A bit more than a week ago, I brought Hooniverse some live blogging from the 24 Hours of LeMons at Autobahn Country Club near Chicago. It was a full 24-hour race and I managed to make it to the end on something like 2-1/2 hours of sleep and a couple of lengthy breaks. As it turns out 24-hour races beat you the hell up and aren’t really as much fun as the usual two-session races, but it does provide a lot of stories and drama and the chance for a team or two to finally pass tech inspection at 3 a.m. I’ve collected a number of teams’ stories in brief after the jump, so make that leap to get the rundown on the longest race I’ve ever covered.
There are, of course, lots of pluses and minuses to hosting a 24-hour race in the middle of a Midwestern summer. A July race has a relatively short night period with headlights only required from about 8:45 p.m. to 5:45 a.m. The night and most of the morning (with the checkered flag at 10 a.m. Sunday) featured pleasant temperatures.
However, the brutally hot and humid Midwestern July day punished both cars and drivers with more than a few drivers cutting stints short due to the extreme heat inside the cars. I’d estimate half the field were running cool suit systems, though I heard from several that the DIY pump systems were failing or the ice in the coolers was thawing too rapidly to be effective. The heat utterly ripped apart the field. Within 90 minutes of the race’s start, one could easily count a quarter of the field in the pits and by sunset, the number of cars on track held at between 40 and 50 from a 90-car field. The numbers stayed around there, dipping into the 30s a few times overnight, but this was far and away the most attrition-filled race I’ve ever seen. Let’s take a look at some of the stories from the race itself, some of which was covered in the live blog and some of which wasn’t.
Team Sheen’s Acura Integra took a very narrow first win, clocking 666 laps over 24 hours, which is pretty dang close to 1,400 miles. Their win is impressive for a number of reasons, not least of which is that the car’s fastest time was mid-pack in the whole field, but the team ran clean stints from three to three-and-a-half hours with times consistently in the 1:55-2:00 range, even in the overnight hours. The team’s final driver change took about half the time it normally did when a number of nearby teams pitched in people to check oil and change tires.
The Flying Pigs’ Mustang finished the race just 34 seconds behind Team Sheen, which is an insanely close finish over 24 hours. Even this year’s margin of victory at the 24 Hours of Le Mans was considerably more. The Pigs made few mistakes and drove the wheels off the car. Nevertheless, they made up nearly two laps in the race’s final hour but came up just short of two consecutive wins after winning at Gingerman in April.
For 23 hours of the race, it looked like at least a three-way fight for the win with the United Ducktape Porsche 944 (which won its first race last fall at Gingerman) running in the mix and trading the lead with Team Sheen and Flying Pigs as each team made driver changes in turn. The Porsche came out of the trio’s final driver changes in P2, a lap behind Team Sheen and closing while running 50 seconds ahead of Flying Pigs. The Porsche probably would have made it an absolutely bonkers finish yet again in the Midwest, but their driveshaft broke just before the start of the race’s final hour.
Those three overall contenders are all heavyweights in the Midwest, but six-time winners Hong Norrth towed their ’84 Toyota Supra up from Atlanta to contest for the win, as well. The Supra was in the mix until just before daybreak, when their differential went kaput. They’d been nursing a failing head gasket for most of the race, forcing water into the cooling system at each driver change before that, but the car was strong otherwise. In a heads-up fight with the aforementioned three, it would have been tough to bet against Hong Norrth. Nevertheless, they swapped on a spare differential and still managed an impressive P6 finish.
Early in the race, Landshark’s Honda Civic was also in the mix, running very long stints while the team’s drivers absolutely caned the car. They looked solid for the first third of the race, but wheel bearing and brake issues (possibly resulting from wailing on the Civic) knocked them back and the car eventually sat out the final few hours of the race.
