We’ve thawed out from another frigid 24 Hours of Lemons race in the Midwest, an annual tradition that has usually signified the start of the racing season with races in Michigan. This year, however, the region’s opening race moved to Autobahn Country Club in the (false) hopes that it might be slightly warmer. And as usual, Mother Nature unleashed a fury of frigid temperatures and torrents of rain on Lemons racers. It made for an interesting weekend, so let’s get to it.
The Chicago-area race represented the second of six races named in Lemons’ partnership with Yokohama Tires. At this race, the tire company mounted and balanced tires for competitors free of charge, but they also hosted the competitor-organized potluck Friday night under their awning.
The first few teams showed up with Yokohama tires on, too, although the 40-degree temperatures meant (Top to bottom) Wisconsin Crap Racing, Shitbox Racing, Dropped Packet Racing, and S.T.T.B. Racing probably weren’t getting the most out of Yokohama’s high-performance rubber. At the least, we weren’t going to get a “high-performance” review of them like we did the last time Yokohama sponsored a race.
Before we get to the award winners, several teams deserve recognition for their dedication to hooptieness. The Wonderment Consortium has dug out many obscure cars—we’ll get to their most notorious car momentarily—but this race saw them debut their Isuzu Impulse.
Internet experts will tell you this car should DOMINATE Lemons races and we’ve had a couple of good ones in the past. This wasn’t one of them, however, but it might be quick…eventually.
We saw Team Anarchy take the Index of Effluency win at Autobahn last year with their long-suffering turbocharged Dodge Shadow. They stayed with a turbo Mopar with their new car: an automatic PT Cruiser with the turbocharged 2.4-liter engine. Aside from required safety equipment, the car looked exactly as it had when it came out of someone’s backyard.
Team Orca’s Class B-winning “Big Willy” Chevy Caprice finally bit the dust after last year. Rather than try to fix the B-Body or transplant to a new Caprice, the team took the craziest option possible: They stuffed everything into a first-gen Mazda RX-7. They barely finished the car before arriving for tech inspection and soon found the car totally unsuited to a soaking-wet track, but it sounded incredible with the short exhaust and we hope to see it ripping up a dry track soon.
Every so often, Lemons gets an old club-racing car that someone has dug out of the weeds. Someone built this 1977 Toyota Celica as a race car in 1980 and it raced for a number of years before being parked 20-plus years ago. This Indiana team dug it out of a field, washed (some of) the dust off, and updated the safety equipment to modern standards.
They left the 20R engine, a notoriously unreliable motor in Lemons, alone and feared for its survival. However, they kept from revving it hard and as a result, the clutch exited the building before the engine had a chance to scatter connecting rods all over the Illinois River Valley.
We haven’t seen the Bad Decisions Racing 1947 (or maybe 1948) Plymouth since its Index of Effluency-winning debut at Lemons’ 10th Anniversary race. The team brought it back, having ditched its flathead-six for the 240-horsepower supercharged 3.8-liter Buick V6 with a Ford Crown Victoria front suspension setup. This results in the antiquated-looking Mopar motoring past BMWs on the straights like they’re tied to a post. It’s a wonderful thing.
Bad Decisions also brought their usual primary vehicle: a Pontiac Trans Sport that has worn a number of different paint schemes and themes. This time around, the Indiana-based team turned it into a Nushen JB6500, which was the bizarre Chinese knockoff of GM’s Dustbuster van.
Both the aforementioned teams took home a certificate for a set of Yokohama tires from Lemons’ tire partner and so too did the homely Ho Ho Ho Racing Honda Civic. These young, broke-ass dudes have trucked their Civic all over to Lemons races from Middle-Of-Nowhere, Iowa, and we thought that they could use a set of tires to help alleviate some of their substantial towing costs.
A number of great rookie teams brought cool cars and great themes. The Garbage Red Car Motorsports Honda Del Sol wasn’t necessarily one of them, but high school shop students in suburban Chicago did most of the hard work on getting the bone-stock Honda prepared for the race. Naturally, their teachers and their autocrossing friends racked up black flags on Saturday, but they redeemed themselves with a clean Sunday.
