The 24 Hours of LeMons has been racing in California for 10 years and for several of those years, the series’ annual visit to Buttonwillow Raceway Park has taken place in the middle of summer. The Central Valley racetrack normally sees temperatures north of 110 degrees in summer, so a wise juggling of the season schedule put the “Button Terrible” race in September instead in 2016. That brought about pleasant temperatures and despite the occasional dust cloud (and even dust devil), a relatively clean race. Let’s take a look at some of the best stories and the award-winners from Buttonwillow last weekend, October 1 and 2.
Rarely do we spend a lot of time on the overall winners at a race, but the Risky Whiskey Racing crew surely had the most eventful week of any LeMons team. LeMons HQ received a frantic email late Thursday from the team—who are a father and two sons—saying that their Mazda Miata was in police impound but they were going to do everything they could to make it to the race. The Miata is kept at the parents’ house and they had intended to load it up Thursday afternoon. They parked it on the street behind the trailer, but the dad had to rush off to work for a couple hours.
When he returned, he found no race car and the only explanation he got was from some construction workers down the street who’d seen it hauled away, likely at the behest of a pesky neighbor. The title on the car was long expired and the previous owners of it had never titled it either. That meant Risky Whiskey faced a daunting challenge in providing a bill of sale that would then allow them to pay three years’ worth of lapsed registration, California smog fees, and penalties just to get their race car back. The scene that greeted them at the California DMV was not promising.
However, they’d managed to put together the paperwork from the DMV, then returned with it filled out. A sympathetic DMV employee even helped chop the back fees down by registering the car in non-operational status. After clearing that up, they went to the police station to pay off the fines and then finally made a visit to the impound lot to get the car out of hock.
Just three hours after the DMV opened—surely a record— and $700 later, they were trailering their race car at the towing yard as LeMons inspections were opening four hours away. With just about 10 minutes left before inspections closed, Risky Whiskey snuck into the tech line and got signed off to race.
This is what that kind of 24-hour mad dash does to a person.
Following that insane Friday, we didn’t expect much from the Risky Whiskey team, though their efforts put them in early consideration for a Heroic Fix trophy. They’d always been one of the quickest teams, but they usually found themselves in the Penalty Box too often to win. Indeed, their Miata had never finished better than 11th place before and the field at Buttonwillow included three teams with six or more overall wins. Undeterred, they battled all day Saturday and found themselves in second place behind 10-time winners Cerveza Racing. Their Miata’s engine, however, was starting to weaken so the car finishing at all seemed in jeopardy.
The Miata pressed on Sunday with the ailing motor requiring two quarts of oil at each of its stops for the day with a third quart on standby. They seemed unlikely to catch the Cerveza BMW, which was maintaining the two-lap lead with which they’d started the day.
However, Cerveza’s differential annihilated itself with less than an hour to go. Risky Whiskey remained on tenuous ground with their wounded engine, but they slipped past the disabled BMW and then managed to limp their Miata to the finish for what is surely the most epic LeMons win of all time.
Cerveza had their own interesting weekend. Because they’ve won so many races, the LeMons Supreme Court wanted to slap them with a couple of handicap laps before the race, but Cerveza driver Pete Pressley agreed to help teach Roadkill copy editor Jesse Bishop how to drive a manual transmission on Buttonwillow’s skid pad using Cerveza’s BMW E28. If Pete was a good teacher, Cerveza would start with zero penalty laps.
You’ll be able to read more about that in Roadkill Magazine soon, but suffice to say, Jesse did extraordinarily well.
Not only was the overall race exciting, so too was the competition for Class B. For much of the race, the Dying Lizards Porsche 924—run by the team formerly known as the Old F.A.R.T.S.—led the class and resided in the Top 10 with the slowest laps of anybody in the Top 20. With a bouncy suspension and a tired engine, this was no mean Stuttgart machine. Instead, it sauntered along casually until the very end when it broke terminally and gave up the class lead.
That gave the win to the Flyin’ Hawaiians and 2 White Guys Datsun 260Z, who had narrowly trailed the Porsche all weekend. This was actually their second Class B win, though the last one was 3-½ years ago. Welcome to Class A!
