There was no fanfare as the new owner pulled the dented rustbucket away on the rental trailer, itself fittingly oxidized and tired. It was a thing that had needed doing and that thing was done. I plopped into my daily driver—which had temptingly housed the same type of motor as the heap I’d just sold—and headed for home and warmth. Shelter. I no longer owned a 24 Hours of LeMons car.
Few would look at the former Team Resignation Ford Escort LX and see a racecar as it had been purchased. Those few and strange Escort snobs would, however, see the LX trim and know this oft-towed-behind-a-motorhome example was powered by an 88-horsepower relic and that most Escorts of this vintage sagged on broken rear springs as ours did. A performance vehicle, it was not.
But my co-conspirator, Alan Cesar of Grassroots Motorsports Magazine, and I had in 2010 cleverly grafted onto it the sportier bits from a totaled Ford Escort ZX2. The upgrades gave it 130 horsepower from a 2.0-liter Zetec engine, four-wheel disc brakes, and actual cornering ability. It only took six months of constant swearing, struggling with rust-caked bolts, and obliterating already-broken parts. Our knuckles had lain ripped open for most of that time and our morale waxed and waned; we were new to this sort of thing.
Somehow, we two relative novices (along with an awesome rotating cast of friends and teammates) managed to get it somewhat-kind-of-almost prepared for its first LeMons race, the Rod Blagojevich Never-Say-Die 500 at Autobahn Country Club in October 2010. Our performance-enhancing efforts (PEEs) went completely unnoticed by esteemed LeMons Supreme Court Justice Murilee Martin, mostly because we shamelessly pandered to his obsession with Richard Nixon. He scarcely looked at the car and punched our ticket for Class B with zero penalty laps despite our poor accounting (Though it really is a $500 car).
It mattered little; we (I) overheated the engine and warped the head less than an hour into the race. Like any regular idiots, we then swapped in the 210,000-mile Zetec engine from Alan’s daily driver ZX2, which took all of the first day’s remainder. The car turned laps like clockwork the next day and earned us the Heroic Fix trophy for our
stupidity ingenuity. Two races later, the high-mileage motor still pulled hard with good compression on all cylinders.
While the Escort was never really competitive in Class B (We drivers were fairly leisurely, usually just happy when the car ran), it served as a LeMons introduction for nine different drivers and, more importantly, it generated lasting friendships and got plenty of hands properly greasy.
While I had always done some work on my own driver, this was far and away the biggest project I’d ever undertaken, turning a passing interest in cars into a weird obsession with automotive oddballs and a bizarre writing beat about low-buck racing.
Alan moved to Florida in 2011 to write for GRM and we soon had limited time to spend on the car. It ran its last race in October 2012 and then sat for more than a year before we finally decided that someone else should have a crack at our crapwagon (or possibly have a crap at our crackwagon).
We got an offer within six hours of listing it for sale and the new owner arranged to pick it up about a month ago to prepare it for the race at Gingerman this coming weekend. I arrived an hour or so ahead of the buyer on the agreed date, turning a wrench on it one last time and then tugging it out of six inches of accumulated ice and snow using, of course, a borrowed and beat-up Ford Escort.
After its liberation from the ice, the LeMons car drove onto the rented trailer without issue and the crapcan headed off for a new paint and a quick refresh before its first race in 18 months. I lingered for a moment, hanging onto the original Nixon mask that had adorned the car in all of its three outings, a weird totem that had somehow helped Alan and I get writing gigs. And then it was time to go.
On the return trip, I stopped for a cheap milkshake at Fast Food Restaurant, whether for comfort or celebration, I can’t really say. But as I removed the straw’s paper wrapping, I noticed a little blood crusted on the first knuckle on my left index finger where the car had said its own silent goodbye.
[The former Team Resignation Ford Escort debuts with its new owner at this weekend’s 24 Hours of LeMons race. I’ll be there as a LeMons judge and hopefully liveblogging here if the Internet cooperates.]
[All photos copyright 2014 Hooniverse/Eric Rood except photo #2 by Alan Cesar]