The 24 Hours of Lemons has been visiting Gingerman Raceway in Michigan since 2010 and it has become a favorite for its laidback teams, simple operation, and a track that’s difficult to master. Somewhere in the intervening eight years, someone must have gotten the memo that it’s a great place for Lemons racing because last weekend’s Where the Elite Meet to Cheat turned into the biggest-ever race at the track with 110 registered cars. Things got a little aggressive at times, but it was, by and large, another great autumn race in Michigan. Here’s what happened.
This was the first Lemons race in Michigan since the death of auto journalist Tony Swan. In addition to being a revered, honest, and take-no-prisoners writer in the car business, Tony was a good friend of Lemons and a racer in the series for a decade. While his legacy looms larger than Lemons, the series’ founder Jay Lamm declared that all October Gingerman races would be renamed the Tony Swan Never Say Die Memorial Race starting in 2019 to pay some small tribute to Tony’s huge accomplishments.
Tony’s teammates campaigned their (cheaty) BMW E46 without their truly fearless leader and while they drove characteristically harder than most teams—eh, close enough—they managed a fourth-place finish that would have made Tony proud.
On the heels of Lemons’ first Cadillac Allante, Team Creme de la Creme brought out the first example of Allante’s slightly cheaper (but also Italian-bred) Mopar competitor, the Chrysler TC by Maserati. The team insisted that the turbo 2.2-liter engine would be bulletproof. Indeed, the car ran fine during Tech and BS Inspections.
What followed can only be described as “Predictable and Rapid Mopar Entropy.” The team spent part of Saturday fixing their rollcage, then the car started running rough. And the team discovered a leaking fuel tank. Then the entire ignition system quit.
By the end of Saturday, the team’s lead mechanic looked completely baffled that the thing had ever run. With dim hopes of returning to the track on Sunday, the team packed up and went home. They left behind six laps, dead-last position, a would-be I Got Screwed trophy (must be present to win), and the gleam of hope in their eyes as they talked about the PT Cruiser they had been building before switching to the TC by Maserati.
The United Partnership of Pentastar Racers well know of Mopar Entropy, having beaten their heads against their 1992 Plymouth Sundance Duster for more than five years. This race, they killed it yet again and prompted an immediate social media crapstorm with a timely Brett Kavanaugh theme.
While Lemons had previously had a half-assed Juggalo theme at a Michigan race, Rust Belt Racing went full-on Down With the Clown. Lemons organizers have a morbid fascination with Insane Clown Posse and its legions of fans who are even weird by Lemons standards. The Rust Belt crew turned their Honda Civic Wagon into the “Insane Civic Posse” car, donned evil clown makeup, and even went to an ICP show to score Juggalo merch as a Lemons Bribe. Pure Michigan.
It wasn’t all miracles and so forth, though. Rust Belt Racing also put on a Hot Wheels Drag Race on Friday night. The $5 buy-in all went to charity and the winner took home a pile of diecast cars and the Hot Wheels track.
Team Sucker Punch have raced Lemons for more than 10 years, beginning with a first-generation Ford Escort and later with a third-generation Chevy Camaro. After the Camaro’s demise in another series, Sucker Punch built an insanely crappy ‘84 Corvette with Crossfire Injection and the notorious Doug Nash 4+3 manual transmission. It was certainly not dominating the race, but it finished a respectable 28th place on debut.
It was the Cadillac-bodied Chevy Camaro of Save the Ta-Tas that took home the overall win. The bustleback Seville body still looks incredible atop the third-gen Camaro body and the car remains improbably quick for its appearance. Despite racking up a half-dozen or so wins, Save the Ta-Tas had somehow never won at Gingerman in eight years of trying so this was a sweet victory for them. Earlier in the year, the team captain told us they’d be swapping a V6 to chase a Class B win in 2019, though the team seemed a little more reticent about that as this year draws to a close. Consider this a call-out, gentleman.
The runners-up, LemonAid Racing, have dominated Gingerman Raceway in recent years with their E30. They remain one of the series most organized teams at the track, but some late-race brake troubles cost them a lead they’d held for more than five hours.
In Class B, Team Priority Fail’s mid-engined Volkswagen Golf took home the victory for the second time. The car had been parked for more than two years, so the Lemons Supreme Court put them back in Class B. They fought strange fuel delivery issues all weekend, but managed to hang on for an incredibly dramatic class win in the final 10 minutes of the race. More on that shortly.
In Class C, Avid Fleet Racing and their automatic 2001 Hyundai Elantra ran away with the class. The little Hyundai was virtually invisible on the track, just as any Hyundai really is on the streets, but it turned (slow) laps without any major issues and won Class C easily.