The Class C win was one of several long-deserved wins. Chris Overzet has lived for LeMons under his Pit Crew Revenge team name, which has been around LeMons since nearly the beginning of the series. He entered two cars in the second LeMons race and had, until this previous race, logged at least 97 entries in the intervening 10 years. Overzet typically runs “arrive-and-drive” cars, where he prepares cars—almost always plural—and drivers simply pay, show up, and drive the cars. He’s introduced dozens, maybe even hundreds, of first-time drivers to the series, many of whom buy one of his cars and then take it racing with their own team.
Somehow, Chris had never wrangled a class win in all that time, but that changed this weekend when his Cannonball Run-themed Honda Odyssey romped away with the Class C victory. Unlike some of the later Odysseys that had the 250-horsepower J35 V6, the Pit Crew Revenge instead had the F22 four-cylinder engine, which made about 100 fewer horsepower than the V6 It was not at all fast, but it stayed out of trouble and didn’t break. Congrats to Chris and Pit Crew Revenge!
Speaking of staying out of trouble, the other two Pit Crew revenge entries—that makes 100 total entries for those scoring at home—were also Cannonball Run themes. The long-running Civ-ette (a Honda with some Corvette body panels) got a primer-coated repaint over the Hawaiian Tropics theme during BS Inspection.
Pit Crew Revenge’s first class win wasn’t the only weekend milestone. Eyesore Racing’s turbocharged FrankenMiata ran its 40th race last weekend, which is also the most for any LeMons car. Eyesore were one of the first teams to really figure out how to win at LeMons and they racked up a pile of victories in the early days of the series.
They were in contention near the beginning of this race, but they were sidelined for a troubling misfire that left the car unable to run smoothly while they diagnosed it in their paddock space. It then stopped running altogether. They tested just about every component on the car for two hours before realizing that they’d run it out of gas. Whoops.
It’s not like there are any big-time Mazda engineers on the team.
Anyway, Eyesore held an “Over the Hill” party in their paddock Saturday night that included birthday cake, a lot of bench racing, and no signs that they’d ever stop campaigning the FrankenMiata that surely has about parts of about 11 different Miatas by now.
Just one paddock space over, the New York Rock Exchange held a taco dinner at the same time for LeMons staff and racers. Pro tip: If you want to make good with LeMons staff and judges, cook them good food.
Before we get to the rest of the awards, a couple of great themes stood out. The “Big Tikes” Ford Escort were a team of first-timers who nailed the theme by embracing that most racers are just big kids anyway. The team’s lone female driver acted the part of a mid-century mother with a rolling pin to keep the collective Dennis the Menaces in line. They indeed kept their base-model Escort out of trouble and enjoyed their first weekend immensely.
Another team of first-timers brought out their BMW E30 from nearby Bakersfield for the race. Their Brawndo-themed Bimmer (from the Mike Judge film Idiocracy) featured a Camacho 2016 bumper sticker and proper “Thirst Mutilator” taglines. The BMW straight-six engine caught fire in the Penalty Box and they had to retreat to their Bakersfield to garage to put in a new, unburned engine.
However, the highlight from that team was the old CraigsList drinking fountain they’d cleaned up and turned into a Brawndo fountain. During the race, it was filled with regular powder-based sports drink, but the evening found churning out green rotgut that was equal parts sports drink and plastic-gallon-jug tequila. It was clearly unfit for human consumption but was, in fact, what plants crave.
As always, tribute to the LeMons Supreme Court during BS Inspection is met with a commemorative Bribed stencil. This LeMons correspondent failed to create one until the last minute and therefore followed the important rule: When in doubt, rip off Douglas Adams. So long, and thanks for all the bribes.
LeMons weekends always include plenty of carnage as the long hours of racing wear away at tired street car engines. However, it’s a bit disconcerting when the fire truck itself blows up at the start of the weekend. The fire crew’s pickup burst a radiator (notice the river of coolant in the gutter) then had a fan clutch fail after they replaced the radiator. It looked like a bad omen at the time, but after borrowing some tools from a LeMons team, they had everything back in order for the weekend.