As for the trophy winners, the rain produced some of the closest racing we’ve seen recently. Saturday ended with three teams on the lead lap and the first six covered by just two laps. In the end, Team Sheen’s Acura Integra hung on for the overall win. It was the car’s third overall win, all of which have come at Autobahn.
They narrowly beat out their pitmates, Landshark, whose own Integra-powered Civic (not actually a BMW) came in a single lap behind. Landshark finished second in the closest Lemons finish of all time and has come close to winning many, many times. We still think they’ll get there.
The Class B winner, Knights Templar, managed to finish in third place overall, albeit seven laps behind the overall winner. The team’s Dodge Neon actually won a few races overall with its previous owners, but a rash of utterly decimated Neon engines and generally poor driving led the team’s current owners to run in Class B. With their win, the Neon will end up in Class A again.
Curiously, this race featured four Hyundais, the most ever in one race. The Avid Fleet Racing team put together two Korean appliances—a Sonata that we’ve seen before and an Elantra—that finished 1-2 in Class C. The automatic-equipped Sonata proved unbelievably quick in the rain, finishing an astonishing 13th place overall of 106 cars that turned laps. The Elantra finished 23rd…could it be that Hyundai is the secret sauce in endurance racing?
The third Hyundai, Terribly Awesome Racing’s first-year Hyundai Excel, originally raced in California with Lemons Madman Mike “Spank” Spangler. He sold it to Terribly Awesome, who shipped it to Minnesota and applied a sweet coat of Radwood-caliber paint. At this race, the Excel beat many BMWs and Mustangs while running the slowest laps of the weekend.
Because the race was being held in a state best-known for sending corrupt politicians to jail, Lemons organizers decided to coin a trophy after a recently jailed Korean politician. And so Terribly Awesome Racing took home the Lee Myung-bak Pride of South Korea Trophy.
The Heroic Fix at this race went to Nice and Slow Autosport (N.A.S.A.) and their Ford GT-painted “NoBoost’ Saturn SC2. When the team rolled up to tech inspection, the car’s 1.9-liter Twin Cam engine was making a devastating rod knock any time they started it up.
The N.A.S.A. folks passed tech, but the engine had about three good minutes left in it, so they went down the road to find a junkyard replacement while the weather was still good.
Just as the weekend turned frigid on Friday afternoon, they returned to the paddock and started their engine swap. Naturally, the engine swap was completed in driving rain with temperatures hovering around 34 degrees.
Nevertheless, the Saturn team only missed the green flag by a little bit and managed to run most of the weekend with minimal troubles. Heroically Fixed in awful weather? You betcha.
Curiously, the #68 Legitimate Racing team also had the same Ford GT “NoBoost” parody despite the teams being totally unrelated. While that’s strange enough, there was also some confusion among corner workers thanks to the identical paint and decals as well as the consecutive numbers. The mistaken identity nearly cost the #67 Saturn to be parked for black flags until a sheepish driver from the #68 Focus admitted to a spin that got pinned on the Saturn. Framed! The Focus guys made amends with some shared beer Saturday night and all was well.
The flipside of the Heroic Fix is, of course, the I Got Screwed trophy. The Unified Partnership of Pentastar Racers have beaten their heads against their terrible Plymouth Sundance Duster for so long that we can barely remember when their troubles started (Educated guess: It was moments after buying the car). Everything they’ve done with their terrible Mopar has resulted in a broken car. Literally everything. We’ve seen them add an oil accumulator, live telemetry, and once when the fuel-injection system failed, they even adapted a carburetor to the intake plenum (using JB Weld, of course) on the Duster’s Mitsubishi-sourced 3.0-liter V6.