The Elantra win comes six months after the team’s last race, where their Hyundai Sonata cleaned up on the whole class at Autobahn. It returned to Gingerman, too, graduated to Class B with a pseudo-Superbird (Pseudobird?) theme. The Elantra can probably expect to move to Class B, too, when it reappears, but could it be that Hyundai has built some fantastically durable cars?
While a number of teams performed engine swaps during the weekend, the Heroic Fix instead went to Team Zero for some field-expedient bodywork. We loved their Ford Fairmont with a twin two-barrel carb setup on a high-rise intake and ram-air scoop on its 302. Add in the Repo Man-style generic, all-white RACECAR livery and that’s an easy way into the blackened and crispy hearts of the Lemons Supreme Court.
However, the Fairmont collected a spinning Civic, which crunched the Fairmont’s nose pretty heavily. The drivers were both fine, so Team Zero immediately tethered the car to a tree with tow straps and began pushing the car backward. When the straps took up the slack, they would pull the frame rails back toward straight.
It took a few hours and a few hammer blows, too, but the Fairmont rolled back on the track by the end of Saturday, then ran all Sunday to boot. Well fixed, Team Zero!
The I Got Screwed “winners” were the team who came up short in the tight Class B race in their second consecutive race. Yea Bud Racing took the short end of the stick at the June race in second place against a slightly underestimated by the Supreme Court V8-swapped Mazda RX-7. At this race, they finished only behind a car that won the class for its second time. Had the Lemons Supreme Court screwed the team with cruel classing decisions?
Well, kind of, except Yea Bud Racing had the class win slip through their hands this time of their own volition. With less than 10 minutes remaining, the Prelude slipped past Priority Fail’s Golf to take the class lead. Then, unfortunately, the driver pushed a little too hard to make a pass that just didn’t work out. In the end, the Prelude punted a slower car that wasn’t part of the class battle. That gave them a penalty, a flat tire, a second place, and the I Got Screwed trophy.
The Judges Choice went to a team of young guys who, while not rookies, debuted a new-to-them Ford Mustang. They were pitted next to the Penalty Box, which gave Lemons judges a front-row seat to an incredibly entertaining list of failures and weekend-long flailing and bashing with items like a reciprocating saw, a block of wood, magical thinking, and confounded stares.
They are just the right kind of hopeless to make Lemons judges smile through their exuberant incompetence.
A Quart Low have become favorites among the Lemons crowd with their little red wagon. They’ve built it from a Honda Del Sol with a homebrewed turbocharger setup that includes about 12 feet of plumbing and all the turbo lag. How do you make that better? You bolt on a highly detailed six-foot Oreo cookie to the back of your wagon to make…
OREO SPEEDWAGON. Yes, that is the Greatest Lemons Pun of All Time and their trophy commemorates that lofty achievement. We’re excited to see how they top this.
And if the OREO Speedwagon was a favorite among Lemons racers, the only thing that perhaps eclipsed that was Pacific Motors’ utterly breathtaking Rolls Royce Silver Shadow. The builder, an exotic-car scrapper named Darko, basically embarked on his first-ever scratch build using the Rolls and the Viper V10 from a Dodge Ram SRT10. The entire build is remarkable and unlike just about anything we’ve ever seen in Lemons.
We’ll have more on this car soon, but it did not run away with the race unchecked, as many Internet Car and Automotive Valuation Experts™ (“$500 CAR MY ASS!!!”) predicted. Rather, the SRT10 engine blew a connecting rod out of the block after three laps. The team fetched a replacement from their dimly lit warehouse where it was assembled and the car managed 81 laps on Sunday at a reasonably quick (30th fastest for the weekend) pace.
Lemons’ top prize, the Index of Effluency, went to the Heads You Win, Tails We Lose car. Yes, that is an Abe Lincoln-themed Lincoln Mark VIII and it’s an underrated (and somehow underused) theme. On paper, a 280-horsepower twin-cam V8 should blow away Lemons races, right?
Well, the team maybe had some cheap all-season tires under the 3,800-pound luxury beast. And the transmission always seemed permanently stuck between gears. As a result, the Lincoln was among the 10 slowest cars for the whole weekend, but it managed to finish a totally badass 51st place, which was well into the top half of the huge Gingerman field. Well done!
The 24 Hours of Lemons is back in action with another two-race weekend that also marks Lemons’ 200th race(s): the Get Yer Phil 500 at High Plains Raceway (Colorado) and Halloween Hooptiefest at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. Check Lemons’ Facebook and Instagram accounts for updates throughout the weekend, then check back here next week for the full stories from those two races.