Did you enjoy all that? Back to the race now.
The Ran When Parked Oldsmobile Omega is far from being a high-performance pro touring car like so many of its Nova cousins have become. However, it runs reasonably well for a 40-year-old car being slung around a road course for an entire weekend.
The Ran When Parked crew did have a bit of a mishap, though. Late on Saturday, a front wheel exited stage left, then bounded all the way through the runoff area and onto the neighbor’s property. The brake rotor hat had failed catastrophically, shattering into the three pieces that left the rotor surface still hanging on the hub while everything else rolled away with the tire. After rebuilding the brakes and putting on a new strut—the bottom of the old one had ground away after the wheel left—the team were ready to put the eventually returned wheel back on to race Sunday.
The much-maligned “THAT IS NOT $500 CAR!!!11!” Studebaker Avanti returned for this race but enjoyed a short run.
The original 289 cubic-inch V8 lasted two laps before it started clattering and blowing out smoke. When it wouldn’t refire, the team trailered it and headed for home, as though they were calling it a weekend. Instead, they went back for the Ford Thunderbird Super Coupe they had left at home for this weekend, logging another 94 laps with it on Sunday. We haven’t seen the last of the Avanti, we’re pretty sure.
At last, we arrive to the award winners and we’ll start with the Fire in the Hole! BMW E30, which took home Heroic Fix honors in a close battle for the award. The team, which was really about 1-½ guys, had resolved to put a Ford 302 V8 into their 3-Series to make it quicker, in theory, and considerably less reliable. As happens so often with swaps, this one blew up during the Test Day before the race even began and, in fact, before LeMons Inspections had even opened.
Actually, the engine itself didn’t totally self-annihilate. The culprit was merely bad piston rings that turned the E30 into a smoke machine. The team, again mostly just one guy, tore the engine down until the short block was dangling on the engine hoist, where it would stay unchanged for about 24 hours. Why? Despite the fact that at least five other cars had Ford 302 power, nobody had brought extra piston rings to the track.
The short block continued gathering up the significant amounts of Buttonwillow dust while the team captain called every parts store within 100 miles. The clerks all claimed either not to have piston rings, never to keep piston rings in stock, not to know what piston rings were, or refuse to give any information without knowing if what year and trim level his Mustang was.
After about 30 consecutive hours of this nonsense, the team captain elected to use any piston rings he could find and make them work. He cobbled together two for each cylinder from the good ones left on the engine and from some Chevy V8 ones he’d filed roughly to size. What could possibly go wrong?
By mid-day Sunday, the engine was reassembled and his arrive-and-drive teammates having long since left, the team captain finally passed tech with a running engine. He got about 15 minutes from the engine before it overheated. As he pulled into the paddock, the engine seized and while it eventually restarted after it had cooled, the likelihood of it scattering its innards and oiling down the track at the end of the race meant the team opted to drive, albeit on maybe five remaining cylinders, onto its trailer, earning them a Heroic Fix.
There was competition for the Heroic Fix; the Trump-themed Volkswagen Jetta nuked its 2.0-liter ABA engine early on Saturday. Even from 30 feet away, the cooked engine smelled like someone had thrown hair trimmings and popcorn seeds into a hopper set on high for a couple hours. It blowed up good.
They had brought a spare ABA and stayed up until 3:00 a.m. to put it into the Jetta. That went so well that the second ABA overheated into a fused-together iron lump.
Additionally, the Team Camel Toe Porsche 951 annihilated its clutch on Saturday. Thinking they’d have plenty of time to swap in a clutch, they set to work disassembling the entire rear of the car to reach the rear-mounted transaxle and clutch assembly.
This is the scene with about two hours left in the day Sunday. Reaching the Porsche 924/944/951/968 transaxle requires removing the exhaust, the whole rear suspension, and most of your patience. They didn’t manage to get it back on the track, unfortunately, but undertaking a Porsche clutch replacement is a brave endeavor, indeed.
