Twice each year since 2008, the 24 Hours of LeMons comes to Carolina Motorsports Park in Kershaw, South Carolina, and on each occasion we see some of the best race cars and enjoy the best parties in the entire LeMons Universe. We have high standards for the CMP races, and the 2017 Southern Discomfort race did not disappoint. Here’s what we saw.
The big story of the weekend was the overall win by Team S.O.B. and their 1987 BMW 325. Normally, we wouldn’t get too excited about an E30 team getting the most laps at one of our races, since the E30s that get our interest tend to feature crazy engine swaps, ill-advised junkyard supercharging, or goofy body modifications. However, Team S.O.B. held the dubious distinction of the most second-, third-, and fourth-place finishes in 24 Hours of LeMons history, and this was their first-ever overall win in nearly a decade of trying.
At the 2009 LeMons South Fall race at CMP, Team South of the Border brought their 1986 Volkswagen Golf and plenty of optimism for their first-ever 24 Hours of LeMons race.
The Golf (and its Jetta and Scirocco relatives) can get around a road course just as quickly as any Acura Integra or BMW E30, and its excellent fuel efficiency can mean fewer fueling stops than the thirstier teams. Unfortunately for LeMons VW racers, these cars break a lot. Glass transmissions, axles made of pretzel sticks, weak head gaskets, fritzy electrical systems— you name it, it will break on a water-cooled Volkswagen.
And so a pattern was set for the SOBs: they would show up at every CMP race, year after year, they would run with the quickest teams and spend most of the weekend contending for the overall win, and then some part would fail (usually in the final hours before the checkered flag) and another team would get the win.
The SOBs went through several name changes over the following eight years, each with the initials SOB. They painted their car purple, added some laces to the hood, and became Team Skating On By. Then they convinced their favorite all-wise and extremely understanding LeMons Supreme Court judge (me) that adding junkyard turbocharging would solve their reliability problems, becoming Team Screaming On Boost (turbocharging proved to be 100% lethal to the SOB Golf’s transmissions, and they went back to the naturally-aspirated engine after three races and three shredded transmissions).
From 2009 through 2016, the SOBs competed with their Golf in 15 LeMons races. During this period, they finished in P2 twice, P3 twice, P4 twice, and contended for the lead for at least part of most of the others. In every case, some mechanical problem— ranging from something as simple as a failed alternator connector to something as catastrophic as a grenaded engine— would doom the team’s chances for a win. The team took home quite a few I Got Screwed trophies during those years.
Finally, they became Team Sick of Breaking. They stuck with the Golf for so long partly because they liked driving it (but mostly because they’d put so much work into accumulating a vast collection of parts for it).
Then, for the South Fall race in 2016, they sold their VW and several tons of parts to another team and bought a hooptie BMW E30. Their new team shirt showed their newly militant anti-VW/pro-BMW stance.
They finished second at that race, with no mechanical problems. At the 2017 Southern Discomfort, everything went right for the SOBs and they took the win with a comfortable four-lap margin. There was quite a celebration among the many SOB family members when the checkered flag waved and their car roared past.
The original Ford Taurus SHO is one of the toughest cars for the LeMons Supreme Court to class; a well-driven SHO is quick enough to win races, but these cars explode engines and transmissions so spectacularly that few finish races. We put Theorectical Racing and their SHO into medium-fast Class B, along with the pokey-looking Toyota MR2 of Frunk In the Trunk Racing, and both teams managed to finish with all the Class A teams in the top-10 of the standings. In the end, the Class B win went to Theorectical Racing, in 5th place overall.
The Knoxvegas Lowballers, one of the most legendary teams in all of LeMons racing, drove their 1988 Mercedes-Benz 560SL all 1,800 miles of the Retreat From Moscow LeMons Rally, then they won the Index of Effluency at the Alabama race immediately following the Rally. The list price of their car, when new, was $61,130, or about 130 grand in inflation-adjusted 2017 dollars, but hooptie 560SLs go for around scrap value these days. That’s because they are fiendishly complex, so heavy that their movements create gravity waves detectable in the Small Magellanic Cloud, and maddeningly difficult to fix when they break. Which they always do.
Few thought it possible for the Lowballers to win Class C with their high-maintenance Benz, but the competition proved even less reliable this time and the two-ton silver beast took the trophy with a 33-lap edge over the Team Sputnik Nissan Sentra.
When a rookie team comes to their first LeMons race with a completely stock 2006 Chevy Impala, calls themselves Balls Deep Racing (car #69, of course), and generally keeps us entertained with their terrible-GM-car antics all weekend, we give them the Judges’ Choice award.
The 3800-engined Balls Deep Racing Impala wasn’t the only V6-engined GM car at the 2017 Southern Discomfort; also racing were the Wait Where’s The Dirt Chevy S-10 (4.3), the Lunar Lemon Chevy Astro (4.3), the GS Motorsports Chevy Monte Carlo (supercharged 3800), and the Popcorn Racin’ Buick Regal (3800). We decided that one of these fine vehicles needed to be recognized for the atonal glory that is the sound of The General’s mighty V6, and that car was the Regal.
