High Plains Raceway is an excellent racing facility, located in eastern Colorado approximately a million miles from civilization; the nearest town was the first in the country to issue hunting licenses for drones. We have been running the aptly-named B.F.E. GP every summer since back in 2010, and this event always stands out for the deep— some might say maniacal— devotion of the racers and their willingness to fabricate crazy stuff to put on the race track. The 2016 event saw Honda’s greatest LeMons triumph so far, a ’60 Studebaker racing a ’61 Rambler, junkyard supercharging, and a wedding. Here’s what happened.
We have had hundreds of cars made by Honda compete in the 24 Hours of LeMons, and we have learned that an Integra or Civic or Prelude can be very quick in the hands of a good driver. At the same time, we have learned that Honda four-cylinder engines are extremely fragile in our type of racing. For every Honda that finishes way up high in the standings at a LeMons race, you can bet on seeing a half-dozen more that spent most of the weekend on jack-stands, surrounded by broken parts and worried team members. Not at the 2016 B.F.E. GP, though— the P1, P2, P3, and P5 spots in the standings were held by Integras and Preludes when the final checkered flag waved on Sunday.
Taking the overall and Class A wins, Dropped Packet Racing and their 1991 Acura Integra came back from a second-to-DFL finish at the 2015 B.F.E. GP to beat the Car Wars R2-D2uned 1992 Integra by five laps at the 2016 race.
We’re not done with the LeMons firsts yet! Dropped Packet Racing brought a Class B 1986 Toyota MR2 in addition to their Class A Integra, and that MR2 took the class win by less than a lap over The Farmers and their 2002 Hyundai Accent. After 155 24 Hours of LeMons races, this is the first time that one team has taken home two class wins from the same race. The team donated some of their prize money to the Lemons of Love charity and the rest as a wedding gift to the racers who got married at the track (more on that later), and everyone was very happy.
However, the once-soaring spirits of the Dropped Packets drivers came plummeting back to earth on the drive home after the race, when they noticed smoke pouring out of their car trailer. For reasons not yet understood, the battery in the Integra caught on fire, destroyed the car, and damaged their once-nice trailer. Anybody have an extra DA Integra shell they can spare for these guys?
The Salty Thunder Racing guys have been bringing their Pontiac Fiero to LeMons races for a couple of years now, and their race weekends typically involve doing pretty well in Class C for a while and then killing yet another 2.8 V6 engine. This time, they showed up for the inspections with a vaguely Trump-esque protest theme.
Speaking of good team themes, Sordik Racing and their Renault R5 Turbo replica (actually a 1981 Renault Le Car that was buried in silt during the 2013 Colorado floods, with an early-80s fiberglass body kit and 190-horsepower Infiniti I30 engine mounted amidships) did this excellent Icy Hot Sploda’z theme.
The official LeMons rules have a “No Stuntin’ and No Splodin'” section, prohibiting motorized vehicles after the track goes cold and fireworks at all times, and so the Icy Hot Sploda’z used that as inspiration to become an updated version of the early-2000s-meme Icy Hot Stunta’z. The Renault had a good race weekend, breaking few parts, staying out of the penalty box (mostly), and finishing just a lap behind the Salty Thunder Fiero.
Some teams didn’t do such a great job of avoiding the penalty box, however, and those who broke the rules too many times found their cars impounded Colorado-style, with a genuine Denver Boot.
Which, of course, led to us issuing a special trophy to the first-time LeMons racers on The Blues Brothers team: The Numbers-Matching Colorado Cop Car — You Will Respect My Authoritah Award, for racing a Mesa County Sheriff’s Ford Crown Victoria Police Interceptor and generally staying out of trouble.
Hooptilee does not mandate a dragging tailpipe, but this feature is encouraged (the 24 Hours of LeMons, however, frowns on dragging parts on the race track, so this pipe had to be removed before the race began).
That Checker is a 1978 model, but the Marathon debuted for the 1961 model year and didn’t change much throughout its production run. Also helping to keep the ’16 B.F.E. GP properly stocked with early-1960s American off-brand boxy sedans was the Premature Combustion 1960 Studebaker Lark, winner of the prestigious Index of Effluency award at the Utah LeMons race last year.
The Premature Combustion Lark featured this inspirational hand-painted South Bend Screaming Lark on the hood, and the team drove it to 31st place, beating all the early-1960s American off-brand boxy sedans in the field.
And that field wasn’t just the Checker and the Studebaker, because we also had the Race Rambler, a 1961 Rambler American sedan that is being handed off from team to team around the country. During the 2013 season, this was done with a 1986 Plymouth Reliant-K wagon, which provided ample adventures as it traveled 30,884 miles, competed (if that’s the right word) in 14 races, and consumed seven engines in the process.
The Race Rambler started in California, then drove under its own power— mostly— to races in Arizona, Texas (where it received a Ford Pinto 2300 engine to replace the expired Nash straight-six), Michigan, South Carolina, and New Jersey, before making the trek to Colorado. Now it’s back in California, having driven over two mountain ranges (with the usual numerous stops to fix broken stuff), preparing for the Arse-Sweat-a-Palooza race at Thunderhill Raceway next month.
