The 24 Hours of LeMons series has been coming to Thunderhill Raceway Park in Northern California since the 2007 Arse Freeze-a-Palooza race, and we have become accustomed to weather extremes including stinging sleet and howling winds. This time, we got roasting temperatures to fry motors, cook brakes, and enervate drivers. Did that stop the racers from bringing great cars and competing hard in all classes? It did not.
Yes, 108° Fahrenheit at Thunderhill. Drivers and crew had to pound a bottle of water every few minutes or pass out from hyperthermia, car sheet metal was too hot to touch, and a simple trip to the junkyard became an expedition through the Sahara. You need to have a serious racing jones to do this, and 108 teams had what it takes to compete at the seventh annual— and very aptly named— Arse Sweat-a-Palooza.
The heat-related adventures started before the race even got underway. For example, the B-Team discovered that the tow vehicle for their BMW 3-Series had no air conditioning. Would they drive the two hours to the track with the windows open, sweating, like a bunch of Dust Bowl migrants on those same roads 75 years earlier? Of course not! They spent several hours rigging up their cool suit tanks and pumps in the truck, filled up with ice, and drove to Thunderhill in comfort… to discover that they had missed the tech inspection.
The commemorative BRIBED stencil, issued to teams that bring generous gifts to the wise and fair justices of the LeMons Supreme Court, featured the famous image of Northern California native Patricia Hearst striking a revolutionary pose. Here we see the Patty Hearst stencil as part of a triptych, alongside the stencils from recent Arizona and Washington races.
As always, some teams decided that a looks-good-on-paper engine swap would lead to full-on racing domination. The mad scientists on Uncle Joe’s Racing opted for a 256hp Toyota 1UZ-FE V8 out of a Lexus LS400, stuffed into the engine compartment of a 1983 Toyota Celica. That’s about a 250% power upgrade over the stock 22R engine that once lived there.
Uncle Joe’s Racing bolted the Lexus V8 to the stock Celica transmission using a janky adapter plate obtained cheaply from “some drifter kid in Novato,” and of course the team kept the stock rear end as well. How did all this work?
The car was quicker— just a few seconds off the lap times put down by the cars near the top of the standings, in fact— and sounded glorious on the track. However, the Celica’s differential became very unhappy, vaporizing its gear oil and making terrible noises while reaching temperatures close to 600°F (this photo shows the temp after cooling down for a while). Adding synthetic fluid helped with that problem, somewhat, but then the clutch disintegrated. 85th place out of 108 entries, but the team had fun while the car ran.
For much of the weekend, the pursuit of the overall win looked to be a two-car battle between previous race winners. The Eyesore Racing Miata (which features an innovative ghettocharging system) and the Too Stupid To Know Better Volvo 740 wagon (which once raced as a very convincing birthday cake) looked unstoppable… but then the Eyesores made a couple of car-prep errors and the Too Stupid To Know Better drivers got black-flagged for overaggressive driving.
You can’t make any mistakes when you have these guys behind you, though, and so the Cerveza Racing BMW E28 5-Series cruised to yet another LeMons win on laps, eventually taking the checkered flag with a big three-lap margin.
This is the tenth such victory for Cerveza Racing, making them the toughest team to beat in LeMons history. What’s their secret? Don’t make mistakes. They don’t get black flags because their drivers don’t take chances on iffy passes, they don’t break the car, and the team runs a flawlessly organized operation. Does that sound like a boring day at the office? It is boring, which is why you’ll have more fun chasing the Index of Effluency trophy!
There was a time when the LeMons Supreme Court placed most Toyota MR2s in Class A, because they are supposed to be well-balanced, reliable sports cars. However, we have learned that Toyotas mostly blow up in our series, and stock MR2s are slower than Neons and Crown Victorias on a road course. After years toiling in Class A, the Snowspeeder Pilots Association MR2 was placed back in Class B… and won it by a single lap over the automatic transmission-equipped EBDB Targeedee Eagle Talon.
Class C, the most important LeMons class, went to the Team EASY Porsche 908/14. This is a much-abused Porsche 914 with cool-looking body modifications and water-cooled Volkswagen Golf engine in the back.
