The 24 Hours of LeMons makes no secret about its business model when it comes to picking dates: They rent tracks when the demand is generally low because that’s when they get deals and, consequently, when the races become affordable. As one might well imagine, seasonal weather plays a significant role in this demand. That’s why it frequently snows at Gingerman Raceway’s spring races, but this weekend, the LeMons faithful foray into California’s desert for the series’ annual scorching-hot race. While it once was rightly called “Arse-Sweat-A-Palooza,” this year’s (and last year’s) June race at Buttonwillow Raceway Park has been rechristened “Button Terrible” as a nod to LeMonspeak for “That’s really awful” (i.e. “Butt Turrible”).
Last year’s Buttonwillow race saw high temperatures exceeding 115 degrees Fahrenheit (46 C to the Yurpeans who frequent this site), meaning LeMons organizers halted the race at least once to give drivers a chance to hydrate and cool off. This weekend, early-week weather forecasts suggest high temperatures below 100 degrees, which will be downright pleasant by comparison, though still hot enough to plague both driver and machine. Slogging through 14-1/2 hours of the race necessitates an iron will and good preparation, but don’t be surprised if onlt half of the 119 cars on the unofficial entry list are still running at Sunday’s checkered flag.
California races remain the most difficult region to win a LeMons race. The competition comprises well-developed cars, teams, and drivers with the luxury of up to six races a year within reasonable towing distance (Definition of “reasonable” may vary). In hunting the overall win, German machinery remains the West Coast favorite with 22 BMWs and 11 water-cooled Volkswagens in the field, but you can’t count out the well-represented Mazdas (13 of them), either.
The favorite, as has been the case for the last 2-1/2 years in LeMons, remains Cerveza Racing’s BMW E28 (above). Their five overall wins haven’t come in a vacuum; they look over every inch of the car and everyone on the team knows the overall plan before they ever show up. They all know how to drive, but more importantly, they know how to manage traffic. Expect fast-but-not-the-fastest lap times and long, grueling stints from this team, which is really the class of the field.
Alfa Romeo Syndicate Eccelente are a collective of Alfa Romeo teams running on both coasts under the same name. Fresh off a Top 10 finish at Miller Motorsports Park three weeks ago, the Syndicate’s #75 Milano looks poised for redemption after nuking a motor at the Sears Pointless race in March. The team has one win to their credit, a victory at Stafford’s bullring of a racetrack when the car ran on the East Coast as Scuderia Limoni. They’ll be joined by Class B winners from Miller, Dirty Duck Racing, whose Volkswagen Rabbit has been a fixture in the Top 10 despite lacking the outright pace of an E30 or an RX-7. They’ll need a few lucky breaks to win outright, but unlikely scenarios commonly unfold at LeMons races.
Only one more race-winning car graces the field, but consider the team underdogs. The Geo Metro Gnome, a mid-engine and Honda CBR-powered Geo Metro, won several LeMons and ChumpCar races before its builders sold the car to The Fat and the Furious. The new owners had previously run a Top 10-caliber Mazda Miata, but this is only their second race with the Gnome. They finished mid-pack at Sonoma in March, a decent result while they got used to the car. I don’t expect they’ll even crack the Top 10 with it yet, but keep an eye on this team as they come to grips with the little missile throughout the year.
BLowe’s Racing campaign one of the toughest cars to make work in crapcan racing, yet their Mitsubishi Eclipse remains a staple of the LeMons Top 10s for most weekends. They nearly stole a win at Sonoma this year when Cerveza encountered issues while leading, but their Eclipse gave up around Hour 12 while at the top of the timing charts. A DSM has yet to win LeMons, but BLowe’s make a strong case to be the first.
Speaking of car types without a win, OLD Fast Auto Race Team & Sons bring three entries that have all shown the pace to run at the front, though they’ve always come up just short. Their Porsche 924 (Car #924) was the strongest of the three for a while, but their Audi 4000 (#400, above) and Audi 200 (#200) have both come on as stronger entries of late. Audi still hasn’t won at LeMons, but perhaps the Four Rings’ victory at some Le Manly race last weekend will be good luck. But probably not.
