LeMons Chicago: VWs, F-Bodies, V12 Jag

No fewer than three engine blocks have been punctured, but most of the 24 Hours of LeMons crowd have survived last weekend’s “Doing Time in Joliet” at Autobahn Country Club near Chicago. The LeMons Chicago round wrapped up the three-race Midwest Region schedule and, unlike previous years in LeMons, the region’s races saw only a few drops of rain in 2015 rather than the usual Biblical deluge. In a part of the country where everyone discusses weather constantly, that’s remarkable. How ’bout that weather?

Of course, there was some racing mixed in amongst the talk of unseasonal warmth, and with the weekend using Autobahn’s South Track on Saturday and switching to the shorter North Course for Sunday’s race, the challenges were plentiful for the 66-car field. As a result, the assembled hoopties cooked up plenty of entertainment… and a few engines to boot.

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Two-time winners Save the Ta-Tas run an ugly third-generation Chevy Camaro and live the ever-present F-Body paradox of utter domination or devastating drivetrain components failure. Because the Ta-Tas’ cheaty Camaro is unquestionably the fastest thing at a given Midwest race, the LeMons Supreme Court threw them a 10-lap handicap to start the race. They chipped away at their deficit and while it wasn’t easy, they fought an uphill battle to pick up their third Overall and Class A win. However, the Ta-Tas did put that win in jeopardy with a black flag in the race’s final five minutes for knocking into a slower car, though their four-lap lead was barely enough cushion to get the checkered flag after a Penalty Box visit.

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The Flying Pigs Racing Ford Mustang has been consistently one of the best Mustangs ever in LeMons with a win and a pile of Top 10 finishes, which is no small feat with the Fox Body’s massive, drag-inducing pig nose and 60-pound plywood wings to fight against. The Pigs led much of the race and might have won the race if they hadn’t caught their own ill-timed black flag in the race’s final couple hours. In reality, the Ta-Tas’ and Pigs’ black flags probably more or less offset each other and the Ta-Tas may have won anyway, but the paddock enjoyed the classic V8 pony-car battle. We look forward to more of that next year in LeMons.

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Class B in LeMons is sort of a catch-call class for moderately capable (though usually unspectacular) cars and this was one of the tightest races the class has ever seen. For much of the weekend, positions 9 through about 25 were almost entirely Class B cars with a trio of Volkswagens leading B most of the weekend. One Lap for Dogs seemed in command with their befuddlingly themed “Enzo’s Dream” Volkswagen Golf, but a broken A-arm in the final 40 minutes ended their hopes of victory prematurely.

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The Golf’s failure gave the lead to VolkSwaggin’, but the Harlequin-painted Jetta’s lead was short-lived with Team Priority Fail’s Volkswagen GTI (above) charging hard. The Milwaukee-based racers snuck past the Jetta in the race’s final 15 minutes for the class win. Priority Fail only led a handful of laps all weekend, but their bone-stock Volkswagen led the important ones at the very end.

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Wait, did we say bone-stock? What we meant to say was “These guys inexplicably relocated the GTI’s VR6 engine to behind the driver without making any other major improvements.” Why? Because Roadkill. They’ve struggled with the car before and after the swap, naturally, but things just came together perfectly and the aptly named Priority Fail GTI finally took over.

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In LeMons, Class C is reserved for the least-capable cars in the field. This usually includes cars that have no business existing at all on a racetrack and/or cars that have been used up to within an ounce of their lives. Dirty Penny Racing’s Datsun 210 falls into the latter category, having run seven races on a very tired L20 engine.

Despite a five-lap handicap because it wasn’t a truly terrible Class C vehicle like a minivan (more on that momentarily), the Dirty Penny team took over the class lead early in the race and never looked back on their way to a class win and almost certainly future appearances in Class B.

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Double B Racing have run a dozen or so races in their third-generation Chevy Camaro and have always struggled with everything from head-scratching ignition problems to a harmonic balancer ejecting itself from their 305 V8’s snout (and then bouncing down the track at radiator level for a couple hundred feet). This weekend brought a new challenge when the 305’s internals made a jailbreak with just three hours remaining in the race.