Most races, the EASY Porsche spends most of the weekends on jackstands, surrounded by broken VAG parts and cheerful-but-exhausted crew members. This time, nothing broke and the 908/14 beat the V12-powered Fraidy Cat Racing Jaguar XJ12 by 24 laps.
Prior to Class C becoming a Porsche-versus-Jaguar conflict, the Bangers N Mash 1973 Jensen-Healey looked to be running away with the class for much of the first day. As so often happens with Jensen-Healeys in LeMons, though, the car broke something important and dropped out of the running.
The Door Slammers showed up to their first LeMons race earlier this year, running a Ford Ranger with V8 swap and giant rear fender flares. They had so much fun and had so many friends who wanted to join them that they decided to get a second car. Something fast and sporty.
How about a Subaru SVX as that car? Sure, it’s an overcomplex, fragile nightmare with hellishly difficult parts availability and no cheap manual-transmission option, but just look at it!
The wisdom of Internet Car Experts will inform potential SVX racers that the transmission is the car’s weak point, and that everything else will be fine. However, we’d seen a LeMons SVX before, and its transmission held together perfectly; it was the steering rack and electrical system that limited this car to a few laps per race back in the late 2000s. It wasn’t long before both Door Slammer vehicles were broken, the Ranger with a grenaded engine and the SVX with terrible overheating problems.
Novice LeMons racers tend to do a lot of magical thinking when their cars overheat on the track, and so the Door Slammers attempted to epoxy some of the larger leaks in their weirdly-shaped, absolutely unobtainium factory radiator. No dice.
Some teams would give up at this point, but the Door Slammers ran to Pick-n-Pull, found a big ol’ truck radiator, and started hacking at Subaru steel until it would fit. To get the plumbing to connect to the engine, several strange U-bends and about 50 hose clamps were deployed.
Did it work? Not really, but the team managed to get a half-dozen laps at a time before the temperature reached alarming levels. Did the supposedly glass-jawed transmission fail? Not at all. We liked the unwise car choices, willingness to fix stuff with parts on hand, and general attitude of the Door Slammers, and so we awarded them the Judges’ Choice trophy.
On Saturday morning, the dozen or so cars that the LeMons Supreme Court justices thought were most spectacular were allowed to line up first, with the green flag dropping on the Jackalope Jockeys Volkswagen. We call this the “I Love Pole” award, and it means that our favorite cars get to run in the top of the standings for at least one lap. Want your team’s fast car to get this advantage? Make it look as good as the cars you see lining up in this photo.
We have a long tradition of marriage proposals and weddings at LeMons races, and the ’16 Arse Sweat featured another future groom opting to pop the question to a teammate. He arranged to have his future fiancée black-flagged while she was driving the Pit Crew Revenge Subaru Outback, then whipped out the ring while she waited to receive her punishment from the judges.
The Race Rambler is a 1961 Rambler Classic that has been passed from team to team around the country this year, in the same manner that masochistic teams drove the worst car in LeMons— and possibly human— history around the country a few years ago. So far in 2016, it has appeared at LeMons races in Arizona, in Texas, in Michigan, in South Carolina, in Colorado, and now in its California homeland.
The Race Rambler drove under its own power between most of those places, and its handlers have endured too many mishaps to recount here along the way. Things break, they get fixed, more things break. This time, the Pinto engine under the hood (swapped in after the original Nash straight-six bit the dust in eastern New Mexico after the Arizona race) burned this notch between a couple of cylinders, taking the car out of the action early on Saturday. Hey, just find a parts-donor car and do a swap, right?
The Ramble On Forward crew packed up the tow vehicle and drove a few hours to the south, where they met up with a Craigslist seller and his “98 percent restored” 1974 Ford Pinto MPG. This seller refused to participate in any deal in which the number zero was used in any capacity, so counting the money was a difficult process.
Success! The Race Rambler went out and ran strongly. For this, the team won the Most Heroic Fix trophy. Another team bought the Pinto for use as a future race car, so it was a real feel-good story.
Somewhat more depressing was the tale of the I Got Screwed award for this race. During the road trip to the Bay Area that yielded the Rambler’s parts Pinto, the Vermont Bert One 240SX guys came along in the truck and bought a Craigslist engine to replace the one that threw a connecting rod 49 laps into the race. When the race ended, they were still busting their knuckles trying to get everything hooked up. Screwed!
