The midsummer 24 Hours of Lemons race in California has been named the Arse Sweat-a-Palooza since the first one at Thunderhill Raceway in 2010. Returning to Thunderhill for the eighth annual Arse Sweat-a-Palooza at the end of July, we witnessed fast racing, slow racing, repaired cars, broken cars, and— not unexpectedly— sweaty arses. Here’s how the race weekend went.
Thunderhill, located about 150 miles north of San Francisco, gets very warm in late July, and temperatures flirted with the magical 110°F level all weekend. The record for the hottest temperature ever experienced at a Lemons race still stands at 119°F, at Southern California’s Buttonwillow Raceway Park in 2013, but the 2017 Arse Sweat came pretty close.
A lot of teams bailed on the race completely, having experienced 105° temperatures at the May Thunderhill race. Many who did show up gave up and went home when something broke on their race cars, unable to face the prospect of wrenching on a busted hooptie while treading brimstone in the Lake of Fire. The veteran members of the Fiero Libre team, however, didn’t let a little heat stop them from replacing the fried clutch in their Pontiac Fiero. This is one of the most miserable car-repair jobs imaginable, even in pleasant weather, requiring a good 12 hours of knuckle-busting agony, but the Fiero Libre guys spent all day Saturday chugging Gatorade and scalding their paws on white-hot tools.
Success! For persevering while weaker teams couldn’t handle wheel-bearing jobs or alternator replacements, Fiero Libre received the Most Heroic Fix trophy.
In what must be a 24 Hours of Lemons first, we had more Volvos than Ford, Chrysler, or General Motors vehicles at this race, and three of those seven Volvos were more than 50 years old. There was the veteran Rancho de Llama 1966 Volvo Amazon, which won Class C at the Sears Pointless race this year, finishing an impressive 17th out of 74 entries this time.
Making its Lemons debut, and pleasing us greatly by putting two Volvo PV544 Sports in the same race, the Team ONSET/Tetanus West 1963 PV544 raised the glorious blue-and-yellow flag to its highest-yet level at Thunderhill.
As is typical with new and ambitious Lemons builds, this basket-case Swede wasn’t quite ready for inspection in time to make the green flag on Saturday morning. The engine hadn’t run for many years, the SU carburetors were full of icky stuff, and the front suspension (yanked from a Volvo 142 that I found in an Oakland wrecking yard) wasn’t quite attached yet.
These racers have been around since the very beginning of Lemons, though, and they knew they’d get the car into the race before the weekend ended.
Because the car, like the team, came from Berkeley and had this excruciatingly hippified sticker on its rear bumper, we awarded ONSET/Tetanus West a created-for-the-occasion Most Berkeley Car of 1963 trophy.
They’d had many top-five finishes in the extremely tough West Coast events, but had always fallen just a bit short of the win. This time, they ran a perfect race, with zero black flags, no broken parts, and flawless pit stops. Some of the other teams ran quicker laps, but the perfect consistency of the Nemo Money drivers got them a well-deserved overall-win trophy.
Perhaps the definitive Class B car is the Ford Crown Victoria P71 Police Interceptor, and so it was fitting that the Class B win went to Team Abominable Abomination and their 1994 Crown Vic.
The Pink Panzer 2002 Mercedes-Benz E420, a fine example of the precipitous depreciation curve of European luxury machinery, led Class B for much of the weekend. The team’s drivers work together at a Mercedes-Benz dealership, and even this bunch of pro Benz wrenches had been unable to keep this car running for the entire duration of a Lemons race… until this one. The car didn’t break and it was quite a bit faster than the other Class B machines, but the Pink Panzer drivers just couldn’t drive cleanly enough to avoid the spins, offs, and crashes that result in time-consuming Lemons Penalty Box visits. As a result, they finished a single lap behind the Abominable Abominations and will almost certainly get a promotion— if that’s the right word— to Class A at their next race. They screwed themselves so royally that we awarded them the I Got Screwed trophy for the race.
The price of a high-mileage, cosmetically-challenged Toyota Prius has been dropping like a stone lately, with plenty of the once-sought-after hybrids now showing up at U-Pull wrecking yards. We’d seen a couple of Priuses in Lemons before (including one with a Harley-Davidson engine swap), and we had learned that these cars are painfully slow and subject to frequent computer-system freakouts under the rigors of road racing. When the Rattlesnake Electric Sport team showed up with this insurance-total 2007 Prius, the Lemons Supreme Court put it in Class C, where it seemingly belonged.