An absolutely stock 1994 model, the Popcorn Racin’ Regal featured a Popcorn Sutton theme, had working air conditioning and radio, and completed a total of 179 very dignified laps during the race weekend.
The team bought the car from Bob and Yvonne, the original owners, and somehow convinced them to watch their former pride and joy race against 59 other battered clunkers. For this, we awarded Popcorn Racin’ the award named for Buick’s slogan during the 1990s: The Spirit of American Style.
The Organizer’s Choice award is one of the most prestigious trophies in the 24 Hours of LeMons world, and Terminally Confused shocked nobody by winning their third one. They don’t win these awards due to their race cars, which are not-particularly-interesting 1990s Hondas.
They win multiple Organizer’s Choice trophies because they are always ready to help out other teams with major welding work. For example, a rookie Porsche 944 team showed up to the ’17 Southern Discomfort with a roll cage that failed on many counts, and things looked hopeless for them. Craig Ledbetter of Terminally Confused found the correct cage tubing and fabricated new backstays and spreader plates for the Mo’ Tow Fo’ Yo’ Dough Porsche on Friday, and the Porsche drivers were able to hit the track when the green flag waved on Saturday morning.
Every Saturday night at CMP LeMons races, the members of Terminally Confused serve a delicious barbecue dinner to everybody at the event, and we’re talking about hundreds of hungry racers here. Here’s barbecue-meister Curtis Matthews preparing some tasty pig parts while hooked up to the race car’s cool suit. Organizer’s Choice, again.
The Low Dollar Escorts had an old roundy-round-dirt-track Ford Escort, and they decided to give this 24 Hours of LeMons thing a try. Unfortunately, the car wasn’t ready to pass the tech inspection until well after the race had begun, and then it suffered from a sequence of on-track failures that included brakes, fuel system, ignition, suspension, and just about everything else that can go wrong with a car.
The team managed to get just 12 race laps, but such was their dedication to fixing their troubled Ford that they received the Heroic Fix trophy for their efforts.
Howard’s Heroes brought their Ford Mustang for some racin’ action, but their very tired 5.0 just wouldn’t stop leaking, burning, and generally spewing oil. The car would get black-flagged for excessive smoke and leakage, the team would thrash on it for a while, and then it would get black-flagged again. This process repeated on a 30-minute cycle all weekend long, the rules-crazed judges wouldn’t allow Howard’s Heroes to install a totally sensible milk-jug-based blow-by recovery system, and the team’s drivers got to race a mere 158 oily, smoky laps. For this, they received the I Got Screwed trophy.
They could have used some help from Cooter.
When the Duff Beer 1981 Jet Electrica 007 (based on the Plymouth TC3) raced at the 2016 South Fall race at CMP, the team won the first-ever Index of Electrical Effluence trophy, for being the first LeMons EV that didn’t suck (prior to that, we had seen a gloriously terrible forklift-motor-powered Datsun Roadster). At the 2017 Southern Discomfort, the Duff Beer electric race car did so well that it earned the real Index of Effluency trophy, the top prize of LeMons racing.
The LeMons Supreme Court offers a full exemption to the $500 budget limit for electric race cars (so go ahead and cage your Tesla Model S… but don’t come crying to us when a Buick Electra 225 suffers brake failure and wrecks it), and so the Duff Beer crew ran the Jet Electrica’s first race using three sets of 11 deep-cycle marine lead-acid batteries. Two sets of batteries would be charging at all times while the others were being discharged on one of the car’s seven-lap stints, and the batteries would get swapped out in a backbreaking ritual. Once the concept had been proven, the heavy old batteries got sold off and replaced by lots of modern Chevrolet Volt lithium-ion battery packs.
The Volt batteries debuted at the ‘Shine Country Classic race in Alabama, earlier this year, and the Duff crew discovered that their battery chargers— designed for the batteries used in Chinese crop-dusting drones— exploded and burst into flames under the racing duty cycle. So they redesigned the charging circuitry and commissioned the manufacture of some new chargers via a manufacturer on Alibaba.
This worked pretty well. The car would go out for ten reasonably quick laps (top speed of the Duff Jet Electrica is close to 100 mph now), then pit for a battery change. While perhaps not as quick as the futuristic stop-and-go battery-swapping technology envisioned by EV entrepreneurs, the Duffers were able to swap their battery packs in about 15 minutes.
The Duff car wasn’t the slowest car on the track (that honor went to the Wait, Where’s the Dirt S-10, which suffered engine failure after nine laps), and it racked up an astonishing 129 laps during the course of the weekend, finishing 51st out of 60 entries. With improvements in hardware and battery-change techniques, this car should be capable of contending for a Class C win in the near future. Congratulations, Duff Beer!