The Bert One guys did show some real ingenuity while their first engine was still running, by using a silicone oven mitt from Walmart to solve their driver-shoe-melting problem.
Speaking of innovative problem-solving ability, the guys on the Empty Pockets Racing 1979 Mazda RX-7 had the clutch throwout bearing fail late on Saturday. They found that no parts store in the Pacific Time Zone had the correct parts, so they bought several throwout bearings from completely unrelated cars and began a night of grinding, welding, and fabricating.
The Striped Tomatoes team bought this 1974 Ford Gran Torino coupe more than a year ago, with the idea of painting it like the Starsky & Hutch car. As often happens, time went by and it wasn’t quite ready in time for the race.
The Striped Tomato ran but had no brakes, and about 20 items needed to be done in order for it to pass the LeMons tech inspection. The team had applied some duct tape to make Starsky & Hutch stripes, but the California sun laughed at that effort and turned the tape into dust. In other words, a perfect LeMons car.
Keep in mind that it never dropped below 100°F during the day, while all this was going on. Soldering kill-switch wiring in the Thunderhill sun was brutal. By Sunday afternoon, about an hour before the end of the race, the Gran Torino was ready to go.
We signed off on the tech sheet and the car went out on the track. It was by far the fastest Torino we have ever seen in the 24 Hours of LeMons. OK, so it’s also the only LeMons Torino, but let’s not let that diminish the Striped Tomatoes’ accomplishment.
Eight parts-dropping, tire-screeching, door-handle-scraping laps in the books, which we count as a great success. We created the GET OFF MY LAWN trophy just for the Striped Tomatoes, and they went back to SoCal as winners.
The team that helped the Striped Tomatoes the most was a bunch of LeMons newcomers from nearby Clearlake, California. These guys were “watching Top Gear USA while drunk” and saw how much fun LeMons can be. The next day, they went poking through the stashes of old cars in their relatives’ yards and found this 1956 Jeep CJ-5, along with a 1962 Ford Econoline pickup (for suspension) and a 1982 Ford Mustang (for drivetrain). The result was one of the greatest LeMons race machines we’d ever seen (and we’ve seen some good stuff).
The Jeep was rough, to put it mildly, but Team Jeepstang is staffed by a bunch of professional welders and fabricators. They bent some camber into the Econoline front axle (independent front suspension is overrated), welded up a cage, dropped in the Mustang running gear, and they had themselves an overpowered, short-wheelbase, solid-axle, ill-handling Jeep with a really good roll cage. No weak points here!
The Jeepstang drivers didn’t have a lot of road-racing experience, so we had some concerns about how they’d cope with the challenged of making this beast stay pointed in the right direction on the race track.
As it turned out, the Jeepstang did spin out, slide off the track, and dump fuel, and the LeMons Supreme Court justices had to give them a few stern talks, but the drivers learned a lot from the experience.
In the end, the Jeepstang won the much-sought-after Organizer’s Choice trophy. We look forward to seeing this truck getting more sorted out at future races. We have seen that a Jeep with a solid front axle can be made to handle very well.
As for the big prize, the Index of Effluency, there was only one choice: the 1975 Bricklin SV-1 of Hella Shitty Racing. Malcolm Bricklin is best-known for bringing Subaru and Yugo to the United States, but he also produced his own Canadian-built cars for the 1974 through 1976 model years. These cars had some reliability issues, you might say, making them ideal for our series.
This time, though, the Bricklin held together for at least a third of the weekend, racking up 201 laps and finishing in 57th place— almost the top half of the standings! In the process, the SV-1 beat the other two Hella Shitty cars (Ferkel the TDI-powered Porsche 911 and Ferdinand the dual-control, Subaru-powered Super Beetle). We’re sure that Malcolm Bricklin is feeling proud right now… and maybe he can talk to the Bricklin Facebook groups and have them un-blacklist the guys on this team. Congratulations, Hella Shitty Racing!
To see lots of photos of the action at the ’16 Arse Sweat, check out the Head-On Photos gallery here and the official Murilee Martin Über Gallery here. We do it all over again next weekend, at the GP du Lac Chargoggagoggmanchauggagoggchaubunagungamaugg race in Connecticut, so check in at the Roadkill home of the 24 Hours of LeMons for updates if you can’t make it in person.