The 24 Hours of LeMons road-racing series has been putting on the Arse Freeze-a-Palooza December-in-California race since way back in 2007, and the 2016 Arse Freeze was bigger and less butt-chilling than all of its predecessors. The battle for the overall win on laps came down to a matter of seconds, the car repairs showed exceptional paddock ingenuity, and vehicles from every decade from the 1950s through the 2000s competed. Here’s how the weekend at Sonoma Raceway went.
With 183 entries of wildly varying performance levels, the traffic on the challenging Sears Point course made threading through traffic exhausting for the drivers on the quickest teams. The hardest-to-beat team in all of LeMons racing, Cerveza Racing and their BMW 533i, suffered a rear-suspension metal-fatigue failure early on Saturday and got knocked out of contention, and the chase for the Class A trophy settled into an amazingly tight three-way combat between Eyesore Racing and their “Ghettocharged” Mazda Miata, Sour Aviation Racing and their “Southworst Airlines” Mustang, and Team Blowe’s and their Mitsubishi Eclipse. The Mustang was the quickest, the Eclipse could go the longest on a tank of fuel, and the Miata had the craftiest and most experienced LeMons team we’ve ever seen.
The Sour Aviation ’89 Mustang has been tantalizingly close to a win in numerous California LeMons races over the years, but a late-innings black flag or minor mechanical failure usually cost them a crucial lap or two. This time, everything was going well for the Ford drivers, who got a big break when the Eclipse suffered a typically Mitsubishian wheel bearing/hub/axle failure. With each team’s best driver behind the wheel and favorable traffic conditions, Sour Aviation could gain about a second per lap on Eyesore Racing.
The Eyesore Racing Miata (complete build story here) was on its 41st LeMons race, the most of any car in the series. This car got stuffed into another Miata at this track a year ago, and it appeared to be destroyed forever, but the team— captained by Mazda engineer Dave Coleman— grafted the entire front half of a slightly less wrecked Miata onto their mangled chassis and returned the car to racing.
Eyesore Racing has been taking overall LeMons wins with this car since the Reno-Fernley 2009 race. In recent years, however, the Eyesores’ lack of a big fuel cell (LeMons rules permit fuel capacity up to 24 gallons) has become a major handicap; with just over 10 usable gallons in their factory gas tank, they must make one more fuel stop than most other fast teams. And, as is often the case, after 925 miles of racing the whole contest came down to less than a lap and a few pints of gasoline.
The Sour Aviation Mustang has a dyno-proven 246 horsepower, which means their engine isn’t as thirsty as some lumpy-cam monster, but it’s still a 5-liter V8 versus a 1.6-liter four-cylinder. With about 90 minutes to go, Eyesore did a fuel stop and driver change, putting Coleman in the car for the final stint of the race. At that point, Eyesore was about a lap ahead of Sour Aviation… but the Mustang had their ace wheelman, John Griggs, at the controls and slicing through traffic, in the words of an awed Eyesore driver, “like an animal.”
We’ve won a race or two in the past, and most of the time it’s just clean consistent driving resulting in an anticlimax of inevitability. This race was different. We were racing hard from the start and we’re tangled up with Blowes and Southworst for most of the race. The last two hours were some of the most intense driving we’ve ever done. Southworst was less than a minute behind us and turning in consistent 2:00 laps. If we did anything less than the fastest laps our car could do, they would catch us. If we got a black flag, they would catch us. If we had bad luck with yellow flag traffic, they would catch us. If we made the slightest mistake, they would catch us.
When you push a race car as hard as Griggs was pushing the Sour Aviation Mustang, fuel consumption goes up. With ten minutes remaining before the checkered flag, the Ford ran out of fuel and had to pit for a quick splash of gas. When it was all over, Eyesore Racing had the win by a single lap, wrapping up one of the most exciting last couple of hours we have seen in a LeMons race.
The chase for the Class B trophy wasn’t quite as tight, with the Dying Lizard Racing Porsche 924 beating the Dirty Duck Racing Volkswagen Rabbit by 12 laps. This car has a loose, squishy suspension but the drivers managed to make it go pretty well.
The Team Westafari Volkswagen Vanagon Westfalia, run by a squad of GoWesty Vanagon experts, has been racing in LeMons for years now, and this time they managed to pull off a big 36-lap Class C win over the Faster Farms Racing 1966 Plymouth Belvedere sedan. We’ve got the complete story for you right here.
