We won LeMons! Ok, well, we won our class at LeMons. That class being Class F, consisting entirely of us and Top Gear USA. Our 108 laps to their 79, despite their crew of at least two professional drivers and support staff of like 40 people.
Of course, it very nearly wasn’t so. The short version is we battled baffling fuel starvation issues most of Friday and Saturday only to hit the track and immediately be black flagged off for a massive fuel leak. Four laps total end of Saturday. Sunday we tortoised their hare, cranking out lap after pathetically slow lap. A minor hiccup with the clutch and shifter linkages put us at risk for about 20 minutes, but we sorted it and finished out the day.
Personally, I want to thank everyone on our team for their efforts and their patience through all the struggles. Jeff, Ryan, Graham and Ted, we couldn’t have done this without something (or many things) each of you did. More importantly, a huge thanks to my wife Daisy for not only putting up with the escalating costs in time and money this misadventure brought, but supporting us with food and drinks and other hospitality. Best. Wife. Ever.
Hit the jump for a few details…
Friday we stalled on tech in favor of attempting to practice. Unfortunately, we did not even one lap in practice before realizing we had a definite, but baffling engine cut-out problem. Rather than stall out on track, we ended up using the massive hills of the ring road to the outer parking lots for testing. As of late Friday night, courtesy of a ton of help from Kiwi Steve the car was running much better…
…but Saturday it still cut out on track. We checked the fuel lines, carb float level, tank pickup, searched for electrical issues and triple checked ignition timing. Finally, on the advice of Judge Phil aka Murilee Martin, we ran to O’Reilly’s and bought a generic low-pressure electric fuel pump. Sure enough, that solved it. As best we can tell, the mechanical pump can’t keep up with sustained loads (like turns 1 through 4 or the ring road hill at Sonoma).
One (maybe more than one…?) lap into our belated start, we were black flagged for a massive fuel leak. Pro-tip: checking that your fuel filler hose doesn’t leak with like five gallons in the tank doesn’t mean crap about its ability to not leak on a racetrack with a full tank. It leaked from the vent, it leaked from the cap, it leaked from the metal-to-metal joint at the top of the filler neck and it leaked from the sending unit/pickup lock ring. Almost everything that could leak, did. We got Grant from Evil Genius to weld up the metal swage joint seam, sent Ted to Santa Rosa to pick up a cap, re-sealed the lock ring and put a longer coiled hose on the end of the tank vent. The last step was recreating the seal between the fuel cap lock ring and the top of the filler tube. I am so glad I threw that random leftover rubber sheet in the trailer.
We re-tested that assembly by driving in clockwise circles on the ring road before start on Sunday and found no leaks, so Jeff took the green. Well, actually we put him out there about 10 minutes after the green to let the utter clusterfnck that is 130 LeMons cars on a cold, wet track work itself out a bit. Judging by the traffic over the radio, it was a good call.
We started the day with 4 laps to Top Gear’s 60. We knew if we did laps all day and the continued at their previous pace or worse we’d catch them, but we needed to just. do. laps.
We told Jeff to take it slow and steady, keep the car on the track. He delivered on the slow and steady part, but nearly killed me with a heart attack when he announced he’d been black flagged. (GODDAMMITHOWCOULDITBELEAKINGSTILLAFTERALLTHATWORKCRAPDAMNWTFDAMN) Turns out he’d spun. Oh…ok. Y U NO TELL ME THAT?! Anyway, he finished out his shift with one more minor incident (got rear-ended, no flag) and it was off to Graham. Speedy laps (well, a 2:37 best lap), no flags, no contact. Apparently,the motor revs to the mid-5,000s. Who knew?
Right at the Jeff-to-Graham hand-off, I heard over the radio that Top Gear was off track and parked. They’d bumped up to 79 laps to our 20-something.
We went to hand off to Ryan, but somehow with his Saturday arrival, we’d forgotten to tell him to get a driver’s wristband, so he got turned around at the track entrance. We quick-swapped to Ted, who also turned a good conservative 20 laps without incident. Not trivial when you’re 30-45 seconds off the lap pace and it’s raining.
Finally it was Ryan’s turn again, but he came in with reports of no third gear. Not good when you’ve only got three. Ryan’s about 6’6″ tall, and it turns out his bent-up leg was keeping the shifter from going and staying in third. We told him to just deal with it, but he was back in shortly thereafter with more issues: the shifter linkage adjustment at the bottom of the column had come loose, making it impossible to do much of anything on the second-third gear rail. We put that back together, only to have the clutch pedal adjustment all screwed up as well. More scrambling and we got the 1/4″ of adjustment necessary to make it work.
At this point we were about 20 laps away from beating the dead Top Gear’s 79, with just enough time to do so if we didn’t spend another hour wrenching. I got in the car, knowing it’d been able to work the finicky shifter and clutch previously. I was getting impatient and wanted to make sure we could beat Top Gear, but we really shoud’ve put Ryan back in the car. It was his turn.
Somewhere around lap four the panic of an unfamiliar wet track full of much faster cars wears off and I actually start enjoying myself. I was able to pass the IOE-winning Corona and…cars that were clearly limping off track with mechanical issues. On a good lap I could keep pace with the Geo Metro on all-season tires. I kept ratcheting it up lap after lap and sure enough, managed to spin off into the mud. I thought I was still a good 10 laps away from beating Top Gear, but upon reporting for my penalty Judge Steve let me know we’d done it (shows how good I was at awareness). At that point, it was just a matter of finishing out the day, which I managed to do without further incident, despite a few clentch-heavy moments as the track got wetter with rain.
A few random post-race thoughts on the car:
- The second-to-third gap is too big. I’m checking what gears are in the two toploaders I’ve got, and what’s available. Having no low/mid-range to pull when upshifting to third doesn’t help, either.
- The three on the tree linkage is more trouble than it’s worth. Almost certainly going to the floor for the next race.
- Despite the dinky tires, this thing sits way too tall. We can cut the front springs and throw some lowering blocks in the rear. Even with that, it’s pretty controllable, handling-wise.
- This thing is slooooowwwwww. Like, the first thing I’m doing when I get back in the garage is a compression check, because I’m not sure it’s actually running on six out of six. Following that, I’m looking into getting a working two-barrel on that manifold and pulling a junkyard Duraspark electronic ignition. Meanwhile I’m scheming about a TBI unit from a Chevy 4.3L V6 and a megasquirt controller. And/or a turbo, while we’re at it.
- Though, we’re working pretty hard to not put a V8 in this thing, to be honest…