Last weekend, we returned to Carolina Motorsports Park in Kershaw, South Carolina, for the ninth annual 24 Hours of LeMons South Fall race. We had some incredible racing machines show up at this one, including more 1960s cars than we had ever seen at a single race, the 1981 version of a Tesla, and an amazing Corvette Summer replica made out of a Mazda Miata. Here’s what happened.
As has been a tradition at CMP races since 2010, we had a Friday-evening parade of LeMons race cars down the main street of Camden, South Carolina, then performed the car inspections downtown, in the middle of a big street party.
The first couple of years, Camden residents were puzzled and/or horrified by the spectacle of a hundred roll-caged hoopties and associated racers in strange costumes taking over their town, but the LeMons Parade and Street Party has become a much-anticipated social event in Camden in recent years.
A total of 98 cars made it onto the race track during the course of the weekend, and eight of them were from the decade of the 1960s (or at least had 1960s bodies). From left to right in the above photo: 1964 Dodge Dart sedan, 1969 AMC AMX (actually a BMW Z3 under the skin), 1964 Ford Fairlane sedan, 1961 Rambler Classic sedan, 1967 Pontiac GTO (actually a Le Mans), 1965 Ford Ranchero.
There was also this amazingly stock 1964 Plymouth Valiant Signet coupe, featuring Slant-6 engine and factory-original 4-on-the-floor transmission.
All of this became very interesting when the Done Racing Racing “AMX” took the Class A and overall wins by two laps. Some of you might be wondering how such a car could fit within our $500 budget limitations. Strap in, because we’re in for a wild story here.
It started at the 2014 ‘Shine Country Classic in Alabama, when Done Racing Racing (then known as, simply, “Y’all”) showed up in a thoroughly terrible and blow-uppity Dodge Daytona. But not just any Daytona— this was a Shelby Z once raced by Don Dokken at the Dodge International Star Challenge celebrity-racing series of the late 1980s! After a couple of limp-around-for-a-few-miserable-laps races for the Daytona, the team decided to get a better car.
Which turned out to be this 2001 BMW Z3, the first example of that type of car seen in the 24 Hours of LeMons.
The team bought the car as a crash-victim insurance total at a Copart auction for $3,000, then sold off $4,000 in parts to get the purchase cost down to zero. Normally, we’d be very skeptical about the team’s claims of costs for stuff bought and sold and bury the team under lots of penalty laps, but these guys managed to document everything in unusually convincing fashion. We even looked up their finished eBay auctions and everything came up legit.
The car was quick and well-driven (the team is staffed by several veteran pro motorcycle racers) and it finished in the top ten a couple of times. All along, the idea of a Z3 racing penalty-lap-free in LeMons didn’t sit well with the justices of the LeMons Supreme Court, and we gave Done Racing Racing a hard time about their car. Finally, one asked “What can we do to make the judges like our car?” Our response was, “Put an AMC AMX body on it!” Which they did… by buying a basket-case AMX shell, making molds from its body, and hand-laying a custom fiberglass AMX shell atop the Z3 structure.
The workmanship was amazing, we had told the team we didn’t care what they spent on the AMX-body project, and we hadn’t thought to outlaw a full fiberglass body (because we hadn’t realized at the time that the members of Done Racing Racing are professional fabricators with a motorcycle and hot-rod shop in Birmingham and could actually pull off such a feat). So, we let the team run straight-up with no penalty laps.
The team that finished two laps behind the Z3/AMX drove a nondescript BMW 325, and normally we wouldn’t consider a P2 E30‘s team to be worth telling (due to our boredom with all BMW 3-series cars). However, the tale of S.O.B. Racing at this race is packed with drama, so here goes.
S.O.B. Racing has been competing at the Carolina Motorsports Park LeMons events since the beginning in 2008, and they ran this very fast Volkswagen Golf from that time through the 2015 season. The S.O.B. organization did everything necessary to win a race, from ironclad team organization to driving skills as good as just about any racers in our series, but their VW would let them down with some minor 15-minute repair late in each race. This happened over and over and over, garnering the team more second-place finishes and I Got Screwed trophies than any team in LeMons history.
Earlier this year, the team finally sold their Golf and several thousand pounds of spare parts (to another LeMons team) and got the BMW as a replacement. They have gone from being Volkswagen zealots to being virulently anti-Volkswagen militants, and everyone on the team wore these shirts expressing their new loyalty.
