“If you’ve ever been in a race car,” racer Fabian Berger says, elbow-deep in the guts of a BMW E30, “then you know it’s worth wrenching the whole night.” This is the world of AER, American Endurance Racing, a budget racing series that’s not for amateurs. I, an amateur, found that out the hard way.

By that, I mean I stared down another race car as it plowed directly into my door at highway speeds.

Last fall the AER organizers invited Team Jalopnik out to compete against Team Road & Track in the season closer at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. They hooked us up with BMW E30 race cars built by the wonderful folks at DriveGear Racing. Our team, with varying levels of racing experience, was actually doing decent during qualifying and practice and feeling good about the weekend.

Then it started raining.

In one of my first laps of wheel-to-wheel racing, I looped the BMW on a particularly slick corner. Just as I was about to get the car going again, I looked up to see an Acura Integra bearing down upon me.

A set of very thick NASCAR bars in the BMW’s roll cage kept the Acura’s front bumper out of the area that my hip bone was occupying.

It was one of the lowlights of my career and my life, but it was also an excellent demonstration of what AER is, why it exists, and who it’s for.

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The series is set up with the rigor of a big-budget racing series, only without the huge costs. It’s a step up from Lemons and Chump Car, and requires a greater degree of driving talent and experience.

But it’s still financially accessible, and while it’s more serious than other low-cost series, AER hasn’t lost their spirit of camaraderie.

It was a blast, even though it ended badly for Team Jalopnik—this time. We’ll be back.

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Contact the author at raphael@jalopnik.com.