24 Hours of Lemons NorCal: The Winners and More from Thunderhill!

In mid-May, the 24 Hours of Lemons rolled its hooptie circus up to the track the series has continuously visited longest, Thunderhill Raceway Park, for Vodden the Hell Are We Doing (named for Thunderhill track president David Vodden), Devilishly Presented by Yokohama Tires. In the years since the first visit in December 2007, Lemons has seen weather from scorching triple digits to frozen mornings. This time around, the weather remained remarkably wonderful—80 degrees and sunny—and the long five-mile track configuration produced lots of racing room and some of the closest racing ever seen in Lemons.

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Before we get to the close racing and award winners, however, let’s cover some of the more noteworthy performances worthy of an honorable mention in the race recap.

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Last year saw the first miserable attempt at racing a Nash Metropolitan by Cheesybeard Racing. The British Motor Corporation-built Nash uses mostly Austin parts, so the Nash should be a relatively simple machine, in theory. However, the Nash’s debut at Thunderhill in 2017 amounted to a handful of tows into the paddock without finishing a lap.

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This time around, the British Leyland B-Series engine ran fine, but the team found a myriad of brake problems related to the proximity of the master cylinder to the exhaust. Or witches in the drum shoes casting a vex on the car. Possibly both.

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Eventually, the Cheesybeard crew vanquished the brake demons and churned out 33 incredibly slow laps on hilariously tiny 145/60R13 tires. That fell a little short of what organizers figured would earn Lemons’ top prize, the Index of Effluency. However, the Nash’s (lack of) performance is worth noting any time Cheesybeard Racing puts it on the track.

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Strangely, engine-swapped Volkswagen Vanagons have become almost common in Lemons. Then again, the West Coast is full of the rear-engined vans, which have a surprisingly low center of gravity. While Team Westafari have gone and turned their Vanagon into an off-road machine, both the Zitronen Kommando (front) and Gluten Freaks utterly flog the crap out of their turbo-swap Vanagons with Subaru WRX and Volkswagen 1.8-liter engines, respectively.

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Team Valiant Effort and their 1963 Plymouth Valiant were only quicker than the Nash and while Lemons ordinarily would have considered them for the vaunted IOE, they blew up their supposedly indestructible Slant Six engine Sunday morning.

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Still, with Towel Day coming up the Friday after the race, Lemons organizers appreciated the little Mopar’s message from the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy at Thunderhill.

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If the numbers we’ve seen are right, Eyesore Racing’s turbocharged “Frankenmiata” has now run something like 43 Lemons races (plus a couple more in other series). After many themes, the team of Southern California engineers made it a “Craparral” with a gigantic wing whose endplates were crafted from leftover cabinet-remodeling material. The team estimates the wing adds 300 pounds of downforce at 100 miles per hour, which was enough to break most of the support pieces at the previous race. They fixed all of that, but seconds after passing the P1 and P2 cars in the same corner at once, the turbo Miata engine blew itself up.

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No bother, Eyesore said, because a team member regularly runs his caged Miata track-day car on Friday test days at Lemons. They updated a couple things overnight Saturday and raced without turbocharging for the first time in more than decade.

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Of course, Yokohama Tire was on hand for the race that bears their name. They mounted tires and handed out something like seven sets of tires for racers to use during the race weekend.

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In addition, Yokohama brought their BMW E30 Convertible Lemons car along with a driver crew comprised largely from Hoonigan Industries. You can see that episode right here.

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In addition, Yokohama handed out five sets of tires at the awards ceremony. One set went to the Too Stupid to Know Better Volvo 740, whose owner Matt Wirth offered Yokohama’s motorsports marketing director Drew Dayton some seat time once the tire company BMW was blown up.

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In addition, the Safety Third Racing: Kim-Jong Elantra team scored a set of Yokohama boots for participating in the Lemons version of the Royal Wedding and for generally having a great attitude all weekend.

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The team  from UnHinged also took home tires for driving as cleanly as (almost) anyone with their bone-stock, automatic-transmission BMW E36. They were certainly not fast and when they made one rare misstep, they brought the Lemons staff beef tri-tip sandwiches. Forgiveness starts with good food; those are words to live by.

