Roadkill’s 24 Hours of Lemons correspondents have returned from a soggy 24 Hours of Lemons race at Gingerman Raceway in Michigan. The “Where the Elite Meet to Cheat” racers—93 of them—endured torrential downpours and blustery winds from Lake Michigan to produce close and relatively clean racing all weekend.
As usual, Midwesterners love to talk weather and a rolling barrage of rainstorms for 36 straight hours soaked racers to the bone, then tossed their canopies all over the paddock. If you’re from this part of Michigan, that’s normal and called “October.”
Before the storms rolled in, however, Lemons racers held a Friday night potluck that included a selection of tasty food from grilled brown-sugar ham to traditional Polish dishes. Lemons racers enjoy good food and good company of this nature. Before we get to the award winners, let’s look at some of the honorable mentions in the field.
We like when teams come up with great themes and we like when multiple teams come up with the same great theme at one race. At this race, two minivan-racing teams independently arrived at the notion of turning their people-carriers into the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles’ van.
Bad Decisions Racing have turned their Pontiac Trans Sport into everything from a Black & Decker Dustbuster to Princess Vespa’s Mercedes spaceship from “Spaceballs.” This time, they made a credible Turtle Van and even had a Cowabunga-style off-track excursion or two.
The second van, a first-generation Honda Odyssey, has also raced in Lemons before, formerly on the West Coast with Pit Crew Revenge. One of that team’s arrive-and-drive racers bought it, reinstalled the back seat(s), and drives his kids to school in it regularly. Not only is it awesome (or probably really embarrassing) to be dropped off in any racing minivan, it’s also extra-awesome to be dropped off in a Turtle Van.
Lemons organizers also enjoy a good engine swap, especially when it means replacing an ear-splitting rotary engine with something less annoying. When Team Skypasiv-E fried their Mazda RX-7’s original 12A Wankel engine, they wanted a non-V8 swap. They settled on the 2.4-liter Ecotec engine from a rental-grade Chevy Malibu. Before they sheared all the bolts on the bellhousing, they said it was a heck of a swap.
The Avid Fleet Racing team brought the opposite of a swap: a stock-as-it-gets Hyundai Sonata. Teams are stretching the now well-exposed Korean luxury car loophole to include cars like the Sonata. Unlike most other recent exploitees of that loophole, however, the Avid Sonata finished the race third in Class C with no major mechanical failures.
Unfortunately, the same couldn’t be said of the Gnardawg Racing Hyundai Elantra. We saw this car at Roadkill Zip-Tie Drags Ohio, where the team was shaking down the automatic Elantra with quarter-mile passes in the mid-16s. They also did a fair bit of autocrossing to test it, none of which helped them when the 2.0-liter engine under the hood cooked itself on the car’s third lap.
Let’s get to the trophy winners then, shall we?
Overall Win – #35 LemonAid Racing, BMW E30
The Iowa-based LemonAid team has scrabbled and fought for now five overall wins in Lemons, including the closest ever victory. This time around, they again faced a tight battle that found the top three cars on the same lap to start Sunday. That seldom happens, but LemonAid did what it takes to win: They didn’t make a single mistake on track. By avoiding black flags, they managed to squeak out a win by just 90 seconds.
Second Place – #500 Hawaii Five Uh-Oh, Ford Mustang
Nobody in the Lemons Penalty Box expected a heavy Fox Body to run cleanly in the weekend’s rain, but this team kept their noses almost clean. However, a single black flag kept them from probably taking home their first win. The team, who include mostly employees of transmission builders Aisin, comes well-organized, which is more than half the battle when it comes to Lemons.
Third Place – #31 Rod Throwin’ Fools, Toyota MR2
Lemons has seen these Hoosiers come close to winning three times this year. This time, a single spin on Sunday knocked them from the lead after dicing for position with both LemonAid and Hawaii Five Uh-Oh. Until that point, the lead changed and stretched and shrunk constantly. We’re pretty sure we’ll see this V6-swapped MR2 in victory lane before too long.
Class B – #713 Placebo Racing, Merkur XR4Ti
We wrote about this car’s travails just a few days before the race and maybe that proved good luck for once. Maybe the Roadkill Curse is losing its black magic? After years upon years of breaking every component on their European-influenced, V8-swapped Ford, Placebo stomped away to a Class B win by finishing fourth place overall. Well done!
Class C – #222 Windy Sh***y Racing, BMW 2002 Automatic
Not many BMWs make it into Class C, but this BMW is a rare automatic version with a single-barrel carburetor choking down its engine. After a half-dozen races of just sheer awfulness in Class B, they were demoted to Class C, always with the encouragement of the Lemons Supreme Court like “You should stomp all over these other hoopties.” That never came to fruition until this race and, as the team told us, “14th time is a charm!”
The old 2002 only just made it to the end. Their three-speed automatic shed gears 1 and 3 for the last few hours of Sunday, forcing the team to limp it home in second gear. When the team went to put the victorious 2002 on the trailer, they found its stubborn refusal to move related to the enormous puddle under the car. That’s a narrow victory if we’ve ever seen it.
