A full six years after the 24 Hours of LeMons last raced in Arizona, we headed to Inde Motorsports Ranch near Tucson last weekend and put on the Arizona D-Bags 24 Hours of LeMons. We saw perhaps the highest-ever per-capita concentration of effluent Class C machinery at this race, which means it ranks up there as one of the all-time great LeMons events. Here’s what we saw and did.
This race kicked off the “Ramble On Forward” program, in which the Panting Polar Bear 1961 Rambler Classic will be passed from team to team around the country, being driven— not towed— between venues. This plan worked
disastrously well with the K-It-FWD 1986 Plymouth Reliant-K wagon race car, which consumed seven engines and racked up more than 30,000 miles during the 2013 season, and now the Race Rambler— 196-cubic-inch Nash six, three-on-the-tree manual transmission, faded pink paint, and all— will embark on a similar journey.
So, East Coast racers Sasha Rashev and Troy Frew flew out to the San Francisco Bay Area and picked up the Rambler, then began their journey of 1,000 or so miles to southeastern Arizona. After 55 years, who-knows-how-many street miles, and four grueling LeMons races, the Rambler was a little tired, but Sasha and Troy only had to put in a few (or maybe a dozen) hours of wrenching to complete the trip. Along the way, they stopped at the Tucson airport to pick up the stranded Judge Steve McDaniel, giving him a very un-luxurious drive to the track hotel.
After the race, Troy and Sasha headed east, to drop the car off for the next team, who will be racing the Rambler in the North Dallas Hooptie next month.
Unfortunately (though not unexpectedly), the Rambler’s engine lost oil pressure just over the Texas border, stranding them near the Mecca Cafe. We’re not sure what happened next, but we know the Texas LeMons Mafia will rescue the Rambler and have it in running condition in time for the Dallas race.
Most of the Class C cars pitted in the same corner of the paddock, no doubt nearest the sharpest cacti and angriest rattlesnakes, and sounds of engine hoists clattering and duct tape unrolling never ceased. The competitors for LeMons racing’s most important class came from California, Arizona, Washington, Utah, and Texas; here we see the notorious stitched-together Austin ADO16 of the United America Wrenchers getting one of its two engine swaps of the weekend.
The winners of Class C, however, pitted far away from the neighborhood containing such cars as the Triumph of Thatcherism MG Metro and the Nine Finger Drifters ’80 Corolla wagon. Meet the 1961 Ford Anglia of Stick Figure Racing, winner of Class C by an impressive 12 laps over the Le Citron 1977 Pontiac LeMans.
The members of Salt Lake City-based Stick Figure Racing started out as good fabricators, and they got even better after they built a pair of twin-engined, all-wheel-drive Toyotas. The Anglia made its LeMons debut with a 130-horsepower Zetec engine out of a late-1990s Escort under the hood, converted to rear-wheel-drive using some sort of marine-engine adapter plate.
The team had an “angler” theme, complete with custom Rat Fink-style graphics.
Nearly every time a team shows up with an engine swap this radical, the car spends most of its first race in many pieces, as unforeseen design flaws are sorted out and weak points are repaired. This was not the case with the Stick Figure Racing Anglia, which still has much of its original suspension and was described by one of its drivers as “a wobbly missile.” The car ran well all weekend, requiring only a few minor fixes.
The Class B trophy went home with the members of Oktoberfest Racing, who have been trying for a class win with their battered and beer-tap-equipped BMW 2002 since 2010. This time, everything went right for this team, and they beat the Team Black Bird Camaro by five laps. Congratulations, Oktoberfest Racing!
The Class A and overall win was achieved by the drivers of the Turrible T and Pinto Bean Bandits Ford Model T GT. This car, which is essentially a Mustang chassis with a Model A/Model T-mashup body replicating the Ak Miller Caballo de Hierro Carrera Panamericana car, cruised to a 19-lap margin of victory after its competitors— which spent much of Saturday on the same lap as the T— got sidelined by mechanical maladies.
One of those competitors was the Super Trooper 1978 Mercury Zephyr, which has been getting quicker every race for years now. The Super Troopers were really sweating the Model T GT drivers, but then a catastrophic differential failure took them out of the running.
Some contending teams would have packed up and gone home right meow at that point, but the Super Troopers are serious racers and headed straight to the sketchiest junkyard they could find, where they fortified themselves with maple syrup and yanked a Mustang rear end using (to hear them tell it) nothing but big rocks and tree branches as tools. They got their car buttoned up in time to catch the green flag on Sunday morning… and then got collected by a spinning Toyota MR2 and got their oil cooler torn off the car.
Running to the junkyard at closing time and scoring a major component even when the yard manager won’t let you use proper tools is the kind of thing that gets you a Most Heroic Fix trophy, but the Super Troopers’ accomplishment was eclipsed by the As Seen On TV Racing crew. Their 2003 Kia Rio launched a connecting rod out of the block (sending a shard of engine block through the radiator in the process), around the same time on Saturday as the Super Troopers were nuking their differential. Go home? Hell no!
As you might imagine, 2000s Kias are plentiful in junkyards, but that means that they are also plentiful on Craigslist with bargain-level price tags. Instead of pulling an engine of questionable condition at the junkyard, why not buy an entire running parts car? The As Seen on TV guys found a Rio in Phoenix for a few hundred bucks, bought it, and drove it back to the track.