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We’ll get to the fifth set of tires momentarily, but the Alameda-based team who field the Dutch Rudder Racing Merkur XR4Ti remain some of the most entertaining and lighthearted dudes in Lemons. That’s pretty infectious, although they’ve since retired the Evel Knievel jumpsuits that became utterly filthy after about six straight races of wrenching continuously on the V8-swapped Euro-Ford.

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Overall Winners: #2 Cerveza Racing, BMW E28
Cerveza captured the 5-Series BMW’s 12th win, the most of any team, but they probably fought harder for this one than any of the 11 that came before. For much of the race’s last hour, the Cerveza driver had to fight off the turbocharged Nemo Money Mazda Miata with the lead across the start-finish line down to a 0.1 second at one point with both cars running their fastest laps of the weekend nose to tail.

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A lucky break with slower traffic and an opportune yellow flag let Cerveza stretch that to 50 seconds by the end and cruise the last five-mile circuit of Thunderhill to the checkered flag.

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Second Place – Nemo Money, Mazda Miata
As for Nemo Money, they owned a one-lap lead late in the race but one black flag cost them just enough time to come out behind Cerveza. Either way, both drivers demonstrated some of the fiercest, closest, and cleanest racing we’ve ever seen in Lemons, which earned the Nemo car a set of Yokohama tires as a consolation prize.

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Third Place – Sour Aviation, Ford Mustang
We don’t usually mention third-place finishers, but Sour Aviation’s Fox Body Mustang is one of the Lemons’ perennial bridesmaids. Their P3 result gives them six total finishes in second or third place without a win.

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Class B Winner – #210 Pink Panzer, Mercedes-Benz E430
Ever since they showed up to their first Lemons race in 2016, the Pink Panzer squad have been unable to tame their high-powered depreciation machine. Despite their time as Mercedes mechanics, they also found plenty of befuddling mysteries, as you’d expect in a car bought for $500 that once cost roughly the GDP of some small countries. After a half-dozen races, however, they managed to keep things (mostly) clean and unbroken, taking the win in Lemons’ middle class. Not all class wins merit automatic class promotions, but we can pretty safely assume this big ol’ Merc is headed to the fastest class, Class A, next.

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Class C Winner – #805 Jackalope Jockeys, Volkswagen Rabbit
For most of the weekend, the Jackalope car and its sturdy eight-foot-tall jockey lingered as the third-place car behind the Porsche Honkeys Chevy-swapped Porsche 944 and the Restart Racing Ford Ranger. However, the Ranger (again) fell by the wayside with assorted mechanical woes and the Porschevy’s nose-heavy swap waylaid that car’s brakes. When the dust settled, the Jackalopes, one of the friendliest teams in the paddock, emerged at last with a Class C victory in the car’s 12th race.

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Heroic Fix – #580 Meme Machine, Honda Civic
This could easily have been renamed the “You Guys Really Suck At Cheating” Trophy because these first-timers turned up with a Honda Civic filled to the gills with cheaty parts: shiny adjustable coilover suspension, big brakes (Budget-exempt items but usually set off the “Hey, look closer at everything else button”), and the 170-horsepower Acura Integra GS-R engine. And it all went wrong pretty quickly.

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Having heard Honda horror stories from Lemons, the team had opted to replace the head gasket on the B18C1 engine before the race. Unfortunately, when they needed to tighten the cam caps, one of the team grabbed a foot-pound torque wrench instead of one in inch-pounds, as was needed.

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The way-too-tight cam caps ground the bejesus out of the cam and turned one of them 180 degrees in the wrong direction before all of it seized up. Somehow, none of the valves bent into pretzels, but everything else was right knackered.

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The team had to go grab a lowly B18A cylinder they had in reserve, although that meant swapping out manifolds, wiring, and a few dozen other things to make it run. Once they had it running, unfortunately, the big brakes had all kinds of balance problems and the car was boiling the fluid within a single lap. So the team would drive a lap, bring it in to cool down, and repeat.

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When at last they fixed the brakes reasonably well, they got clobbered by a Subaru with brake failure. That impact bent some of the subframe, but it turns out that one of the Civic drivers works for a Subaru tuning shop on the opposite end of California from the Subaru specialists who built the the car that had hit them. Somehow, the two cheat-packed tuner cars collided into some kind of business-to-business opportunity in the most unexpected outcome ever. For their general sticktoitiveness (even with the wounds mostly self-inflicted), the Meme Machine squad took home Heroic Fix at their inaugural Lemons race.