For years, we have been pleading with LeMons teams to build a 6000 SUX replica, and the Down and Out Race Team turned their AMC Pacer into a semi-credible example.
That Pacer wasn’t the only 6000 SUX at this race. The Saab Story team made some modifications to their Saab 9000’s badging and came up with this. They also took home the I Got Screwed trophy, after a very typical weekend for racers of turbocharged Saabs in our series.
No problem, said the intrepid Saab Story guys (who, by this time, may be wishing they’d brought an Intrepid), and drove the 90 minutes to a Denver junkyard. Hooray, new engine! They installed the replacement motor… which promptly exploded, just like the first one, minutes after entering the race course. Screwed!
A team that was on course to win an incredibly hard-earned I Got Screwed award ended up salvaging a Most Heroic Fix trophy from their racing weekend instead. 3 Under Par, a Bavaria-centric team that brought a BMW 2002, a BMW E21 3-Series, and a BMW E30 3-Series, managed to break all three of their cars immediately after the green flag waved on Saturday morning.
The 2002 and E30 had blown head gaskets, while the E21 suffered from a characteristically (for old BMWs) undiagnosable fuel-system-or-maybe-it’s-ignition problem. All 13 team members pitched in to fix the cars, and eventually the 2002 received the transplant of a not-quite-as-blown used head gasket.
Unfortunately, the replacement head gasket didn’t work as well as the 3 Under Par guys had hoped, and the car began sputtering and slowing down… just in time for a tunnel-vision-afflicted Jetta driver to plow into it at a pretty good clip. Nobody was hurt, which is the important thing, but the 2002’s racing days were done.
Writers from Car and Driver have been competing in the 24 Hours of LeMons since the very first race in 2006, in large part because most of them once worked with LeMons Chief Perp and ex-automotive journalist Jay Lamm (or his automotive journalist dad). As we all know, car writers aren’t so great at this racing thing, and the Car and Driver guys and their Hell Kitty 1988 Honda Prelude established a reputation as perhaps the dive-bombingest, crashiest, most penalty-box clogging bunch in all the Midwest races.
Yes, no matter how many times the LeMons Supreme Court made these guys do the Review Your Race Car penalty (in which automotive-journalist miscreants must write a road-test review of their race car, in Sharpie on the decklid), they continued to cause us many headaches on the race track.
But then, at the Michigan race in April, something clicked and the Hell Kitty drivers started driving like endurance racers instead of car writers, dialing back the aggression from about 17/10ths to more like 7/10ths. Out of nowhere, they finished second overall!
At the B.F.E. GP, they were among the top contenders on Saturday when they got black-flagged for a brake-light malfunction. The Prelude has a little switch-actuating rubber bumper on the brake pedal arm, and it had fallen off. In true car-writer fashion, Don Sherman found a rock and attached it to the brake pedal arm with electrical tape. Fixed! Well, fixed for about half an hour, at least, at which point the rock fell off… and was replaced by a stack of pennies and electrical tape. The Car and Driver guys finished fifth, which any automotive-journalist racer can tell you is very impressive.
Hell Kitty Prelude pilot Tony Swan, one of the great elder statesmen of the car-writing profession and a big supporter of the 24 Hours of LeMons, used to make the justices of the LeMons Supreme Court tear out their hair with his red-misty racing style. This race he got exactly zero black flags, in one of the biggest improvements we’d ever seen from a veteran LeMons racer. For this, Tony and his team took home the Judges’ Choice trophy.
The Tetanus Racing team showed up with their Plymouth Neon themed as the Bridezilla Limo Service, complete with tuxedo-T-shirt-wearing limo drivers and California racer Sophie Aissen playing Bridezilla in full Meltdown Mode.
The following night, Sophie put on a much nicer wedding dress and got married for real, in a ceremony taking place at the track about a half-hour after the checkered flag. With Minister Jay Lamm officiating (a 24 Hours of LeMons wedding tradition), the distinctly un-Bridezillic Sophie was joined in matrimony to Anton Lovett, a much-beloved racer who has competed in more LeMons events than any human on the planet.
The Organizer’s Choice trophy was earned by Blue Falcon Racing and their brilliantly themed Geo Metro. This Denver-based bunch opted to create an homage to influential Denver artist Vance Kirkland.
The Blue Falcons selected the works of Kirkland’s Abstract Expressionist and later “Dot Paintings” of the artist’s 1950-1981 period for their car, and became quite adept at emulating the master’s dot-application style in the process.
Because the Blue Falcons had won the Class C prize at the Utah race last year, the LeMons Supreme Court authorized them to spend some money to make their car quick enough for Class B. Some teams might have improved their car’s suspension, but the Blue Falcons found the turbocharging hardware from a Canadian-market Pontiac Firefly and added some boost to their 1.0-liter, three-cylinder engine.
For the big prize of LeMons racing, the Index of Effluency, the Furious Four and their 1981 Toyota Celica went home victorious.
The ancient Celica was very worn-out and powered by a clattery truck-grade 22R engine, a powerplant well-suited for hauling a couple dozen Kalashnikov-wielding guerillas across the desert but not so great at staying alive under road-racing conditions. The Furious Four Toyota, however, ran all weekend long, finishing in 27th place and beating numerous BMWs, RX-7s, and MR2s. Congratulations, Furious Four!