The OK-Speed Honda Civic “Tape R” has been around for many years in LeMons and generally been reliable without being super fast. They meant business and talked their way into a (deserved) Class B placement during BS Inspection. The car ran nearly flawlessly and even led the race overall at sunset before faster cars overtook them in the night. Nevertheless, they throttled their Class B competition by a healthy 20 laps and finishing fourth overall, making their long tow from Oklahoma well worth it.
Until very recently, the Dai Mondai Toyota MR2 was the only MR2 to ever win a LeMons race, having done so in 2011. The car has really done very little since besides blow up head gaskets and then go through the team’s entire stock of megacheaty 20-valve JDM 4AGE engines (The team is comprised entirely of Toyota employees from Georgetown, Kentucky; this rarely actually helps them). Somehow, their MR2 ran its second solid race in five years to finish third overall. The team expressed that they’re getting tired of running the same old MR2 and Corolla FX16 (which finished 23rd), so I think I’ve got them talked into abandoning their well-developed cars for something stupid like a 1UZ-FE-powered Previa All-Trac.
Almost in spite of themselves, the (unofficial) Car & Driver “Hell Kitty” Honda Prelude has their best-ever finish in P5 overall by the race’s end. And I only heard six or seven complaints about them driving like asshats, which sounds like a lot for most teams. For a this team, however, that passes as a clean race.
This was really LemonAid Racing’s race to lose. Three black flags in the opening six hours knocked them out of contention quickly with the LeMons Supreme Court then forcing them to mount an oversized black flag on their car to let other drivers know of their woes. That lasted about six laps before the custom-fabricated front suspension mount on the BMW-swapped Geo Metro let loose. A few minor issues for the rest of the race meant the best they could muster was P8. This car is completely going to win a race at some point; it’s fast and shockingly reliable and when it does, it will be the first car to have won all three classes and an Index of Effluency.
Wisconsin Crap Racers have been around since the first LeMons races in the Midwest, running a terrible Nissan Maxima that blew up right in front of me at the first race I ever attended. They moved on to a Nissan 200SX after that and after blowing it up repeatedly, they scored a tired old BMW E36. That car has been through a couple engines and while it’s never the fastest car, they stay out of trouble and tend not to break things (though their tow to the track involved a broken trailer hitch, cooked trailer brakes, and a broken truck). Nevertheless, the car just kept turning laps and finished an impressive seventh.
Two E30 teams hauled out from the East Coast and ran pretty respectable races, as well. The Knights of the Roundel car (top two photos) very quietly finished 10th while 2-Broke 2-Care (bottom) notched a 13th-place finish, which ain’t too bad either. 2-Broke 2-Care even managed to keep their car intact, meaning relatively minimal preparation before the car runs again at Thompson Speedway this weekend.
The Midwest in general (not just crapcan racing) still claims an abundance of Ford Escorts so it’s no surprise that two of them that have been around for a long time finished P2 and P3 in Class B. The Point-O-Eight (above) car won the class at the 14-hour race last summer and managed P11 overall while the author’s old Escort, now in the hands of Fireball Racing, contended with wheel bearing issues all weekend but finished 16th overall.
The Strange Crew cars are both unassuming on the track and neither is particularly quick relative to the whole field. Still, the team cars ran almost in tandem for the full 24 hours, barely ever separated in the rankings. They finished 14th and 15th overall.
Rough Knuckle Racing debuted at Gingerman with this tired old Miata and on Test Day, the team noticed a slightly wobbly crank pulley. They waffled for a long time over swapping in a spare engine of unknown condition, but opted to run the engine in the car until the crank pulley called it quits. As far as I know, it never did and the car finished 17th overall. The team also bribed the LeMons Supreme Court with T-shirts bearing this author’s face on the front and a quote on the back from the car’s first time through BS Inspection, when I said sarcastically “I have no doubt this car will absolutely dominate.”
