We’ve finally thawed out from the cataclysmic December snowball that was the 24 Hours of Lemons’ season-ending 2017 race. This was the inaugural Kim Harmon Scrotium 500, which also happened to be the first Lemons race at the legendary Road Atlanta. Usually home to high-dollar sports car racing, the Georgia race track instead hosted 100 hoopties in a fairly entertaining race. Let’s take a look at how the weekend shook out.
The race’s name took center stage at this one, both because it “honored” Lemons event manager Kim Harmon and it exemplified the series’ high-brow approach to humor. Kim has become an integral part of the Lemons world, as she schedules travel and connects the hundreds of things behind the scenes that make a race work. However important her work, Kim’s mispronunciation of the word “scrotum” in this Lemons wrap-up video may, for better or worse, be her lasting legacy despite having worked with many professional race teams, drivers, and series.
After years of trying, Lemons finally solidified a December date at Road Atlanta, which is Kim’s home track. She handed out special trophies for the race and wore a proper Miss Scrotium 500 sash. Again, high-brow stuff here that we’re sure Roadkill’s parent company loves having on their website.
When the date was proposed, Kim assured everyone that of course it never snows in Georgia in December, although it sometimes does in February. Naturally, that meant several inches of snow fell on the track during Friday’s tech and BS inspections. Despite the substantial snow around the circuit, Road Atlanta cleared off the snow and ice all weekend, which meant that weather delays for the 14-½ hours of racing totaled something like 15 minutes.
Fans of sports car racing will know much about Road Atlanta’s role in growing the gentlemanly pursuit in the United States. And they’ll also know that some, shall we say, illicit pursuits funded much of that racing 30 years ago. With their bribe during BS Inspections, the Retro Racing Volkswagen Beetle team paid homage to the Whittington brothers, the 1980s owners of Road Atlanta who allegedly landed contraband-hauling airplanes on the track’s long backstretch at the time.
Professional racer and friend of Roadkill Randy Pobst dropped in to race with his Volvo 740 Turbo sedan. We know Randy could have tried competing, perhaps, but he’s usually just looking to have a good time. He also borrowed a skirt from Kim Harmon, a good friend of his, to walk around the frigid paddock to raise donations for the race charity, Lemons of Love. We think it’s a good look for Randy.
Strangely, this race features a glut of the wonderfully depreciated Mercedes-Benz entries. We’ve typically seen them a couple at a time, but this race featured a half-dozen of them. That included a couple of diesels, Lemons’ first SLK230 Kompressor, and a trio of V8 Mercs. The Squirtin’ Coronas hammered old 300E led most of the first day, but a serious transmission leak and broken exhaust dropped them out of contention.
Mercedes wasn’t the only well-represented luxury marque at this race. Lemons teams drug out a trio of front-wheel-drive Buicks to run. The Days of Blunder team found this ‘98 LeSabre on offer via an “outdoorsman trading” website. The owner was hoping for $1,000 worth of firearms in exchange for the straight-outta-church Buick.
Instead, the team waited him out for a month since they didn’t want to part with their own guns, naturally. The owner eventually caved and sold them the car for $500 just a few weeks before the race. The team did the minimum amount of preparation—basically installing all the required safety equipment—and showed up with it looking dealership-clean. Unfortunately, the 3.8-liter V6 spun a rod bearing after just 25 laps, but we’ll see them back soon.
We’ve seen Popcorn Racing’s Buick Regal, also powered by a 3.8-liter V6, several times before at Southern races. This time, they also cooked their “indestructible” V6 a few minutes into the race and went home Dead Flippin’ Last.
That early Buick attrition left only Cheap Saloon Racing and their 1996 Buick Century. Yes, General Motors still produced this car into the shadow of the encroaching millennium. Cheap Saloon survived the entire weekend with what was obviously the best-assembled Buick of the three.
In an ode to both the General Motors’ “Howie Makem the Quality Cat” anecdote from Ben Hamper’s memoir “Rivethead” and one of Buick’s marketing campaigns, Lemons organizers gave Cheap Saloon Racing the event-specific “Howie Makem Spirit of American Style Trophy.”
That quality discussion is, of course, a little tongue-in-cheek, but GM quality in the 1970s and 1980s stands far above that of British Leyland. That may explain why A2 Racing’s Triumph TR8 has spent maddening amounts of several races simply not working. “The car’s great,” they insist at every race as they stand around, looking baffled at its non-functioning Rover 3.5-liter V8. But this race was different. Somehow, the TR8 ran for almost the whole weekend. It seemed a shoe-in for the Index of Effluency at last and just when finishing seemed in sight, the Rover V8 fired a connecting rod through the block and the Triumph came to a grinding halt.
