttle his first starship when he found himself going up against a much more formidable foe. In fact, he nearly lost everything on several occasions before discovering his strength, hitting his stride, and becoming the badass we all admire today.
Donovan Brockway—owner, builder, and driver of this 1,000hp BMW E30 Formula DRIFT machine—is a lot like that young Kirk. Except for the girl. Don Brockway always gets the girl.
Like the young Kirk and the world of Starfleet, Don was surrounded by friends who were into cars, but never got into them himself until later in life. It wasn't until '11 when his roommate and a bunch of friends who were into drifting inspired him to take a closer look. At the time, they were all building 240SXs, but a different car caught Don's eye. "I remember thinking, 'What's that BMW with the round headlights?'" he recalls. "And it all kind of started right there."
Don had been big into dirt bike racing and always had good mechanical inclination, so it was logical (maybe even inevitable) that he would get into wrenching and drifting. He learned the ropes on two previous E30s before the one you see here, and got good enough at drifting to finish second overall in Southern California's Top Drift Pro-Am Championship series in '14 (ahead of Alex Heilbrunn and RAD Dan Burkett), earning his Formula Drift Pro 2 license in the process.
He'd learned how to build cars, how to drive and drift 'em, and how to wage a successful campaign (Don traveled to SoCal from the Bay Area for each round of competition). But to boldly go where he'd never gone before, he needed something bigger and badder. He needed something legendary.
In late '14, Don enlisted the help of BMW specialists North Bay Bavarian; together, they got to work building a new E30 shell into something befitting of a rising drift ship captain. Chassis work included extensive weight reduction, cushioned bash-bars, a rear-mounted cooling system, custom suspension tuning, mil-spec WireCare wiring, and a full Marcus Fry Racing rollcage that integrated with the chassis for safety and rigidity. Exterior dimensions were enhanced by DTM Fiberwerkz bumpers and imported fiberglass fender flares by Viktor Martensson and Johan Rebew, metal fab by KoogleWerkz, and under its hood was an S54 engine from an E46 M3, supercharged and mated to a Samsonas sequential gearbox. With around 700 ponies on tap, lots of rubber, and a top-of-the-line tuned version of one of the most proven (if still underrated) chassis for drifting, it seemed our hero was ready to make his mark in the drifting universe.
But it was the complexity of this seemingly bulletproof recipe that would prove to be the first fight our young Kirk doppelganger would unsuccessfully wage, when its dry-sump oiling system's belt failed, leading to oil starvation and engine bearing destruction at Donovan's very first round of Formula D Pro 2 competition in Orlando. "We were combining a lot of parts and systems on the car that had never worked together before," Don explains. "So there was a lot to figure out."
Don and the team overcame that hurdle and several others, but it was nothing compared to what was to come. Cue the scene where the starship Enterprise crash lands into that pristine alien landscape. It was the practice session at FD Pro 2's second round in Seattle, and Don and the E30 were just warming up, halfway into a run, when:
Third... fourth... hand-brake ... full-throttle! No throttle. What?? No throttle?! Wall approaching. Wall approaching! WHAM!!
With no throttle to power out of his transition, Don and the E30 careened headfirst into the Evergreen Speedway wall at 70 mph, completely destroying the front of the car and nearly taking Don out altogether. "If I hadn't have been wearing my Hans," he recalls, "who knows?"
Fate dealt a crushing blow to Don and his E30, but right when lesser competitors would've given up, Don got back to work. He swapped some usable parts from the car over to his retired, pro-am-winning E30 in an effort to stay in '15 contention. But then an axle failed and couldn't be replaced just days before the season's penultimate round in Texas, which in turn made Don ineligible to qualify for the final round competition at Irwindale. "It was terrible," Don says with a laugh, uncomfortably. "I went down and watched the final round from the stands. I couldn't participate, but I still really wanted to be there." The good thing about hitting rock bottom, they say, is that you have nowhere to go but up. And that's where Don was looking on that lonely night.