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The team never really looked concerned or panicked but instead calmly set to work. After a bit of wrenching and only two hours, the white Camaro returned to the track with its backup engine under the hood, though it came back after a couple laps smoking profusely. Still unintimidated, Double B’s crew traced the smoke to leaky valve covers from the swap, buttoned those down, and finished the race without further drama. For their determination and smiles throughout their travails, Double B Racing took home the Heroic Fix trophy.

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The Heroic Fix trophy, of course, has a counterpart, the I Got Screwed Award. As one might imagine, this typically involved a team that through its own devices or outside influences (or frequently a combination of the two) end up with considerably less than they started with. Bad Decisions Racing, fittingly, took home that not-at-all-coveted trophy from Autobahn. The screwing perhaps started with some perhaps lenient LeMons Supreme Court classing of Class C, where three borderline (but terrible) cars slipped through the cracks and proceeded to wallop the safety orange Pontiac Trans Sport—which we featured here recently—before the minivan’s air conditioning pulley seized and ended their race an hour short of the checkered flag.

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Naturally, the team’s screwing didn’t end there. One of those cars that slipped through the classing cracks was Bad Decisions’ second car, a chopped-roof Saturn SC2 that the team captain was actually trying to sell (and so decorated the car with direct quotes from Craigslist ads). He decided to give it one last hurrah and in the process of chasing Dirty Penny Racing in Class C, one of the Saturn’s engine mounts broke.

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The team fixed the dangling engine with ratchet straps, which surprisingly held just fine until the engine pitched a rod out the front of the 1.9-liter block, dumping oil directly onto the exhaust manifold and setting the for-sale Saturn on fire. The driver escaped unharmed, but the fire, of course, melted the ratchet straps holding the engine, adding further injury to injury by having the car’s flaming motor essentially falling out of the car when its crispy remains were delivered back to the paddock. Saturn for sale? Ran when parked, just needs fuel pump Screwed!

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When three former team captains of the Worst LeMons Car in History and another team captain of a front-wheel-drive GM A-Body showed up to help a new LeMons driver race his 2001 Monte Carlo, it was like a LeMons jackpot. The team, called the F**king New Guys, was like a LeMons All-Star Team, really, which is say it was completely and totally unexceptional.

Despite some overheating troubles with its ubiquitous 3.4-liter V6, the Monte Carlo ran around the track looking surprisingly composed. As the Monte Carlo is the kind of car for people who settle for mediocrity disguised as excitement (and the F**king New Guys were extremely mediocre), they took home the race-specific award, coined by LeMons’ organizers as the 37-Year-Old Middle Manager Cruising the White Castle Parking Lot for Girls Trophy (37YOMMCWCPLFG Trophy).

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F.A.C.E. Racing own a Porsche 924, a car that Internet Racing Experts will both say is the perfect LeMons car and also impossible to find for $500. Neither of those things are at all true, but the Porsche Enthusiast World surely must find the General Motors 4.3-liter V6 in F.A.C.E.’s Porsche an utter abomination. Not only did the big GM engine ruin the car’s perfect 50-50 weight balance (and also completely compress the stock springs), F.A.C.E. wisely decided to retain the 924’s overly complicated rear transaxle setup. There are a lot of things to like about that on its own, but the team— which is two brothers and their dad— never seem too stressed when spending a whole weekend leisurely alternating between troubleshooting cooling issues and taking long breaks to eat sandwiches and shoot the breeze.

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This weekend found F.A.C.E. logging three times as many laps as they’ve ever completed. until the V6 finally annihilated the Porsche transaxle. They seemed unfazed; maybe they’d put in a truck rear end or something, they said, but they’d figure it out or something for the next race. For their laid-back approach to LeMons with such a terrible idea of a car, they earned their Judges’ Choice Award.