The problem with a hybrid-electric car under road-race conditions is that the batteries and charging-control system will overheat under repeated full-throttle acceleration, and then the car will go into limp mode until it cools off (a process that will take quite a while in triple-digit ambient temperatures). The Rattlesnake guys took their Prius to a bunch of track days to learn how to manage this problem, and figured out that if the driver carries a lot of speed through the corners and avoids applying full throttle, ever, battery overheating will be avoided (and, as an added bonus, the electrically-powered air conditioning can be run without a performance hit, since the hybrid-system batteries remain fully charged throughout all of this).
Because every one of the team’s drivers is a professional racer or professional-skill-level amateur, they were able to pull off this trick for lap after lap, all weekend long. Even with these expert wheelmen doing the driving, the Rattlesnake Electric Sport Prius wasn’t quick (in fact, its best lap time was the 57th-quickest of the entire 74-car field), but the car stayed alive and the drivers didn’t make a single black-flag-attracting mistake all weekend. When it was all over, they’d won Class C by a hilarious 32 laps over the Jackalope Jockeys and their 1977 Volkswagen Rabbit, finishing 11th overall. In so doing, they beat nine BMWs, two Porsches, seven Mazdas, five Nissans, and every single Detroit machine in the race.
The Jackalopes always bring the Lemons staffers a big ice chest packed with their local beer, they stay clean (mostly) on the track, and the sight of their VW jackalope and its rider never fails to amuse everybody at a race track. This Organizer’s Choice award is something of a lifetime-achievement deal for these guys, and we look forward to seeing them at the next West Coast event.
When your team is shopping for a machine to turn into your next Lemons car, you can’t go wrong with an old Chrysler A-Body. These cars are simple and easy to repair, there are plenty of bolt-on cheap performance upgrades available, and you’ll be just about guaranteed a spot in Class C at any Lemons race. Team Valiant Effort brought this 1963 Plymouth Valiant sedan for their first race, and it was one of the big stars of the weekend.
Under the hood, a 225-cubic-inch Leaning Tower of Power.
The Valiant Effort crew fabricated a new instrument panel for their car, but they kept the high-performance pushbutton automatic-transmission shifter.
It helped their cause that one of the judges on the Lemons Supreme Court bench that weekend (the proprietor of the Mopar-centric Alloy Motors shop, in fact) drove to the race in a Valiant hardtop coupe, and the Valiant Effort guys had a daily-driver ’71 Valiant on hand to pose for this all-Valiant photograph.
The LeGolf drivers raced very cleanly for rookies, staying out of trouble nearly all weekend, and their car looked amazing on the track, so the judges hastily assembled a Rookie Team of the Race trophy for them. Well done, Team LeGolf!
The guys who run the must-read automotive website, Hooniverse, have been active in Lemons racing since the early days of the series. They started out in 2009 with a BMW 6-Series converted into a credible Plymouth Superbird, then graduated to a 1962 Ford Ranchero cartruck a few years later. This fine straight-six/three-on-the-tree racing machine got destroyed real good at Sears Point in 2016, and so the team found another Ranchero and created Huevos Ranchero Mark II.
Featuring a 250-cubic-inch straight-six engine with homemade header, four-on-the-floor manual transmission, and 8″ Ford rear end, the Huevos Ranchero MkII suffered from endless first-race problems at the Sears Pointless race this year. We knew those problems would be sorted out, mostly, and this time the Huevos Ranchero finished a non-shabby 42nd.
The judges agreed early in the running that the Index of Effluency award would be given to the ONSET/Tetanus West Volvo PV544, the Valiant Effort car, or the Huevos Ranchero, depending on which one of those primitive, elderly hoopties finished the most laps. The Ranchero beat the PV544 by 93 laps and the Valiant by 95 laps (nearly four hours at Class C speeds on this course) and thus took home the top prize of Lemons racing.
For a big gallery of photos from this race, go here. For all the latest 24 Hours of Lemons features, news, and madness, go here. The next race takes place this weekend at Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park in Connecticut, so be sure to head out to the GP du Lac Chargoggetcetera if you’re in New England.