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I Got Screwed – Speedchimp Racing, Rotary-Swapped Porsche 914
Lemons organizers have been infatuated with this tiny Mazda 787b replica since it first turned up in 2015. It’s kind of run well a couple times but has usually been a bit challenging for the Speedchimp team.

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Since it’s hard to tell at a glance, the car started out its life as a Porsche 914 and has since had a Mazda 12A rotary engine installed to replace the original Porsche air-cooled engine. It’s a great idea in theory.

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Unfortunately, the car had a myriad of engine woes that ultimately turned one of the engine’s two rotors into a very expensive and inefficient water pump. The Speedchimp crew, who had towed the car to Northern California from Seattle, were left with just four laps and a finish in Dead Effing Last place. Screwed!

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We’ve Been Doing This Wrong the Whole Time Trophy – B-Team Racing “Chotus”
The event-specific award at Thunderhill went to our old pals from B-Team Racing with their Small-Block Chevy-swapped Lotus Elite, known of course as the Chotus. The team thought they’d ironed out all the wrinkles of this complicated mess of a car a couple years ago, but a recent rash of bizarre failures had plagued the car. In particular, a broken differential had knocked them from their last race, so they had taken both the Jaguar differential unit and its backup to a professional builder so they wouldn’t have to spend money on it again.

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Guess which part broke.

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But hope springs eternal, for while the Chotus was sidelined with a busted diff, the Aqua Volvo team (who weren’t racing) brought their Volvo 242 to the track as an emergency rental. With their weekend already in the crapper (despite a Royal Wedding appearance), the B-Team plunked down the money for some seat time with a 100-horsepower, naturally aspirated Swedish brick.

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And you know what? They had a hell of a good time spanking that Volvo up and down the track. It was simple and good fun to toss around, unlike the hellacious work of a big American V8 in a flimsy fiberglass British car. While we’re sure to see them banging their heads against the Chotus again, we’re certain they questioned why they weren’t racing Lemons’ most reliable car.

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Judges Choice – Super Troop, Mercury Zephyr
The Super Troop guys earned something of a lifetime-achievement-style nomination for Judges Choice at this race. They’re seldom seen without smiles anywhere and spend most of the post-racing minutes socializing in the paddock and spreading goodwill.

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With the release of the new Super Troopers movie, which the Lemons team crowdfunded enough to have a custom video from the film cast, the Super Troop were meow as relevant as they’d ever been. And while their Malaise Era Mercury appears to be falling apart at the seams, it’s still one of the most improbably quick four-door road racers we’ve ever seen.

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Organizers Choice – Team Zoo, Porsche 944
In a race that was, unfortunately, lacking in great thematic costumes–aside from a handful of decent-to-good ones–these rookies with a Porsche 944 showed up with a literal zoo of ridiculous inflatable animal costumes. Unfortunately, none of them could fit in the car during tech inspection without deflating the costumes, but thankfully the delay wasn’t too long.

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Nevertheless, they showed up with a fairly mediocre car, good bribes (including enormous bundles of Canadian Tire Money from the team’s Ontario natives), great costumes, and excellent attitudes. All of that added up to a shining beacon of first-timer glory that was only exceeded by…

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Index of Effluency – Run-CRV, Honda CRV
Yes, rookie teams, if you want to endear yourself to organizers you can either dress in silly costumes with a fairly boring car or you can bring grandma’s 260,000-mile small SUV almost exactly as she’d driven it for years. Onlookers during BS Inspection commented that the column-shifted automatic would be the car’s downfall.

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The team had gutted the interior, added all the required safety equipment, and got two new front tires to go with the mismatched pair in the rears. The only upgrade done to the entire car had been a better head unit for the stereo. Priorities: Run-CRV’s got ‘em.

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As one might imagine, the CRV was anything but fast. It finished with the 114th-quickest lap (of 121 teams), but the little Honda just ran like a train all weekend. When all was said and done, they finished 58th place in the top half of the field ahead of countless BMWs, Porsches, Mustangs, and Miatas. If that doesn’t say “effluent,” then we don’t know what does.

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The 24 Hours of Lemons returns to wrenchin’ and racin’ June 8-10 at High Plains Raceway in Deer Trail, Colorado. You can get updates on Lemons via the series’ Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter pages. Be sure to subscribe to Lemons’ YouTube channel for video recaps, #LemonsWorld videos, and more.

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