Heroic Fix – #12 Dirty Mike & The Boys, Mazda RX-7
Lemons teams occasionally make even worse decisions than merely showing up. For Dirty Mike & The Boys, that meant buying someone else’s failed project: a Mazda RX-7 with a partially complete Small-Block Chevy V8 swap. The previous owner had gone to great lengths to paint the V8 Oldsmobile gold and, as far as anyone could tell, that was where the modifications and most of the work entirely had ended.
Naturally, completing the swap meant countless hours figuring just what the fresh hell had been done to the poor car. And when they finally got it running and on the track, the engine absolutely nuked itself after 12 laps.
No problem, they had spare 305 of similarly unknown quality. All they had to do was stand outside in the ferocious, unabated downpour while figuring out how to undo all the bad V8 swap bits and make the V8 fit in there. Since they had one of the few paddock spots on the grass at GIngerman, that also meant wheeling the engine hoist around in rutted, nasty mud.
Eventually, after about 28 hours of churning the soil—although they did some of the finer work in their enclosed trailer—and chasing a borrowed (and subsequently broken) canopy that blew away in gale-force winds, the 305 fired up! They managed to roll onto the track in the nick of time for the checkered flag.
I Got Screwed – #20 Shift Heads, Pontiac Grand Prix
The counterpart to the Heroic Fix is the I Got Screwed trophy. Like the overall battle, the fight for the Class C win was uncharacteristically close. Sunday started with the top three in class all within one lap. Late in the day, the Shift Heads Pontiac Grand Prix, which had formerly raced on 940 treadwear tires, was just clinging to a narrow one-lap lead over the Windy Sh***y BMW.
However, a misunderstanding (or perhaps a dive-bomb, depending on your view) in one corner found a faster, heavier car plowing into the Grand Prix’s right-rear wheel. The impact bent the rear suspension and knocked the toe way off. The driver carried on like that for a half-hour, no doubt with a car that handled even worse than a front-heavy W-Body already did. After a spin into the gravel, the team discovered how badly the car was wounded and their potential class win vanished. Screwed!
Seriously, WTF? Award – #1 Petrosexual, Mazda Miata
The Lemons Supreme Court receives a number of bizarre bribes from time to time, but nothing was quite so weird as a bag of Spaghettios from the Petrosexuals team as the 2016 Gingerman race. The team had little to offer by way of explanation at the time other than “It seemed like a good idea at the time.” This year, they upped the ante with an inexplicable penguin costume and a thrift-store satchel full of the noxious Chef Boyardee canned pasta.
Since every race brings out an event-specific award, the Petrosexuals and their Geo-Metro-“hardtop” Mazda Miata won the first-ever “Seriously, WTF? Award.” We hope that’s the end of Spaghettios, but we should probably know better by now.
Judge’s Choice – #13 Monkey Paw Racing, Opel GT
Only brave teams take any $500 Opel GT to go racing. Not only did Monkey Paw Racing bring a $500 Opel, they also didn’t find it from some rust-free locale like West Texas or California. Nope, they dug it out of a backyard in Calumet City, Illinois, a place where cars—particularly 1970s European imports—seldom lasted more than a four or five before they’ve corroded away.
The team left everything about the car stock and just raced it as-is. It hardly ran perfect, but the 1.9-liter Opel engine ticked most of the weekend. For their bravery in bringing a rust-prone car from an even more rust-prone area, Monkey Paw took home the Judge’s Choice.
Organizer’s Choice – #138 A Quart Low, Honda Del Sol
This crowd-favorite Honda won the I Got Screwed trophy at Lemons’ 10th Anniversary race in 2016 because at any other race, it would have been a slam-dunk for Organizer’s Choice. The Calvin and Hobbes-themed Radio Flyer replica is totally awesome and looked great on the track, but they weren’t racing exactly as they had the previous year.
No, indeed. This time out, they added homebrewed turbocharging. And we mean very homebrewed. There must be about 10 feet of turbo plumbing under the hood, including an enormous intercooler. That’s an impressive feat in a tiny Honda engine bay, as was the eons of turbo lag.
But who cares? Look at how splendid the little red wagon looks on the racetrack?
Index of Effluency – #8 Burnt Rubber Soul Racing, 1981 Imperial
That brings us to the final and most important award, the Index of Effluency. This was an easy pick for Burnt Rubber Soul’s Imperial. Famously bad cars like this are their own theme, but this Ohio team owned it with a Mustang Pace Car (“Impstang”) theme
That included a detailed pre-race checklist for their Mopar…err, Ford? The misidentified Ford also follows their previous car’s theme, the Ford Probe-turned-Trans Am Mercury Cougar.
These guys know how to make a hooptie look good and the rear-facing tachometer remains one of our favorite details.
Not only did it look great, but the Imperial vied for a Class C win in what we of course all know to be a classic endurance racing battle: ‘81 Imperial vs. ‘99 Grand Prix vs. ‘74 BMW 2002 Automatic. Priceless.
The Imperial fell short of a win in the class, but they finished 31st in a 93-car field. For a car built in the dark days of the automotive industry—especially for Chrysler—that’s a fine outcome and a well-deserved IOE.
The 24 Hours of Lemons is back in action this weekend at New Hampshire Motor Speedway for “Halloween Hooptiefest.” You can get more details on that event right here, including spectator information, and you can read more Lemons stories right here on Roadkill.