I mentioned Mazdas and they’re in no short order with eight RX-7s and five Miatas. Mazdarachis’ RX-7 has labored to run in the Top 10, but the team’s best finishes seem to occur in Buttonwillow’s stifling heat. Tired Iron Racing’s Miata has finished as high as fourth place overall, which bodes well for them at a race that sees several absent top-tier teams like Eyesore Racing, Porch Racing, and the Model T GT. Finally, Hit and Run Racing’s V8-swapped RX-7 is an absolute beast that’s always capable of dropping the weekend’s fastest lap. Whether that pace translates into an actual result, well, who knows?
BMW, naturally, is represented by a number of excellent good teams, almost too many to spend any time on. So here’s how I’ve ranked the best of them in descending order: The Faustest Team (E30), D.A.R.E. (E36), B Team – Kill Phil (E30), Clowntown Road Show (E30), Flying Scotsmen (E30), Ace Pump Racing (E36), Hella Sh***y Racing B & C (both E30s), Auto Lemon Union (E28), GEICO Racing Insurance (E30).
Our handpicked longshot is also a Bimmer, the Expendable E30 (above). This is just the team’s third race, but they finished P50 and then P16 at their first two races in 2013 (Thunderhill and Sonoma, respectively). Sixteenth place in the series’ biggest field in their second outing? I’d say that forecasts good finishes future races. Maybe they got lucky and maybe I’m jinxing them, but I expect to see them performing well in the near future.
More Longshots: Spirit of Toyota F1 v13.b6 (Toyota MR2), Formula None Racing (Mazda RX-7).
The middle class of LeMons is probably this writer’s favorite class for its unpredictability and for the quality of racing usually displayed at slightly slower pace than the frontrunners. This race should see a healthy dose of contenders from Ford and General Motors along with a number of Yurpean entries. A few Japanese cars may slip into the battle, too, but consider these the top contenders.
The Ford entries represent a pretty good variety of racing pedigree. Fresh off a second-in-class showing at Miller, the Model T GT and Pinto Bean Bandits Ford Pinto should acquit itself nicely in the class again. Consider them the best from FoMoCo, but the early Fox Body Mercury Zephyr from Super Troop made its own strong argument at Sonoma in March. Veteran V6-Mustang racers Old Crows should display a healthy dose of Class B muscle in their warbird-painted hooptie (above). The Salton Sea Speed Shop is, I believe, the oldest entry in the field and the ’64 Falcon is due for a good showing.
From the other side of Detroit, GM’s contingent is probably even a bit stronger than the Fords. Fiero Libre twice won Class C and could very well win in B. Team Tinyvette’s Opel GT also has two Class C victories and while the team at one time thought themselves hopelessly outclassed in B, they were in the thick of the Class B battle late at Sonoma this year. Moving to more recent GM history, Red Hot Chili Poopers’ late-model Chevy Aveo has looked good in its few outings. ONSET/Tetanus West’s Chevy Cavalier is still ironing out the bugs in their car, but they’ll be a factor in B before too long. Two of the F Bodies, Occupy Pit Lane and Sheepshaggers (above), that struggled at Miller will hope for the best in Buttonwillow’s heat for their Camaros while Learning2Turn’s Firebird makes it an unholy GM triumvirate.
From across the Atlantic, a few mostly German crapcans stand a chance. In addition to blasting the “Nyan Cat” theme song from their memetastic E28, NYANCAR have run in Class B at their previous outings, including their ever-blaring presence at last year’s Buttonwillow race. Also of note are two teams whose presence in LeMons goes back to the beginning of the series: the Bernal Dads Racing Volvo 240 wagon and the Sin City Lemons Volkswagen Golf (with functional one-armed bandit on the back). The Volvo brick from I Can’t Believe It’s Not Better should hang around while a trio of Volkswagen Sciroccos (Recession Racing, Paso Robles Commando Squad, and New York Rock Exchange) can hang with the best in Class B. Oktoberfest Racing adds a vintage European feel with their BMW 2002 to round out the Yurpean entries.