I always enjoy watching Little Lebowski Urban Achievers Volvo 245 on the track. Despite the doubled-up rear sway bar, the car still has a tremendous amount of body roll, which actually probably makes the car nice and predictable to drive. The Volvo faced some difficulties right away, but the piece de resistance for them came when part of the alternator mount (a flat, round piece of steel) sheered off and was flung violently through the engine bay, slicing through a radiator hose and a thick bundle of wires before gouging the frame frail and bouncing out the left side of the car, where I actually saw it leave the car while I was shooting photos (didn’t get a photo of it happening, unfortunately).
They repaired all that in less than an hour, only to have the transmission get stuck in third gear and a rear wheel bearing go bad. The car ran the final 16 hours or so of the race only in third gear and the team fixed the wheel bearing by just shoving as much grease as they could into the knuckle, which worked well enough for the car to finish the race under its own power in P24.
The Save the Ta-Tas Racing Camaro might have been one of the favorites before the race, but this car to run 24 straight hours was a huge ask. It’s always been hard on brakes and clutches, as evidenced by a brake change before eight hours of racing were up. However, the discovery that the car was running a T56 transmission (unobtainable below about $1200 and you wouldn’t want a $1200 T56) behind the 5.3-liter LS V8 (Completely obtainable for LeMons money) led to Judge Phil docking them 40 penalty laps at the race’s start. It ultimately didn’t matter when the car retired with about 90 minutes left, having already lost significant time to fix a broken rear sway bar and a few other little bits.
Here’s what’s great about the 24 Hours of LeMons: Racing 4 Nickels. If you’ve driven in the Midwest at all, you’ve undoubtedly seen front-wheel-drive GM A-Bodies. They’re everywhere and they’re unkillable. These guys know that and just bring their Oldsmobile Cutlass Ciera to let it run like clockwork. The car’s stone-dead reliabiltity allows the team to focus on important things like eating well and drinking home-roasted coffee while their drivers just run the car. On the track (just as on the road here), they’re practically invisible, driving cleanly and while they probably don’t pass people on the track much, they know that running a good endurance race means running to your own program (In this case, the program is “Drive the car for a bit and don’t break it while we eat good food in our paddock space”).
At BS Inspecitons, they were offered the choice to run Class C with 10 penalty laps or Class B with no laps. Had they taken C with laps, they’d have run won the class by more than 25 laps. However, they’ve already won Class C and wanting to just run the car for fun, they opted instead to let someone else win Class C. These guys? They’re good guys.
The Class C winner? Well, that turned out to be Morrow’s Racing, who have won Class C now four times (at least) with four different cars. Their Chevy Lumina APV (a U-Body cousin to the Racing 4 Nickels Cutlass Ciera) runs the supercharged 3.8-liter V6 and T5 transmission that team captain Dave Morrow had previously run in a (Class C-winning) Buick Reatta. The end result was an absolute missile that sailed past Mustangs and E30s on the straightaways and, according to Morrow, cornered shockingly well once you got past the fear of throwing it into the corner. The Racevan clocked a 1:57.633 fastest lap, which was only two seconds slower than the Product Design Saturn SL2 that finished just ahead of them in the standings overall.
The van was an absolute pleasure to watch drive and like everything Morrow builds, it sticks together with Dave’s sheer will and decades of wrenching know-how as much as anything. They overcame problems like a busted power steering rack and a frayed throttle cable, which left the throttle wide open when the driver went to the middle pedal before a corner. A quick reaction to grab the kill switch probably saved the engine and kept the driver out of trouble. The van’s dominance gave them the vaunted Index of Effluency for a 36th overall finish.
Morrow’s van was, of course, one of two U-Body vans in the race alongisie the Bad Decisions Racing Pontiac Trans Sport. Done up like Princess Vespa’s Mercedes from Spaceballs, the Trans Sport ran the naturally aspirated 3.8-liter V6 and an automatic transmission. The van was shedding parts on test day (see middle photo) and the team struggled with wheel bearings and cooling issues and just about everything else. However, seeing those brake rotors get red hot in the Turn 1 braking zone was probably my favorite thing I saw in 24 hours of racing. They finished in the middle of the field and the van yet again crossed the finish line under its own power.