The driver scampered out of the smoldering British car before it went to the paddock on a flatbed. Even so, the car had run 12 hours at that point, about four times as much as it ever had before and Lemons judges had already decided the performance merited the top prize, the Index of Effluency. However, A2 Racing had apparently had enough of the 33-degree temperatures and they instead packed up and went home before the race’s end. As you must be present to win, they gave up a surefire IOE.
The Triumph wasn’t the only car that blew away its prior performances. The notorious Rambler American that traversed the country with little success in 2016 returned at last. That required a tow all the way from California with the hope that, finally, after about 20 races the 2.3-liter Pinto engine would power the car to a Class C victory. For once, that came true and the fantastic pink car annihilated all comers in the class by more than 30 laps.
What’s more, they did it with an entertaining Ape-X theme. That parodies both the squinty-eyed Real Racer™ types (“Apex,” get it?) and the Space-X theme. Apparently, when the apes take over, they’ll attempt to fly to Mars in early 1960s American compact cars. Sure, why not?
The spacesuit-clad apes spent the weekend stealing and distributing bananas, as well as causing general mischief while their AMC-built spaceship clattered around the track.
Another long-awaited victory came to the overall winners, Rod Throwin’ Fools. After two years of languishing in the middle of the field with their V6-swapped Toyota MR2, the team from Indiana suddenly catapulted to the front of Lemons races. They finished second place several times this year and nearly won at the Chicago race before a cut spring sliced through a tire and its spare. This time, they outlasted everybody with a little help from another Toyota team, who loaned them a spare MR2 radiator on Saturday night.
In Class B, Zero Energy Racing’s Honda Civic hatchback walked away with the win. The car has always been quick enough to win Class B, but the team owns a devastating finishing record. Before this, they’d run something like 20 races with scarcely a whiff of the Top 10. Near the end, the Civic showed signs of overheating, but perhaps the 38-degree high temperature kept the Honda demons away just long enough to hang on. We look forward to seeing them in Class A in 2018.
We get a lot of “HOW IS THAT $500 CAR?!” comments anytime someone brings a pre-1975 car, so we expect that the two legitimate 1960s Ford Mustangs (plus the Knoxvegas Lowballers’ “Hooptiecorn” Ford Contour, above) at this race will produce some ire. However, the absolute glut of Ford Mustangs built in the ‘60s means you can still find basketcases—totally in the Lemons spirit—for pocket change.
In the case of Team Rustang, that meant literally pulling the car off a trailer headed for scrap. They paid scrap prices plus a few buck for it with the idea of using it for parts since the floors had been totally cut out and most of the car was mangled. However, they discovered a trunk full of usable bits, including a Chevy transmission with a 302 adapter of some sort.
At that point, they went with it and since the team owns a shop that builds classic pony cars, they built it pretty well using a late-model 302 and putting nice floors into it. Is it cheaty? Yes. Were they going to win the race? No, because they waited until three hours into the race to put the car on track after most of the spinny, crashy drivers had spun and crashed.
However, The Mild Horses took a different approach with their ‘68 Ford Mustang. They had scored it, again, for a few bucks more than scrap as a roller. It had originally been a base-model Mustang, which meant a six-cylinder engine with drum brakes. The engine was gone, but they did have a late 1970s Ford F-250 parked in the back 40 with a big-block 460 V8 and a C6 automatic transmission. I think you can see where this is going.
Yes, they dropped in the 460, but the best part is that they didn’t change anything else. They left in the 8-inch rear end from the six-cylinder setup and since they didn’t read the rules particularly well, they didn’t realize they could upgrade the brakes since they are exempt from the $500 budget. That left them with drum brakes on a front axle that holds an additional 400 pounds or so.
When they left BS Inspection, The Mild Horses intended to install a disc-brake conversion kit in the frigid cold. However, their roll cage had failed tech inspection and they suddenly faced some welding. Just to keep things interesting, one lobe of the camshaft failed and ground itself down to a nub. The collateral damage basically required a full engine rebuild and by the time they got that done, the transmission had stopped shifting. That was related, it turns out, to the C6 probably having 50-year-old transmission fluid.
The team never gave up, though, and pressed on with repair after repair. They never did get the disc brakes installed, but even with the drums, they managed to achieve their two main goals: Get on the racetrack and not finish dead last. The 460 eventually blew up on Sunday afternoon, but for getting on track at all and not smashing into a wall due to brake failure, The Mild Horses earned the Heroic Fix trophy.