Perhaps none of these teams got screwed so much as the Pink Panzer Mercedes E430 team. The entire team is comprised of Mercedes dealership techs and they convinced their dealership to sell them this decade-old E430 for $500. Cue the “TOTAL CHEETURZ!!!!111!!” comment section, right? Wrong. The dealership sold their own techs a total lemon. You would think that the techs, being the ones who evaluate these sorts of things, would have seen this coming, but they got all pie-eyed at the thought of a 280-horsepower V8 letting them DOMINATE LeMons.
The car broke almost immediately with an electrical fault in one of the unnecessarily complicated systems, which always seems to happen with modern cars in LeMons. Naturally, they’d “borrowed” some of the dealership diagnostic tools and despite that, they still scratched their heads for a few hours until they found the trouble and fixed it. Later, they got another diagnostic error from the exhaust sensors that sent the snorting V8 into limp-home mode. The problem? The catalytic converters were clogged so the mechanics were soon found beating the hell out of the finely crafted cats to punch through a hole.
When they finally got it on the track and working properly on Sunday, the Pink Panzer drivers were totally incapable of handling so much car at speed. This was an expected outcome for rookie drivers with 280 horsepower (which may as well be 1,000 in LeMons) and their Penalty Box recidivism soon found them strapping Judge Tim Odell, who co-owns Hooniverse.com, into the driver’s seat to show them how to drive. Naturally, Judge Tim spun the car, adding another 10 pounds of Buttonwillow Ballast Dirt to the grand Teutonic beast. For their repeated—if mostly self-inflicted—screwings, the Pink Panzer crew took home the I Got Screwed trophy.
Special mention should be made of Tim Odell as his own I Got Screwed candidate. While parked overnight at the hotel on Saturday, some jerks smashed two windows out of his minivan and stole his laptop that he’d forgotten in there and his NecksGen head-and-neck restraint. Because Tim runs his own car site, the thieves may have actually stolen Hooniverse and that alone merits your derision. However, it’s worth noting that they left all of the high-end bribe booze that was packed adjacent to the laptop and for that, the thieves deserve twice the ire.
Luckily, Tim was able to take out some of his frustration on LeMons Penalty Box visitors, who he set to vacuuming out the broken glass and then piecing together a window from Lexan and LeMons Duct Tape until the insurance company can bungle the claim.
LeMons teams occasionaly sell their cars when they’re ready to move on, so when the Panting Polar Bear Racing Ford Crown Victoria changed hands, we expected to see it back exactly as it had run previously. However, the team instead turned the Panther into a 12-foot-tall shopping cart. The newbs struggled to open the hood during LeMons Inspection—Pro Tip: Pull the hood release inside the car—racked up black flags that required them to decorate the cart with caution tape so everyone could their poor driving coming, and then nuked the torque converter. Despite all this, they maintained a good attitude, so the LeMons Supreme Court handed them the race-specific Failure in Bulk trophy.
Speaking of Penalty Box visitors, the Judges Choice at this race went to a team of repeat visitors to the LeMons Supreme Court. Johnny Crash and the Folsom Prison Racers brought with them a carbureted Honda Civic hatchback that made, probably at best, about 75 horsepower. Despite that lack of horsepower, they got themselves into trouble over and over with a pile of black flags on Saturday. They soon offered to let Judge Steve McDaniel drive the Civic for the last 20 minutes or so of the day. He went on his way and soon the team were back in the Penalty Box wondering where their car had gone because they hadn’t ever seen it come around on the first lap.
The car arrived shortly behind the tow truck and after a short conference with the team, Judge Steve returned to the Penalty Box grinning from ear to ear. The Civic had run about half a lap before it had run out of gas. When he asked about the last time they’d fueled the car, the team responded, “Well, we filled it when we were testing the car last weekend at Willow Springs.” Yes, refueling the car had totally slipped the minds of these hapless rookies and they’d sent a LeMons official out with about a half-ounce of gas left in the fuel lines. However, the Johnny Crash team reformed their ways on Sunday, visiting the Penalty Box just once and remembering that internal combustion engines need fuel to continue running.
The Organizers Choice at this race went to Wasted Potential and their absolutely killer 1963 Rambler. If you’ve followed LeMons this year, you know that there is a well-built Rambler Classic traveling the country with a 2.3-liter Ford Pinto engine under the hood. The Wasted Potential car, however, was on another level.
