Disclaimer: Eric Rood was paid to sit on the 24 Hours of LeMons Supreme Court for this race, punishing drivers for their misdeeds and generally doing his best to maintain order on the racetrack.
Another frigid Midwestern racing weekend has come and gone and the 24 Hours of LeMons’ Chubba Cheddar Enduro turned out to be one of the most exciting races of all time. Not only was it the closest LeMons race in history, it was also the closest in Class B history. To top that off, a long-awaited performance finally came to fruition on its way to the deserved Index of Effluency. Along the way, some teams showed up with profoundly weird stuff, even for LeMons.
When the checkered flag flew to conclude the race Sunday, four cars were still on the lead lap, the only time that’s ever happened. While some naysayers may point that a lap is generally at least 3:00 at Road America, the total spread from the winner to P4 was a mere 61 seconds, which would be less than a lap on all tracks that LeMons visits. Mark’s Harder LemonAid (black-and-yellow blur, above) rode a hard charge in their E30 to first place by two minutes with just about three laps remaining. Naturally, their fuel tank was running low at that point, meaning their anchor driver had to hypermile to the finish. The two-minute gap eroded quickly and the pursuing Landshark Acura Integra loomed in the E30’s mirrors coming out of the final corner with the checkered flag in sight.
In the end, LemonAid held on to win by just 2.6 seconds, the closest finish in LeMons history. Landshark ran a great race on fuel strategy, relying on having the car in position to make a run at the race’s very end. It came extremely close to working. (Read LemonAid’s account of the weekend on the LeMons Forum here.)
Just a few seconds back from the leading pair was the Back to the Past Nissan 300ZX, who had lost about half of a lap earlier in the day after collecting a spinning Saturn. The damage was only superficial, but the lost time likely would have made the closing laps even more interesting. As it was, the Z finished just 16 seconds behind Landshark, despite needing a late splash of fuel.
Team Fiery Death! had probably the slowest car, a Toyota Celica, of the four on the lead lap, but they hung on to make it interesting after finishing Saturday in the lead. They pushed the car near its limit the whole weekend and came up heartbreakingly short, finishing P4, less than half a lap behind the race winner.
In Class B, the lead traded hands all weekend between We Are Not Really From Iran (Ford Festiva), Team Sucker Punch (Chevrolet Camaro), and Point-0-Eight (Ford Escort) with each leading a substantial chunk of the race. Team Sucker Punch lucked out by running a few car lengths ahead of the race leader at the checkered flag on Saturday, netting them an extra lap to start Sunday. The Festiva made up the ground to start Sunday, but the battle for Class B turned into a real brawl in the final hour with both drivers running the cars’ fastest laps while less than 10 seconds apart on track. (Read the team’s account on the LeMons Forum here.)
The Festiva managed to pass and then hold off the big Camaro, but it was truly remarkable to watch them duke it out for the duration of each driver’s final stint. The final gap on the scoring sheet is 37.406 seconds, but until the Camaro was running low on fuel on the final lap, that was consistently 10 seconds or less. Please allow me to gloat for predicting the Class B winner last week (and the Class C frontrunners), although I missed Sucker Punch as a contender.
In Class C, Futility Motorsports‘ Mercury Bobcat ran a perfect race, running long stints without any stumbles. Although slow, the Bobcat churned out laps consistently in long stints on the way to a P17 overall finish.
Of course, the real story for many LeMons fans is the Majicbus/K-It-Forward Plymouth Reliant, which has floated around the country, visiting upon dozens of LeMons drivers the most challenging of circumstances, not least of which included a drive through Death Valley during record-high temperatures. But this race would be different, I had been assured. The car’s caretaker(s) fixed some bad wires that had been missed in previous repairs and it ran as close to flawlessly as a 26-year-old Chrysler K Car can, giving it P22 overall and earning the Index of Effluency.
Under other circumstances, the Ford EXP of Sir Jackie Stewart’s Coin Purse Racing would have been an IOE contender for its finish almost exactly in the middle of the field, which isn’t bad for a 70-horsepower car at one of the country’s fastest racetracks. But the K-Car delivering on its promise relegated the super-slow EXP to a much-deserved Organizer’s Choice trophy for its Run-E.X.P. theme and kicking hip-hop music blasting through a Lemon-y stereo system on track.
That EXP’s polar opposite, the very-fast Save the Ta-Tas Camaro, was nearly beaten by the crawling Ford two-seater. The first GM F-Body to win returned to its normal ways by breaking in terrific ways, although one of its drivers managed to obliterate the weekend’s fastest lap time with a 2:53.4.
Another F-Body, Team Wounded Chicken, takes the cake for most recognizable track by audio only. Midway through Saturday, the Firebird started emanating the unmistakable sound of a failing differential. As it streaked up the main straight, the howls of the differential internals could be heard everywhere in the paddock. The team “solved” the problem by putting heavier-weight fluid into the diff, which kept it together the rest of the weekend, although the drivers were all likely deaf for a couple of days. They managed to be the only other team to crack 3:00 on a lap.
One of the most unassuming cars of the weekend very quietly turned in a solid performance in its maiden voyage. The Barney and Friends Pontiac Grand Am was extremely slow, but it still chugged along to a P34 finish virtually unnoticed among the crazier stories of the weekend.