We don’t normally pay much attention to the 24 Hours of Lemons season points and neither do the teams who compete, apparently. Tetanus Racing was unaware when they showed up that they were even in contention for the Teams Championship with Three Pedal Mafia. Both teams had two cars registered, but if Tetanus could outscore 3PM with four more Top 10 points. Three Pedal Mafia’s cars both spent too much time off track to score any points for finishing in the Top 10, but Tetanus Racing’s long-running Datsun 240Z started Sunday in third place. All they needed to do was finish 7th place or better and it was theirs.
Naturally, the Datsun began failing early in the day with a transmission that only had fourth gear. They limped it around, still holding position, but with just a couple hours left in the race, the driver found himself with a gearbox full of neutrals. He coasted to a stop and there ended unicorn enthusiasts’ championship hopes. To be fair, the championship winner really only gets a mention in an email and maybe here on Roadkill so easy come, easy go. Still, the Tetanus Racing plight was enough to take home I Got Screwed (dis)honors.
The Judges Choice at this race went to a BMW team, which is itself a rare occurrence. The Richie Rich from the Waitlist BMW E36 may be the single most-penalized team ever in Lemons. Until this weekend, the team had never racked up fewer than seven black flags in a weekend. This time, they became model citizens and even with the challenging conditions, they somehow managed to avoid penalties all weekend long. Zero. Nada. None.
Not only were the Lemons official wowed by the lack of bad driving, the Richie Rich crew showed up with an awesome ex-Boy Scouts school bus that they’ve turned into a hauler for their brake-busting BMW. The bus features bunks, a TV, and what look like some comfy ex-Greyhound first-class seats. They were still working on getting heat in the bunks, they grumbled, but it’s a fine race-hauler conversion.
Organizer’s Choice went to a convergence of two very-deserving teams. We had seen the Wheel Team 6 BMW 7-Series at NCM Motorsports Park (above), where they’d struggled all weekend to fix their abysmal roll cage before the car torched itself. This time, they painted over the burn marks and ordered a new cage, which they promptly installed incorrectly in a way that they couldn’t fix at the track.
With no chance to run the BMW, they found a local Lemons owner who had opted to sit the weekend out despite having a prepared and awesome car: this Slant Six-powered Plymouth Valiant. The Wheel Team 6 guys are all active military who either have been deployed or will be deploying again soon and will be unable to race in 2018. As a result, the Valiant owner offered to loan out the car to the Wheel Team’s drivers who were able to stick around.
The Valiant ran well and afforded everybody a little bit of seat time with the temperamental clutch and floor-shifted three-speed manual transmission. In the end, Lemons Chief Perp Jay Lamm loved the camaraderie that he felt exemplified the series and handed out the Organizer’s Choice to the Valiant squad.
That brings us at last to Lemons’ top prize, the Index of Effluency. The Duff Beer team has raced Lemons in the South since almost the beginning, first with a Honda Civic and later with a Jet Electra 007. Earlier this year at NCM Motorsports Park, they added to that list a clattering, glacially slow Mercedes 240D. After suffering through that race much slower than anyone else, the team installed a five-cylinder diesel engine. After another race where it wasn’t really much faster, they put a turbocharger on it for Road Atlanta. However, the Duff Beer crew figured out it wasn’t going at all faster for some mysterious reason.
Unfortunately, the team weren’t really able to diagnose the issue because everyone on the team ended up with some stomach-knotting illness. The only team member who wasn’t sick happened to be working in Germany on Thursday when the team’s least-sick member struck out for Atlanta. The non-ill driver booked a last-minute flight from Frankfurt into snowy Atlanta. He booked it from the airport and promptly drove 6-½ hours of Saturday’s eight racing hours.
When he finally got out of the car and started asking around about the lack of power, someone pointed out that the boost controller wasn’t hooked up at all. After plugging in the vacuum hoses, the Duff Beer crew soon found the car was much quicker. They had instantly knocked something like seven seconds per lap off their times. That still left them among the slowest five cars in the class, but the plugged along and finished 49th of 94 cars with just two drivers, one of which was still battling illness. If that’s not effluent, we don’t know what is.
That concludes your race recaps for 2017, but a full year of Lemons activities awaits us in 2018. The season kicks off with the second Retreat From Moscow Lemons Rally at the end of January, which concludes at Barber Motorsports Park just in time for the season-opening 24 Hours of Lemons race. You can see the whole schedule right here and be sure to check back for more great Lemons content on Roadkill.com right here in the meantime.