Eventually, they blew through enough 3.0-liter engines that they figured enough was enough. A couple years ago, they instead nabbed a far more powerful and theoretically more reliable 3.8-liter V6 from a Mitsubishi Montero. It gave them an unfair amount of horsepower for Class C, but given their struggles, Lemons judges put them in the slowest and most unreliable class. “No fair,” other races clamored as the 220-horsepower Duster repeatedly built up huge leads. And every time, the Plymouth blew the hell up.
This race, however, would be different, the team members said. They would drive the Duster at about 30 percent of its capable speed and just keep it on the track. It worked, too. They again led and held onto the lead on Sunday for the first time. Surely, this would be the first class win after six years of trying!
Except…they screwed themselves. The team’s resident electrical engineer built a circuit board to control all of the live telemetry and other super-cheaty real-racecar bits they’d stuffed into their appliance-grade Mopar. And a single critical fuse failure on that circuit board—fixed with a zip-tie to tighten the contact, naturally—led the team into a ridiculous downward spiral. The electrical failure lost them the lead and the team then racked up black flags trying to chase down the Class C leader. Screwed yet again!
The Judge’s Choice at this race went to Beer and Jelly Beans, who brought a rare manual-transmission Mercury Cougar with an awesome Ghostbusters’ Ecto Cooler Hi-C theme and functional zoomie-style exhaust! The team had costumes and even mixed together a noxiously potent version of the sugary juice. Everything about this is awesome, including the sweet wheel choice.
The Cougar and its platform cousin, the Ford Contour, have often proved difficult to make live very long in Lemons> It turns out that the V6 engines stuffed in the small engine bays—good luck when the alternator goes bad—suffer from serviceability issues. However, the biggest issue these first-timers faced was a seized wheel bearing, for which they’d actually brought a spare.
The theme was great and the team had a great attitude, which made for an easy Judges Choice trophy.
The Organizer’s Choice at this race was also an easy decision. The Pacemakerz brought one of the worst car types we’ve ever seen over the years in Lemons: the Chrysler LH platform. That alone is generally enough for the award, but the teams went so far as to convert the Dodge Intrepid—which had formerly belonged to a teammate’s now-deceased grandmother—into an elderly person.
The effect was pretty danged good, too. Just look at it!
The expected over/under for terminal failure was about Lap 7, but the Pacemakerz managed more than 175 laps in the rain, no small feat with an ill-handling platform in the rain. That’s a little short of the record for an LH platform, but not by much. We wonder if that means they’ve used up the whole car’s life already or if they have the one Intrepid capable of living for a few races.
If you noticed that we skipped over the fourth Hyundai above, that would be because the Wonderment Consortium’s Hyundai Scoupe took home top honors, the Index of Effluency, from the Yokohama Joliet Prison Break. We’ve seen this car repeatedly perform as badly as the aforementioned Duster, even taking the I Got Screwed award last summer at Autobahn for a (typical) weekend from hell.
The team naturally arrived late with a car that wouldn’t start and they missed the green flag chasing a sundry of issues. The team captain had just a few days before sliced his hand open working on the car—about the 30th time the Scoupe has drawn blood—and it seemed the weekend held typical misery for Hyundai’s first horrendous attempt at a “sport coupe.”
But midway through Saturday, something amazing happened: The Wonderment Consortium’s Scoupe appeared about halfway up the standings. Considering the car had never worked for more than six consecutive hours (likely extending to its street-car life before Lemons), everyone sat waiting for the Scoupe to be towed in with a subframe that had fallen out or some other such nonsense. It seemed inevitable.
Somehow, that never happened. Instead, the Scoupe ran all weekend, proving that even a blind acorn finds a squirrel or something. Incredibly, the Wonderment Consortium has won two Indexes of Effluency this year after their other janky heap, a Chrysler Conquest, managed to keep its four-cylinder Hemi intact at Barber Motorsports Park in February. Like a double rainbow, we know not what it means, either.
The 24 Hours of Lemons returns to action at Carolina Motorsports Park on April 28 and 29 in Kershaw, South Carolina. Be sure to follow Lemons on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram pages to know what’s happening in our world or just to get some general snark.