The Porsche 928 sold new for gigantic price tags back in the 1970s and 1980s, but rough-looking ones have depreciated to scrap value or worse by now. These cars are fast but complicated, so Default Racing opted to remove the high-tech (for 1979) Porsche V8 and replace it with a primitive (for 1960) small-block Chevrolet V8 engine. As part of this process, the rear-mounted Porsche transaxle became a front-mounted T-5 transmission with Ford MN12 differential in back.
In order to mate the Thunderbird differential with the Porsche wheel hub assemblies, Default Racing fabricated some
horrifyingly janky innovative axle shafts, made by welding pieces of Porsche and Ford axles together. To nobody’s surprise, one of these axles broke into several pieces on the track. The team was ready to run back to their shop and make a new part, but they were fresh out of Porsche axles. What to do? Why, wait until the end of Saturday’s race session, walk out onto the pitch-dark Sears Point track around Turn 7 (where the axle failed) and poke around in the weeds with flashlights and find the busted pieces, then weld the Porsche end to another Ford axle half, that’s what!
The new shaft was even less straight than the original one, resulting in terrible vibration at speeds over 10 mph. Then the front suspension collapsed, and the wiring harness caught on fire, and some other bad things happened, but we thought the axle fix was so good that we awarded the Most Heroic Fix trophy to Default Racing.
The Bunny With or Without a Pancake On Its Head 1983 Volkswagen Rabbit made its LeMons debut in 2009, at the Goin’ For Broken race at Reno-Fernley Raceway. The team is affiliated with Tomas Sport Tuning, and so this car has been quick since the very beginning.
Volkswagens tend to be very fragile in this kind of racing, and the Bunny kept almost winning races, only to be sidelined by a blown transmission or failed wheel hub, usually just before the checkered flag.
At the 2016 Arse Freeze, one of the team’s drivers got tangled up with a 280Z and stuffed the Bunny into a concrete wall. The driver was fine, but the car was bent beyond repair. For being denied a future chance to win a race with this car, we awarded the I Got Screwed trophy to the Bunny With or Without a Pancake On its Head team.
Every race, we bring a blank trophy to use as a specific-to-the-event award, to be given based on the events of the weekend. This time, we gave a very appropriate-to-the-Bay-Area award to Flipped or Flop Racing (aka Spank Worthington and his dog, Spot): the Bringing California Property Values Down to Earth trophy. The team ran this home-improvement-themed 1986 Hyundai Excel, but the award wasn’t as much for the car as for the team’s pit space.
The team brought along sufficient wood, cabinetry, carpeting, furniture, and appliances to build a complete house in their garage space at the track, and it was startlingly nice inside (if you ignored the BMW getting wrenched on several feet away). On Friday night, the team hosted an Ugly Christmas Sweater party, which was a big hit.
During the race, miscreant drivers on their team’s third daily black flag were forced to sit in the Flipped or Flop living room and watch Old Yeller. On VHS tape. In its entirety.
The 1961 Rambler Classic of Panting Polar Bear Racing had quite a season in 2016. It was handed off from team to team around the country during the year, mostly driven between venues, eventually entering races (or at least showing up) at LeMons events in Arizona, Texas, Michigan, South Carolina, New Jersey, Colorado, California, back to South Carolina, Michigan again, Texas again, and then back to its home state of California for the season-ender.
As we learned with the Worst Car In LeMons History in 2013, when different crews take over a car at successive races, they go back to zero when it comes to figuring out all the idiosyncrasies of the car, and the challenge was even greater after the Rambler got an ambitious drivetrain swap (Ford Pinto 2300 and T-5 transmission) and suspension upgrade (Mustang II in the front, MN12 Ford in the rear). All this taken into account, the Rambler performed very well during the 2016 season, finishing in the top half of the standings at three out of the nine races in which it competed.
Through all those races, the Rambler never won a single 2016 trophy (though it did win the top prize, the Index of Effluency, at the 2014 Sears Pointless race). To honor the accomplishments of all the racers who cared for and raced this car during 2016, the justices of the LeMons Supreme Court awarded the Rambler (and all its enablers) the Judges’ Choice award.
Three years ago, the Pit Crew Revenge 1987 Mazda B2600 pickup showed up to the 2013 Arse Freeze with duallie wheels and a camper shell, and won the Organizer’s Choice award for that race.
Get ready for the Retreat From Moscow LeMons Rally next month, followed immediately by the Alabama race. In the meantime, check on the Roadkill home of the 24 Hours of LeMons for all your LeMons news and features.