Class C is the “best” (“worst”) cars of LeMons and the California races bring out the best-worst cars in probably the whole country. In part, that’s because crappy California cars generally avoid the saturated rust found in other parts of the country, allowing them to be flipped back into almost-functional shape with a lot of coaxing. This Class C, even for a “small” California field, wants for nothing in terms of sheer LeMony goodness.
Let’s start with those who have the best shot at winning the class. I’ve said probably too many times that Billy Beer Malaise Forever (Ford Fairmont Futura, above), LaHonda Bandits (Porsche 914), and The Black Flags (the worst Toyota Celica Supra in the universe) should win C. I’ve said it enough times that I’ve probably jinxed all three forever through the magic of the commentator’s curse. Sorry about that; maybe next lifetime.
Planned Obsolescence, on the other hand, have successfully run a Malaise Era Buick Skyhawk with a reliability record that would make many E30 teams jealous. Trucks generally do well in C because of their design robustness, so expect Re-Start Racing (which may have been the A-Lone Ranger team formerly) to do well in their Ford Ranger while Pinewood Dirtbags’ four-cylinder Chevy LUV (#282) also has a shot. The Dirtbags’ second LUV (#184), a six-cylinder version that won Class C at Sonoma, will likely run in Class B at Buttonwillow.
Glacially slow German luxury cars ironically also remain the provenance of the lower class of LeMons, offering a powerful symbol of depreciation. Word has gotten out that Panzer-quality diesel Mercedes stand up well to the rigors of endurance racing if the drivers can handle pre-Great War acceleration numbers. New teams From Chips to Chuckwalla and Team Zinggi each debut a 300SD at this race. On the other end of the spectrum (fast and painfully unreliable), look for OM Shenanigans’ BMW 735i (E32) to straddle the line between classes B and C, but don’t be surprised if it finishes last of the debuting teutonic barges.
Teams take many different approaches to winning Class C, but a well-run three-cylinder Geo Metro is actually an awesome Class C car for its simplicity, reliability, and fuel mileage. It will struggle to get past any other cars, but The Blowouts are onto something with their first-time Metro. That might also apply the AMCI Starletans Toyota Starlet (above), but theirs is the only one ever in LeMons so it’s uncertain what the Starlet’s potential is, aside from being the most awesome little Japanese econobox.
Right about here is where we probably stop discussing teams with a chance at winning Class C but who represent good Index of Effluency candidates or just awesome cars that have already won IOE.
Mongrel engine (and other component) swaps are another hallmark of Class C and this race sees two of the most head-scratching swaps in LeMons history. Hella Sh***y’s Volkswagen TDI-swapped Porsche 911 established a new paradigm of enthusiast bird-flipping that LeMons does so well. Its debut at Sonoma was less-than-spectacular in terms of pace and not exploding, but the TDI is a tough and efficient motor if it runs right. On the other hand, Team Apathy established a new paradigm in failing spectacularly at a puzzling engine swap. The team’s box-fendered,mid-engined, turbocharged-Saab-powered Honda N600 should, in theory, utterly blow away competitors. Instead, the team has hung around the bottom of the timing sheets with a series of uncurable maladies. A good result should put them in the IOE discussion.
8-Bit Racing have struggled just to get their Subaru Rx to run a handful of laps, so any foray into the top half of the field could be IOE-worthy, especially because they kludged together a mid-race junkyard engine swap at Miller Motorsports Park just three weeks ago.
Team Tinworm famously ran their Humber Super Snipe (above) for 24 hours without major incident at Buttonwillow in 2012 to win Index of Effluency. The team promptly rolled it at its next race, but it returns in all its Rootes Group glory. With one IOE under its belt, it will need to seriously impress to capture another one, but it’s hardly out of the question.