While they were at it, they yanked all the rest of the useful mechanical parts plus all the bumpers, doors, and body panels, for use in later races. The gutted shell was then dragged to the nearest junkyard that would give the team a few bucks for it.
The donor car’s bumpers came with some great stickers, perfect for a LeMons car. Sadly, the new engine exploded late on Sunday, but now the team has a big stash of useful parts for the Thunderhill race in May. All of this resourcefulness gained As Seen On TV Racing and their Chia Pet-themed Kia a well-earned Heroic Fix award.
One of the teams that had the pressure on the Model T GT drivers early in the going was Too Stupid To Know Better and their 1989 Volvo 740 Turbo wagon. This car is quick and its drivers are skilled, as they proved by getting the most laps at the 2014 Utah race, but various mechanical problems knocked the car out of contention this time.
Being nice guys, the Too Stupid To Know Better drivers offered to let the justices of the 24 Hours of LeMons Supreme Court take their car out on the track for the last couple of hours of the race. There’s a reason that the judges often say “do as I say, not as I do” to miscreant racers being chastised in the penalty box, and Judge Steve proved it by failing to use his psychic powers to predict that a driver would panic-brake in front of the fast cars on the long straight during the final lap of the weekend. Boom!
He knocked the race winner into the wall, tearing off its vanity plate, and bending up the front bodywork on the Volvo. Nobody was hurt and some junkyard will provide fresh Volvo 740 fenders, but this episode ensured both a future of crashy-Swede jokes for Judge Steve and an I Got Screwed trophy for Too Stupid To Know Better.
Speaking of the LeMons Supreme Court, the just and fair judges selected the Todd’s Last Days team to receive their extremely prestigious Judges’ Choice trophy. These Marylanders learned about the 24 Hours of LeMons about a day before the entry deadline for this race and decided that the best possible bachelor party for about-to-be-married Todd would involve towing a Honda CRX 2,300 miles and then racing it in the desert. Which they did, and had a much better time than guys who have strippers-and-barf bachelor parties in Vegas or preparing-for-somnolent-middle-age bachelor ennui at the golf course.
For our race-specific, created-for-the-occasion award, we honored Leo the Safety Guy with the Heroic Catch trophy. Leo, who is in charge of safety at Inde Motorsports Ranch, noticed that the Eyesore Racing ghettocharged Miata had a serious coolant leak from their engine a few minutes before the green flag on Sunday, giving the Eyesores— the winningest team in LeMons history, in P2 at that moment— a chance to fix the problem without missing a single lap. Thanks, Leo!
The Organizer’s Choice award is a tough one to win, going to teams that build the most spectacular cars we’ve ever seen. This race, a rookie team showed up and knocked everybody out on their first-ever LeMons race, by turning a boring BMW E36 3-series into this incredible garbage truck.
Team Totaled— so named because their car was LeMons-priced due to an unfortunate dumpster-crash incident— started the weekend with a big advantage in the Organizer’s Choice race, by creating this all-steel garbage truck out of a slushbox-enhanced BMW.
Not satisfied with just racing a Waste Management Sanitation Vehicle, the Totaled guys went above and beyond with their theme over the course of the weekend. When they showed up to the car inspections on Friday, they had all their race gear in trash bags in the back of their “truck.” On Saturday night, they drove around the paddock picking up trash and depositing it in their racer. On Sunday, they brought a wagon full of beer and supplied everyone with cold beverages during the awards ceremony. A most well-deserved Organizer’s Choice, we say.
Ever since the earliest days of the series, we have been asking— pleading, really— for a team to race a first-generation Hyundai Excel. Yes, the only 1980s car that may have been even worse than the wretched Yugo GV, and no team had the guts to bring one. That is, until Certified LeMons Madman Mike “Spank” Spangler managed to find one of the few early Excels that didn’t get scrapped by the early 1990s.
Spank showed up dressed as a Southern California Excel owner, circa 1989, complete with scary mullet and creepy polo shirt. Accompanying him was South Korean strongman Syngman Rhee and a color guard with South Korean flag. The pride of South Korea!
Since the early Excel ran an engine that was a license-built copy of the Mitsubishi Orion, the team acquired this bargain-priced Plymouth Colt with, theoretically, the same engine as the Excel. That meant that the team had a slim-but-not-nonexistent chance of doing a bolt-in motor swap if the Excel’s 68-horse powerplant dissolved like overcooked kimchi.
The Excel ran like crap, and it suffered from an encyclopedia of mechanical, electrical, and spiritual ailments over the course of the weekend. The engine overheated every few laps, the top speed down the main straight was precisely 62 mph, and the thing sounded like an oil drum full of sick rats being dragged through the Blue Pond at the Porta-Potty facility. On the plus side, the majority of its snow tires did not suffer from blowouts.
It was the slowest car in the entire 54-vehicle field, and it was consuming four quarts of water and four quarts of oil per hour by the end of the weekend, but it kept returning to the track after each repair and accomplished the miraculous— for an Excel— feat of turning 299 laps by the time the checkered flag waved on Sunday. It finished in 47th place overall, beating seven much-less-terrible competitors in the process, and for this we awarded Team Aigo! Eojjeoji?? the top prize of LeMons racing, the Index of Effluency.