In Class B, Ruke Boy Racing and their V6-powered 1996 Pontiac Firebird took the class with a 3-lap margin over the Interceptor Motorsports 1988 Ford Thunderbird.
The judges of the LeMons Supreme Court consider Class C the most important class, since it’s where we put such beloved machines as Iron Duke Citations, Studebaker sedans, and sub-70-horsepower British cars. Win Class C, and you get promoted to Class B… unless you present us with a dilemma as difficult as a Class C-winning 1975 Austin Marina. This car, sold in its United Kingdom homeland as the Morris Marina, is regarded by Top Gear UK as one of the worst cars ever made, but the members of Austin Powerless Racing manage to drive it as fast as its little early-1950s-techology BMC B pushrod engine can manage with all its 68.5-horsepower (yes, British Leyland claimed a fractional horsepower), and they stomped on the rest of Class C once again.
They won Class C by three laps, in fact, after we buried them under 20 penalty laps for being previous class winners. This means that they actually beat their nearest competitor by a monstrous 23 laps. At Class C speeds, 20 laps is about a 40-minute gap, which says something about the reliability of the rest of the Class C field. Next time, we’re going to drop a piano on this car prior to any Class C consideration.
The car that couldn’t quite catch the Marina for the Class C win was the Race Rambler V2 Sport Edition, a 1961 Rambler Classic sedan which is being passed from team to team around the country, with 2016 appearances in races in Arizona, Texas, Michigan, South Carolina, Colorado, California, and Washington prior to last weekend’s return to South Carolina. It was driven the 3,000 miles between the Pacific Northworst race with fewer problems than usual, which raised hopes very high among the Rambleristas for a Class C win. Sadly, not this time.
When you bring a fully-depreciated-yet-still-overcomplex German car to your first LeMons race, you can expect some sort of mechanical troubles. Team Diplomatic Immunity came from Wilmington, North Carolina, with this sleek 1991 Mercedes-Benz 190E, got through our strict tech inspection easily enough, and got right down to the business of turning laps on Saturday.
Then, boom! The front driveshaft Guibo failed, resulting in a hole punched in the transmission tunnel, a trail of broken parts, a destroyed shift linkage, and shredded wiring harness.
A lot of teams would have packed up and gone home after that disaster, but North Carolinians have racing in their blood. The Diplomatic Immunity guys got to work fixing the broken stuff and tracking down the über-rare replacement guibo kit and other replacement parts they needed.
After (somewhat miraculously) finding the parts they needed a mere 100 miles away, they got to work fabricating a new shift linkage, patching the hole in the floor, and putting the much-battered driveshaft back together with the new parts. It worked! For that, we awarded Diplomatic Immunity a lovely Most Heroic Fix trophy.
The members of Team Terminally Confused, who have been campaigning various engine-splodin’ Hondas over the years, have established a tradition of cooking a huge dinner and feeding everyone in the paddock on Saturday nights at CMP. As they have a former champion competitive barbecuer in their driver lineup and cook hundreds of pounds of tasty pork, everyone looks forward to the checkered flag at the end of Saturday’s race session. We have awarded Terminally Confused with the Organizer’s Choice trophy many times for their dinners, so this time we decided to change it up by giving them the Judges’ Choice trophy.
As is the case with the BMW 3-series, the justices of the LeMons Supreme Court find the Mazda Miata to be a pretty boring race car (we do, however, enjoy it when teams combine the two cars to make an E30ata). In order to make us love your Miata, the best move is to turn it into something spectacular. One way to do this is to use spray-foam and body-filler to transform a Miata into a Hardcastle & McCormick Coyote X. Another way is to use spray-foam and body-filler to transform a Miata into the car from the classic 1978 film, Corvette Summer. This latter approach is exactly what Boondoggle Racing did for the ’16 LeMons South Fall race.
The Stingata looked great on the track and off, and it contended for the Class B win all weekend (normally, we won’t put a Miata in Class B, but a Stingata is another story). For the amazing Corvette Bummer Stingata, Boondoggle Racing took home the coveted Organizer’s Choice award.
A couple of years ago, at the 2014 Gator-O-Rama race in Houston, Hoonatic Racing set the LeMons electric-race-vehicle record with 26 very slow laps in their Datsun Roadster packed with lots of used car batteries and a forklift motor.