The Unified Partnership of Pentastar Racers have unfortunately become my punching bag for their proclivity to fail in remarkable ways. After exhausting the supply of Chrysler/Mitsubishi 3.0-liter V6s in the Detroit Metro area, the team decided that going bigger would solve their engine destruction issues. So they ditched the 3.0-liter and instead threw in the 250-horsepower 3.8-liter V6 from a ratty late-model Eclipse.
The car was suddenly beastly fast, but they nuked a pair of axles in two laps of racing because the custom mounting for the engine left them at an undesirable angle. After a bit of redesign, they buttoned everything back up and the engine ran solidly for most of the race, clocking 480 laps and taking the team’s first non-limping checkered flag.
Unfortunately, I love to pick on Camaro teams and Double B Racing are, doubly unfortunately, easy targets. They’re great guys and have a lot of fun, but when the team left the transmission in gear while working on it and then started it from outside the car somehow, the unoccupied F-Body crawled at slow speed directly into the team’s Class A motorhome. It obviously could have been much worse (The motorhome had but a scratch), but they’ve absolutely managed to pull of the most Camaro move in the history of LeMons short of doing donuts in the Penalty Box.
I can’t knock them too hard, actually; I almost ran myself over in the Fireball Escort in 2010 when I was helping build it. Long days of wrenching can make for unexpected mistakes. There’s a lesson in there for you who wrench long hours on occasion.
The Resistance’s 1975 Civic is much quicker than it has any right to be, carrying huge mid-corner speeds and generally making up a lot of ground lost on the straights through the turns. They towed their tiny racing machine up from Texas and while the car had a laundry list of little problems, they ran a good chunk of the full 24 hours without serious issue.
The 1971 Ford Mustang from Golden Lake Racing looks rough up close, but it looked positively marvelous trackside In its previous races, it had turned double-digit lap totals so it was a nice change of pace to see them turn more than 400 laps this time around. The car has a healthy V8 under the hood, though the car and/or its drivers look a bit nervous when it comes time to slow the car down and get it through the twisty bits.
Team Sputnik towed out from Maryland for the race and were originally supposed to be racing the Lotus Elite they bought from Chicago’s Swiss Racing. The Elite came with a busted Lotus 907 engine, so Sputnik intended on dropping something a bit…heavier into the car. Alas, the Elite wasn’t entirely ready for 24-hour domination so rather than tow 800 miles for a car to run six laps, they brought their former Class C-winning Metro with. Of course, they had to change numbers, which they did in uniquely awful (and therefore characteristically Sputnik) fashion.
New teams in LeMons are a total crapshoot, typically. Race organizers never know what is going to show up with a first-time team, but The Screwederia Integra team turned up not only with surprising competence (The car sailed through tech inspection without issue…a rarity for first-time cars) but also with a fantastic theme. If you don’t get it, it’s a take on the Totally Not Marlboro F1 livery (a long story) but rather than bar codes, the Screwederia team painted Morse code for “We suck” on the F1-style fin, which is made from plywood.
Not only did they spend most of their race preparation making a heavy, inefficient Drag Induction System (DIS) for their bone stock Integra, they built an awesome lollipop for driver changes and handed out water bottles labeled “Tears of Luca Badoer” (Certainly the worst Ferrari driver, test or otherwise, in history). It was a bit inside baseball for this writer, who doesn’t follow F1 closely, but they scored huge points for all of that, for having big grins every time I saw them throughout the weekend, for making their attempt at LeMons in a full 24-hour race, and for actually finishing the race.
Speaking of doing it right, just look at The Mulsanne Straightjackets’ “Alfine Renault,” a replica of the Alpine B210s that race at Le Mans in the 1960s. Based on a very rough late ’70s Alfa Romeo Spider, the car struggled mechanically all weekend, but who cares? Just look at the utterly stunning bodywork.