Panzer Racing’s E30 debuted this spring at Gingerman and the team struggled initially to grasp the steep learning curve for new LeMons team. They’re fully capable of being competitive now, but that can be a hard thing to do when a valve breaks and rattles around for a bit. Especially since their spare motor was in Michigan, a 10-hour round-trip drive. They fetched it and threw it back in the car, running well all of Sunday.
As always, most of the best stories occur on the bottom half of the timing sheet. United Ducktape Racing have, I think, led every race they’ve been to this year with their Porsche 944. Unfortunately, it’s a 944 so it simply will not allow its team to win a race. This time around, the transmission knocked them from P1 Saturday afternoon.
Sunday’s race began with two separate cars oiling down the track in its opening hour. When green flag racing resumed, most drivers, having been crawling around the track for an hour, had gotten some serious red mist. A bad tangle between the Byte Marks Racing Ford Escort and the Launcha Splatos Alfa Romeo V6-equipped Fiat X1/9 ended both teams’ races. The Splatos should be fixable, but the former Class B-winning Escort’s future is in Jeopardy.
Sussbag Crew (#72 above) showed up to the race with a a car and team that personifies LeMons more than perhaps more than any other in the field. The team’s captain owns a salvage yard, so he did what any person in such a situation would do: He built a racecar out of things laying around. This happened to be a 2001 Mercedes CL230 body powered by a 2.3-liter Ford Pinto motor. It did not have a tachometer and the sunroof was covered up with a section of corrugated aluminum siding.
The best part of this all is that the team saw nothing out of the ordinary with what most of the automotive world must consider the most incongruous engine swap ever undertaken. But it makes perfect sense when you’re simply trying to make do with the tools of ignorance you’ve been handed. They were a shoe-in for a trophy, except the motor called it quits early Sunday afternoon and the team elected to get a head start on their long tow home.
No other team experienced a more difficult weekend than I Got Screwed winners New York Rock Exchange, who were running the Cannonball Bandits V8-swapped Toyota Supra. The team towed their racecar from the Bay Area uneventfully for nearly all of the 2,000-mile drive, except their trailer broke about 40 miles from Road America. They sourced replacement parts, which promptly broke almost within sight of the track. In the meantime, their box full of expensive radios and cameras had fallen out of the trailer somewhere and are probably plastic shards on the side of the highway now. And that was BEFORE they even got to the track.
During the race, the Supra sheered of the studs on a rear wheel, sending it careening off the now-three-wheeled wagon. It then suffered through fuel delivery issues and the team eventually also had to swap on a new differential. For kicks, one driver’s wife needed a hospital visit for stitches. The team were somehow able to force smiles at the race’s end.
This was one of the craziest, hardest race on cars that I’ve ever attended, but it was also one of the most exciting, coming down to the wire. If you haven’t yet, be sure to check out my live coverage from Saturday and Sunday. Expect a little more overwrought analysis of the race once I’ve parsed the timing sheets a bit more.
OVERALL (Full results here)
1. #35 Mark’s Harder LemonAid (BMW E30) – 247 Laps
2. #49 Landshark (Acura Integra) – 247 Laps, +2.605 seconds
3. #880 Back to the Past (Nissan 300ZX) – 247 Laps, +19.627 seconds
4. #10 Team Fiery Death! (Toyota Celica) – 247 Laps, +61.492 seconds
5. #555 Sideways to Victory IV (Ford Focus) – 244 Laps
6. #892 Lost in the Dark (Mazda Miata) – 242 Laps
7. #181 Team Sheen (Acura Integra) – 240 Laps
8. #510 Full Tilt Boogie (Honda Civic) – 240 Laps
9. #600 S***box Racing (BMW E30) – 239 laps
10. #711 Pigeon Roost Racing (Porsche 924S) – 237 Laps
1. #33 We Are Not Really From Iran (Ford Festiva) – 233 Laps
2. #38 Team Sucker Punch (Chevy Camaro) – 233 Laps, +37.406 seconds
3. #108 Point-0-Eight (Ford Escort) – 229 Laps
4. #136 The Wonderment Consortium (Volkswagen Quantum Wagon) – 226 Laps
5. #88 Canadian Border Patrol (Toyota Cressida) – 223 Laps
6. #43 Team Priority Fail (Volkswagen Golf) – 207 Laps
7. #85 Apocalyptic Racing (Toyota Celica) – 203 Laps
8. #0 UNOH Racer (Ford Fairmont) – 202 Laps
9. #123 Swiss Racing 2 (Ford Escort ZX2) – 191 Laps
10. #10 The Carbeque (Saab 900) – 190 Laps
1. #863 FutilityMotorsports (Mercury Bobcat) – 225 Laps
2. #6 Morrow’s Racing (AMC Gremlin) – 218 Laps
3. #20 Majicbus Racing/K-It-Forward (Plymouth Reliant) – 208 Laps
4. #222 Windy City Racing (BMW 2002) – 198 Laps
5. #140 Dover Bros. Racing (MGB-GT) – 194 Laps
6. #69 Barney and Friends (Pontiac Grand Am) – 186 Laps
7. #73 Sir Jackie Stewart’s Coin Purse Racing (Ford EXP) – 178 Laps
8. #844 Pabst Blue Racing (Nissan Maxima) – 128Laps
9. #72 Sussbag Crew (Mercedes CL230) – 110 Laps
10. #151 Le Mopar (Simca 1204) – 12 Laps
[Photos: Eric Rood/Hooniverse except Nick Pon/24 Hours of LeMons, as noted]