The suspension was stock-ish, but under the hood lurked the Ford 300 straight-six engine from a Ford van. That engine has a reputation for being totally unkillable and this was the first LeMons car anyone could remember with Ford’s big six, so everyone was curious about the outcome. The engine survived the race without trouble and actually had some serious torque out of the corners while sounding like a Supra that had completed puberty.
The most amazing part, however, was the intense bodywork. The Rambler had been El Camino-ized with sheet metal covering the “bed” and then turned into a huge spoiler. The front splitter and rear faschia were both tidy and aside from that, the paint on the body itself was all original. If you poke around the internet a bit, you can find a few “pro touring” Ramblers, but none of them hold a candle to this budget-built LeMons car. I think you’ve officially seen the world’s most badass Rambler.
At this race, the LeMons Supreme Court decided to hand out an extremely rare Lifetime Underachievement Award, which could go to none other than Mike “Spank” Spangler and his assembled crew of insane helpers and hangers-on. Spank started racing LeMons in 2008 with a right-hand drive Austin Mini and he has since amassed a collection of the weirdest road-racing cars in history: Austin Mini Moke, Oldsmobile Toronado, Yugo GV, a Harley-powered Toyota Prius called the Toyohog, and a right-hand drive MG Metro to name a few.
This race became something of a “This Is Your Life” for Spank, who brought an incredible seven cars to this race, including that first Mini. Never one to shy away from a good theme, Spank turned his huge cast of cars and crew into “The People vs. Spank J. Spankson,” complete with a parody of O.J. Simpson’s low-speed Ford Bronco chase through the paddock and then on the racetrack during the race’s pace laps.
Spank is well-known for doing everything last-minute, but in a rare spate of preparedness (and a lot of help from at least four other LeMons team captains who signed on to race with him), all seven of his cars took the green flag to the cheers of his sign-bearing supporters at the start/finish line.
The Mini Moke has at various times been an excavator, a lunar lander, a land-speed bicycle, and a half-dozen other things, but this race found it turned into O.J. Simpson’s white Ford Bronco using big slabs of styrofoam with news helicopters “hovering” above it.
The other six cars—Austin Mini, Austin America (right), MG Metro (center), Yugo GV (left), Hyundai Excel, and the Toyohog—made up the “LMPD” cars chasing Spank J. around. While none of the cars was fast, four of the seven covered at least half the distance of the overall winner. For most people, running a single car can be overwhelming, let alone seven of the hooptiest cars in the series’ history.
With the Austin Mini likely heading to retirement soon after eight years of LeMons duty and with the cross-section of many of his most iconic cars present (nearly all of which have won Index of Effluency), it seemed only natural to give out a Lifetime Underachievement Award. Well done, Spank!
That brings us at last to the Index of Effluency, which went to Team Tinworm’s Humber Super Snipe. You might remember this as the car that beat the Rotsun at Buttonwillow last year, but this Super Snipe has written considerably more history than that. In just the last couple months, car owner Alan Frisbie took it on the LeMons Rally and made all the miles of it completely solo with just a cool shirt and the humming of the Snipe’s pushrod straight-six as company.
Ironically, this isn’t even Team Tinworm’s first Snipe. The original LeMons Super Snipe won an IOE but was retired after a rollover. Somehow, Frisbie found another Super Snipe, possibly the only other running one in the country, and brought it out to LeMons a couple years ago. It has always trudged along slowly—the Super Snipe was the slowest car at this race—but is always making laps like an obscure 52-year-old car shouldn’t.
This time out, Team Tinworm finished 77th out of 116 cars while being the slowest car on the track by at least 25 seconds per lap. That was good enough to take home the top Index of Effluency honors. That means that every Humber that’s ever run in LeMons now has won the top prize so when you’re shopping for your LeMons car, keep that in mind.
The 24 Hours of LeMons is back in action for the Decade of Disappointment 10th Anniversary Race this weekend, October 7-9, at Gingerman Raceway in South Haven, Michigan. You can read more coverage of that event and more about LeMons here on Roadkill.