The Rally Rolla guys have always cracked me up with their Subaru-liveried Toyota Corolla All-Trac. The team owner said this is one of about five that he owns, which means he was teasing at least 90 horsepower out of the wretch lump of an engine in the car. They missed big chunks of the race chasing down electrical and engine problems, but they cleverly painted the pillars and roof in the car’s down time so they could see it a bit better at night.
The James Bondo Triumph TR7 team long ago tired of dealing with the frustrating engine in the car and ditched it eventually for the 2.3-liter Duratec engine from a Ford Ranger. They nuked a transmission at this race and didn’t finish, but you have to appreciate a team that keeps brand authenticity by running Triumph motorcycle throttle bodies on the engine.
I fully expected Skid Marks Racing to pull their Neon straight out of mothballs and win the race. At least two of the team members have spent the last two years running very competitively in Spec Miatas so the driving is never in question. Early in the race, they were running with the leaders, but the tired old Dodge five-speed let them down. They did, however, redesign the “OH SHIT” air brake so that the series was unmistakable (as if the Juggalo emblems weren’t a dead giveaway…and no, SMR are not Juggalos.)
I completely failed to get a picture of the Jebiga Motorsports Mazda RX-7 in its entirety, but you’re looking at the relevant part of the first-generation RX-7. The team pulled into BS Inspection, proud of having converted the 13B engine to an OEM fuel-injection system. “Good,” remarked Judge Phil. “Carburetors on rotary engines never work.” Naturally, the fuel injection system completely failed so the team spent most of the first half of the race converting back to the carburetor, which worked only slightly better than the busted EFI system.
The Born From Jest team showed up with an incomplete car, basically ditching the Saab turbo setup for a more reliable Volvo turbo on the engine. It wasn’t quite done by the time the green flag rolled around, but the team worked in a kind-of-feverish pace to wrap up the turbo install and they passed tech inspection just in time to start turning the car’s first laps…in the dark.
Team Priority Fail at the last race put their GTI’s VR6 engine behind the driver because, you know, reasons. It ran reasonably well at Gingerman in April, but the car went through a cascade of (probably related) failures that included two half-shafts, a transmission, and an engine.
If you’ve been around LeMons at all, you’re probably familiar with Le Mopar’s Simca 1204, which is run by a strange-even-for-LeMons fellow who goes by Tsog (known as “Soggy” around the paddock). He grills impossibly delicious thick-cut bacon throughout a given weekend and the rattling French car turns a few laps here and there. They might be the most laidback team in the region and are certainly the LeMoniest. Their paddock space is littered with partially disassembled “spares” and the engine was plucked straight from another car without removing the engine’s block heater or even bothering to tie up the block heater’s extension cord, which led to them getting black flagged for dragging the cord around the racetrack for a bit.
No bother, they said, and tied it up. The car, all 50 horsepower of it, ran a 2:15 fastest lap, which still made it the slowest car in the field. However, the engine called it quits by nightfall, leaving the 1204 hella busted again.
The Double Jeopardy team are similarly minded and run by Hooniverse reader Chris Smalley, with whom most of our readers are probably familiar. He’s got a great sense of humor about their V12 Jaguar XJS and a surprisingly pragmatic approach to running it. Rather than try to plow through the night with his team’s small crew and Lucas Electrics, they parked the car and got some sleep so they could enjoy racing the car for a bit Sunday morning. Chris was able to keep the coolant in the radiator and the brakes from baking rapidly this time around so perhaps Double Jeopardy are ready to totally dominate the next time they bring out the big British beast.
On the opposite end of the spectrum are Afunzalo Racing, a group of Italian car enthusiasts who stubbornly refuse to ditch their Fiat X1/9’s stock engine like most X1/9 LeMons teams do. They burned two pistons this time around and after winning the Index of Effluency last year at the 14-hour race, the X1/9 has burned through at least three engines (or at least partial engines). They’re set in their ways and seem determined to figure out the key to keeping the tiny Fiat mill alive long enough to win Class C.