The Hoonatic crew used a very scary quick-charging system for their EV racer, just like a Tesla Supercharger… only their setup consisted of a couple of ungodly heavy steel boxes filled with acid-leaking lead batteries, charging cables connected by touching bare wires together in deep puddles of rainwater, and general wishful thinking in the safety department. We took one look at that charging rig, screamed and waved our hands around for a bit, and then banned it (and anything even close to it) from LeMons forever and ever. That didn’t stop other teams from thinking about how to do an EV in LeMons, however. We issued a budgetary exemption for the cost of batteries and chargers, for any team wishing to race a safe EV in our series.
The Electrica 007 was based on the Plymouth TC3, and a few thousand were sold during the era when electric cars were (rightly) considered weird and useless. The Electrica has a 4-speed manual transmission, battery storage in front and rear, and a 25-horsepower electric motor.
Duff Beer Racing raced a Honda Civic sedan in LeMons for many years, and the team wanted to try something
crazy more challenging. Taking advantage of the EV exemption from the $500 limit, they bought 33 new deep-cycle marine batteries at Sam’s Club and 22 identical battery chargers on eBay.
So, rather than try to fast-charge a single set of batteries in the car, the Duff Beer guys simply kept two sets of batteries on the chargers at all time. When the car ran out of juice (which took about seven laps, not counting pauses for the electric motor to cool off), the driver would pit and the team would remove all 11 batteries (weighing 80 pounds each) from the car and swap in 11 freshly charged batteries.
Top speed of an Electrica 007, in theory, is about 70 mph. However, an endurance-racing Electrica must go more slowly, both to conserve battery power and to prevent overheating of motor and batteries. Acceleration turned out to be the real killer, so the Duff Beer drivers learned to “race” at about 45 mph on the straights, then try to carry as much speed as possible through the corners. Yes, a true momentum car!
By the end of the weekend, Duff Beer Racing had lifted a collective 20 tons of batteries and turned an impressive 55 laps— more than double the previous LeMons EV record! Not only that, but the team won Class E (for electric cars) and beat seven of the other 97 entries, including an LS1-powered Camaro and a Nissan 240SX. Naturally, we thought this was one of the greatest race performances in motorsport history, and we honored Duff Beer Racing with the first-ever Index of Electric Effluency trophy. Well done, Duff Beer Racing!
That brings us to the Index of Effluency, the top prize of LeMons racing. The IOE trophy goes to the team that accomplishes the most with the most improbable car. This time, the 1967 Pontiac GTO of NSF Racing took the prize.
As the former owner of an incredibly hooptified 1967 GTO (see photo, above), I can spot an incredibly hooptified 1967 GTO clone when I see one, so of course I identified this car as a 1967 LeMans with a much-Bondo’d GTO hood.
Florida-based NSF Racing specializes in racing frighteningly rusty old cars dredged out of a swamp and hit with body filler, half-price paint, and random engines found at storage-unit sales. They have raced a Mercedes-Benz 450SEL 6.9, a 1963 Plymouth Fury, a 1956 Ford Fairlane, a 1950 Mercedes-Benz 170S, and a 1959 Studebaker Silver Hawk, among others. This time, they found a long-abandoned ’67 LeMans rotting in a field just across the Georgia state line. It had a dead six-cylinder engine and a Powerglide, so they wasted no time finding a sort-of-running 301 out of a late-1970s Bonneville and stabbed it into the engine compartment. They didn’t even change the oil.
They found a ratty GTO hood, troweled heroic quantities of Bondo into the dents and rust holes, then used rollers to apply white and red Rustoleum (on sale at their local hardware store) over everything. A few rolls of checkered duct tape completed the look.
It was slow, it scraped the door handles on corners, and it burned and/or boiled and/or leaked all of its cooling water every half-hour of so. Still, the NSF crew kept it going all weekend, eventually racking up an impressive 209 laps.
In the case of the NSF “GTO”, it would be best to change the lyrics to “One deuce and a 2-speed, and a 301.”
We know that many Internet Car Experts will see the photos of this car and pop a few brain bubbles because they feel that this car is worth at least five thousand dollars. And we’re sure NSF Racing is eager— maybe even desperate— to sell this car for a much, much lower price tag than that, so let us know of your high-dollar offer and we will relay it to them.
Need more 24 Hours of LeMons action? For more photos from the 2016 LeMons South Fall race, go here. Check in here for all the latest LeMons news and feature stories, and try to make it to the Button Turrible race in Southern California, September 30 through October 2.