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The Organizer’s Choice award tends to go to a team that brings some outlandish racing creation, but LeMons HQ instead picked a different kind of hooptie to take the award home. Team Sucker Punch has been around LeMons for a long time, running at some of the earliest races in an awful 1980s Ford Escort before picking up a third-generation Camaro. They’ve contended for class wins before, but more than anything, these Cheeseheads follow the rules to the letter and, on top of that, bring quality Wisconsin root beer and cheese curds for the LeMons staff to enjoy all weekend.

It doesn’t hurt that their terrible F-Body lurched around the paddock, loping and then stumbling and then dying repeatedly at no more than 5 miles per hour. It was weekend-long entertainment caused by a wandering distributor cap, but, like all the award winners this weekend, you’d never find Team Sucker Punch in poor spirits.

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Before we get to the top prize of Index of Effluency, a couple of honorable mentions distinguished themselves this weekend. The Straight Outta High School Mazda Miata was, as the team name suggests, run primarily by a two high school students (who also happen to be extremely quick kart racers). While they drafted in a dad and an uncle to fill out the driver roster, the students did the bulk of the work preparing and entering the car, even ditching school for BS Inspections where they bribed the LeMons Supreme Court with a case of Coca-Cola. So how well do high school students do at preparing for an endurance race? This team finished a solid 22nd place, which for most first-time teams is equivalent to the Zambian Space Program actually landing on the moon. When it comes to LeMons, it turns out kids can plan and execute better than 90% of adults.

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The beautiful Mulsanne Straightjackets’ Renault-Alpine A210 replica won Organizers Choice in its debut last July and the crew returned for its second race. This time, it was much better sorted and its Alfa Romeo twin-cam engine (the car is actually a late 1970s Alfa Romeo Spider) ran strong all weekend. Unfortunately, an overly aggressive BMW driver punted the car in the race’s final 10 minutes, denting the gorgeous sheet-metal work. We hope it’s repairable and that we see the gorgeous not-really-a-crapcan on track again.

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Over the last three seasons, Chrysler’s K platform and its later derivatives have shown themselves to be unequivocally terrible in LeMons (and, really, everywhere else). Consequently, when the Sugar Skulls’ team captain announced they’d scored a $500 Dodge Spirit R/T, the LeMons community collectively winced. Sure, the Spirit R/T put up power numbers similar to contemporary Ford Mustangs, but that came at the expense of the fragile 2.2-liter engine running boost levels that made Omni GLHS owners skeptical.

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Naturally, the Sugar Skulls’ R/T lived down to expectations; during the Test ‘n’ Tune day, the engine leaked like a sieve, repeatedly coating the entire engine bay in oil and also filling a half-gallon bottle with inky-black overflow. Unable to contain their oil leak sufficiently to pass tech inspection, the team packed it up and went home without turning a single lap. We hope to see them back, possibly with a different engine under the Pentastar bonnet or at the very least with an engine that isn’t weeping oil like some kind of religious apparition.

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That brings us at last to the Index of Effluency, the top prize for the worst car that, through a series of impossible-to-explain calculations, does the best. Double Jeopardy made a name for themselves long ago with their 4-2-1 Pontiac Fiero, which they followed up with this super-squishy, V12-powered 1987 Jaguar XJS. The car’s owner originally bought the car to use the V12 in an ill-fated chopped Checker Marathon rat rod (as you do),but the Jaguar languished in his back yard for half a decade before he scrapped the rat rod idea.

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Eventually, he pulled the Jag out of the back 40 and welded a rollcage in the lumbering British beast without bothering to so much as brush the leaves from the engine bay. It has hardly run in its past four attempts at LeMons and much of the car remains stained from filthy brown water that geysered from a busted hose at a previous race.

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A looker it isn’t, but the aching old Jag, running on no-name 600-treadwear tires and lapping at about the same pace as a four-cylinder Mustang with one bad cylinder, still beat 15 entries despite leisurely pit stops and driver changes. Well done, Double Jeopardy!

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That just about covers it from LeMons Chicago, but check back here on Roadkill for more LeMons coverage, including stories from the “Halloween Hooptiefest” race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on October 24 and 25.

Roadkill Fall 2016 Cover