If you read the live blog, you know all about the Wonderment Consortium’s trials with LeMons first Hyundai Scoupe. It absolutely decimated the stock engine on Test Day, leaving them unable to pass tech. Their bodge job fix locked the motor entirely, meaning they spent Saturday scrambling for a replacement engine, which they sourced from an extremely gnarly Hyundai Accent. Their only problems were that the Accent’s transmission was on a different side of the engine from the Scoupe’s and that the Accent was an automatic transmission.
So all they had to do was fabricate engine mounts, drop the Accent drivetrain in, trick the transmission computer into letting the car move, and basically the mountain of other minutiae that comes with any engine swap. Not only did they get two weekends’ worth of work done, they did it in just a tad over 12 hours to pass tech inspection at around 3:30 a.m.. And the damn fix worked. The transmission would only run in fourth gear, but that was enough to make it go faster than the Simca and to turn about 80 laps over the race’s final 6-1/2 hours. This was an easy Heroic Fix choice and I’m looking forward to seeing this car again. With a bit of sorting, it might not be completely awful.
Zero Budget Racing was one of only a couple two-car teams. The Chrysler Cordoba ran into early troubles by ripping the exhaust straight off the car on the grass-to-pavement transition in the paddock on the way to the grid. After fixing that, their upgraded brakes continued to melt through pads and then the exhaust broke a second time. With a few hours spent repairing those things, they lost some time, but the 360 cubic-inch V8 ran without issue all weekend.
The same can’t be said of the team’s Chevy Chevette Diesel. The smoky little go-kart ran into early overheating issues, so the team swapped on the spare head, which had been machined a year ago and sat in the car owner’s garage, where some industrious mice had decided to use it as food storage. After a few race miles, the dog food stored in the oil passages clogged everything up and oil burst from the engine, coating the entire engine bay in nasty, cooked diesel oil. If the Scoupe was an easy Heroic Fix, this was an easy I Got Screwed trophy.
The F.A.C.E. Racing/2 Wycked Porsche 924 remains another of my favorite cars. Its owners, not content with a Porsche four-cylinder engine, instead threw a 4.3-liter Chevy V6 under the engine but, for the sake of not replacing the entire rear end of the car, left the Porsche transaxle and rear-mounted transmission. The issues with the car were entirely related to cooling, however, so it’s entirely possible that the 924’s rear end can take the V6’s torque. Like many other teams, these guys are just out here seeing what they can do rather than trying to compete for class wins or anything. They’re always seeming to have a good time and not in a big hurry.
The Anonymous Subaru XT, like the Scoupe, blew up the car’s unobtainium turbocharger long before the race ever began. They then embarked on a lengthy set of baffling repairs to the turbo and the turbo manifold, but they managed to get their car on track for the first time just after sunrise on Sunday. They ran a solid 11 laps, which I believe was also the total from the car’s first race at Gingerman. If you can’t be anything else, be consistent.
TARP Racing didn’t finish dead last, but since they towed up from Dallas, they probably didn’t feel like the 11 laps they turned are any consolation in finishing next-to-DFL. Their problems at first seemed like a giubo, but repair to that basically led to them discovering in short order that the engine was toast.
Dead last? That dishonor belonged to the Sweet Tooth II Volkswagen GTI, which managed three laps before conking out. Water-cooled Volkswagens seem to be either an unsolvable string of problems or an utter delight. This one seems rather like a nightmare, though they’ve thankfully avoided any twisted metal.
So there you have it. I only covered probably half the teams (I’m too lazy to count), so if I’ve missed any part of your teams’ story, feel free to add to it in the comments. One of my favorite parts of LeMons is that every team has a story or 30 from a given weekend.
[All photos copyright 2015 Hooniverse/Eric Rood]