On the topic of former IOE winners, Pit Crew Revenge have some refrained from turning the Hooniversal Co-Car of the Year Plymouth Reliant into cubed steel headed for China. In fact, it’s even registered for the race, possibly with a new
rube owner at its pitiful helm. I’ll go on record to say that not only will it never win Class C or another IOE, it’s probably also been begging for a Kevorkian ending since halfway through its journey to Buttonwillow last year, when it broke down in the middle of Death Valley with ferry driver/glutton for punishment Steven McDaniel desperately trying not to suffer heat stroke in the car. Did I mention that last year’s race took place in the middle of a ridiculous heat wave and the Death Valley temperature was approximately 120 degrees?
How do you follow that up? With two of California’s most famous motorsports masochists. Mike “Crazymike” Kimball is well-known in crapcan circles for his cobbled-together Scrubbing Bubbles-themed Volkswagen Beetle, a car called “Scrubby” that after a 24-hour Class C win at Eagles Canyon (following an epic tow behind Kimball’s Vanagon) has sternly refused to run, chewing through at least a half-dozen or more air-cooled engines (above). Kimball finally has retired Scrubby and will debut a classic Mini, a car type that’s been solid in Class C. The team’s name, if you’re keeping track, is -ing With Bad Ideas (as in “Teaming With Bad Ideas”).
But nothing tops the masochism of the West Coast’s craziest (Yes, even crazier than someone called “Crazymike) LeMoneer. I speak, of course, of Mike “Spank” Spangler, the mad garage scientist behind the V-twin Prius, the racing Mini Moke, the cross-country Citroen, the CorVegge, and some more cars I’m forgetting. He’s outdone himself at this race by somehow coming across the pinnacle of Romanian motoring, a Dacia 1100. The Renault 8-based heap takes godawful French motoring to another level and Spank’s Dacia will sport a lovely kindergarten-caliber paint job (because it was painted by kindergartners). You’ll see it on live timing as #24 Idioti Curse O Masina Pentru Idiota, which is Romanian for “Your E30 was defeated by rear-engined car from the Carpathians.”
Here’s a summary of some stuff that may or may not be important:
|Some important-ish information|
|Event page||Button Terrible page|
|About the track||Buttonwillow on Trackpedia|
|Saturday Session Time (Pacific Time)||10 a.m. to 6 p.m.|
|Sunday Session Time (Pacific Time)||9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.|
|LeMons Lap Record||2:05.9 – Geo Player Special (Geo Metro, CBR)|
|Overall Winners||2009 – Mustard Yellow Volvo… (Volvo 240, V8)|
|2010 – Off Consistently (Nissan 300ZX)|
|2011 – If It’s Not Punk, It’s Junk (BMW E34)|
|2012 – Cerveza Racing (BMW E28)|
|2013 – Model T GT (Ford Model T)|
|Class B Winners||2009 – Lemons Vice (Honda CRX)|
|2010 – Spirit of Joe (VW Golf)|
|2011 – Dust N Debris (Dodge Shadow)|
|2012 – Clueless Party Vikings (Ford Mustang)|
|2013 – Team Harlequin (VW Golf)|
|Class C Winners||2009 – Italian Stallions (Fiat X1/9)|
|2010 – Dai Hard 2: Dai Another Day (Daihatsu Charade)|
|2011 – Killer ZomBees (MG MGB)|
|2012 – As Seen on TV Racing (Kia Rio)|
|2013 – Bozos Suckos (Volkswagen Beetle)|
|Index of Effluency Winners||2009 – San Diego Minis aka Team Bean (Austin Mini)|
|2010 – King Henry V8th (Cadillac DeVille)|
|2011 – Spank’s combined British nonsense|
|2012 – Team Tinworm (Humber Super Snipe)|
|2013 – Planned Obsolescence (Buick Skyhawk)|
[Photos: Nick Pon (Lead photo) and Murilee Martin (All others)]
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