When his petition to keep his Pro 2 license was approved, he wasted no time getting his main squeeze back together. The front of the E30 was trashed, but the rest seemed relatively unaffected from the firewall back. When a friend mentioned wanting to scrap an E30 that was totaled with rear-end damage, Don got a wild idea. After a call to Redwood Autobody in the fall of '15, the two cars were cut and Don's E30 received an all-new front clip, on which to mount his triumphant return.
Together with crew chief Kyle Boardman, Don moved the rebuild of his E30 under his own Red Baron Racing roof, built a new engine enhanced by a Precision 6870 turbocharger, switched from his previous budget suspension to baller JRZ three-way dampers and custom springs, and tested, troubleshot, and tuned much more extensively. He qualified for the first round of '16 Pro 2 competition at Orlando without incident but suffered a transmission failure against his Top 16 tandem with Austin Meeks. "There were a lot of small failures and damage caused by the crash that weren't apparent at first," Don explains. "So we were chasing our tail with that car for a while."
After switching to a G-Force GSR H-pattern dogbox, the following round in Texas was the first in which the car experienced no failures. Don once again survived qualifying, and this time was eliminated by Dirk Stratton in Top 16. "We didn't get the win, but I'll take it!" he says.
Don and the BMW continued to battle—successfully—little problems through the rest of the '16 season and started '17 with a fresh build largely as you see it here. That GSR gearbox and buff JRZ suspension remain, but Don added a new quick-change rear end, custom steering angle kit from Lodynamics, and replaced the car's factory control arms with a set of DTM-style modified units, based on what BMW racing teams did back in the day to gain further adjustability.
Today, the warp core in Don's ship is a new S54 E46 M3 engine, bored and stroked to 3.5L of displacement thanks to CP-Carrillo, with generous headwork and a lash cap-style Supertech valvetrain, and is force-fed compressed and intercooled air from a huge Precision Turbo with a 100 shot of nitrous oxide on the side. With its Injector Dyamics/Radium fuel system and AEM Infinity ECU managing gulping amounts of Ignite Racing Fuel 114, the whole recipe is good for around 1,000 hp. But with Pro 2 cars limited to 255-size tires, Don has found that overbuilding the engine and keeping power low (in this case, "only" about 800 hp) gives better reliability, a fatter powerband, and better response.
Don and the E30 suffered a few more minor but annoying mishaps in '17—some broken wheel studs here, a warped brake rotor there—but redeemed themselves at their rematch with fate during the Seattle FD round. They suffered and overcame a broken differential gear, qualified for competition, and even won their Top 16 battles against multiple-time European champion Ola Jager, before losing "fair and square" (Don's words) to Josh Robbins and his Ute in Top 8.
What about ''8? Well, like the young Kirk after his mishap with that first Enterprise, Don's taken all he's learned and will be back in the very near future, behind the wheel of an all-new BMW M2 build. "We learned so much with this car," Don explains of the E30, "but there are just so many things that can be done better, on a newer chassis, that I felt it was best to start with a clean sheet." That's not to say the E30 will be forgotten. It will always have a soft spot in Don's heart, and a place on the grid of drift demos, bashes, and festivals—where it will be free to get really rowdy—for a long time to come.
What the young Kirk teaches us is that failure is not only OK, it's an absolutely necessary part of success. As long as you handle it with grace, learn from it, and improve your approach, failure can be a net-positive experience. Racers say if you've never gone off track, you've never pushed as hard as you can, and in all areas of life, you've got to dare the impossible to understand and achieve the incredible.
Don, this E30, and their story together are living proof of exactly that. Will he attain legendary status among drifting's growing crop of competitors and enthusiasts? Will his BMW roam the universe (or at least, the nation) undefeated, loved, or feared by all? We're not sure, but if one thing's for certain, this story is just beginning.