We’ve returned from the New Jersey Motorsports Park and the 24 Hours of LeMons’ Real Hoopties of New Jersey race. LeMons has held at least one annual race at NJMP since 2011 and for whatever reason—perhaps geographical stereotypes play in here—the race has tended to feature more crashing, fender-banging, and just generally aggressive drivers than those at any other track the series visits. With 125 cars registered to race on NJMP’s high-speed Lightning course, we expected the worst but were instead rewarded not only with a (relatively) clean race but also with competitive class races, some really great first-time teams, and a whole lot of mechanical carnage.
The overall win went to the One Tire Fire Datsun 280ZX, which sputtered in on fumes at the end of Sunday with a three-lap margin of victory and just a couple drops of gas left in the fuel lines. The team only debuted in their first LeMons race last year at NJMP and in the time since, won Class B at Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park and then finished third overall at New Hampshire. While Nissan and Datsun Z cars developed a reputation for poor LeMons reliability in early years, several teams seem to have figured out how to get the most from them. I think we’ll see this car at the front of races for a years to come.
The One Tire Fire team had to drive hard and mistake-free to get their win because of the never-ebbing tide of Volvo consistency. Swedish Mafia Racing’s naturally aspirated Volvo 245 wagon has several Top 10 finishes and with a massive 115 horsepower under the hood, they manage to keep pace with most of the field. The Volvo’s second-place finish is the best ever for Swedish Mafia and they came only a Datsun fuel-stumble away from become the first naturally aspirate Redblock Volvo to win a LeMons race.
Chasing both cars down was the Sorry for Party Racing Pontiac Firebird. We poke fun at the inconsistency of Camaros and Firebirds in LeMons regularly, but SFPR have managed to be competitive several times with one of the best-sorted F-Bodies in LeMons. The thirsty Small-Block Chevy V8 ultimately handicapped them from being more competitive with the more fuel-efficient Volvo and Datsun, but they were making huge gains on Swedish Mafia in the closing hour of the race, finishing just a few seconds behind.
The Sorry for Party crew also have run the same scantily clad, zebra-striped LMFAO theme for several years. The near-nudity is a staple of East Coast races and LeMons organizers have a grand affinity for teams that drive well and also have fun in the paddock like this.
To that end, LeMons Legends Three-Pedal Mafia also typically drive well and have great themes, too. This time around, they mocked their garagemates from Sorry For Party Racing with an anything-but-zebra-print theme on their four-car stable (The panda-themed #43 Triumph TR7 is just visible in the background).
Proper font and leopard print were included.
BS Inspection also featured the Three Pedal Mafia crew blasting proper dance beats and kicking it in their own disturbing costumes.
But when the green flag dropped, the team raced their long-campaigned Honda Civic Hatchback seriously for a Class B win. Well, as seriously as one can when the car has been made into a giraffe using the former “Springtime for Hitler” tank and “Mister Fister” boom as the neck.
With a 24-gallon fuel cell, the Civic was capable of running four hours at a time, which is exactly what it did on Saturday, making only two fuel stops during the entire race (one each day) while turning consistent laps. That’s pretty much the formula for winning anything in LeMons and the Civic was the first car in Class B to the checkered flag.
The fight for Class B was not without drama. The much-quicker Seems Legit Racing Chevy Cavalier led the class by a full lap lat with just an hour remaining, but one poor overtaking decision sent them clattering into the Hooniverse-driven Buick. The resulting penalty cost them two laps, giving the class lead to Three Pedal Mafia.
Rally Baby Racing absolutely crushed Class C, which is typically relegated for terrible and obscure cars, with their AMC Hornet. In the opening five laps, the Hornet actually led overall thanks to a brilliant run through the field that saw the leadoff driver blowing past BMWs and Miatas like they were tied to posts. For much of the race, the Hornet sat ahead of all the Class B cars by a healthy margin, although brake issues led them to finish 12th overall, three laps behind the Class B winner and 22 laps ahead of the Defeat Device’s mid-engined, Subaru-powered Chevette in Class C.
All the passing power came from a bone-stock Jeep 4.0-liter straight six, which replaced the Hornet’s previous blow-through turbo AMC 232 setup from early races. Even without the glorious turbo sounds, it was an impressive performance from the Rally Baby crew.
Class C was actually pretty incredible at this race, so overloaded with bizarre and terrible cars that the Sir Jackie Stewart’s Coin Purse Racing Ford EXP quietly finished 49th overall and almost nobody noticed. Beating more than 60 cars with 70 horsepower in a homely Ford Escort two-seater is no small feat so we’ll give them an honorable mention here.
Special mention should also be made of the Drunk Firemen Volkswagen Rabbit. Much like LeMons correspondent Murilee Martin’s driver’s ed car, this was a naturally aspirated diesel Rabbit that made, on a cool day, somewhere around 50 horsepower. The Firemen made their Rabbit handle really well, but if the car saw more than 75 mph all weekend, it was an act of god and/or a 60 mph tailwind. Nevertheless, with the 116th-fastest lap (of something like 120 cars), the Rabbit scored an incredible 47th place. As we’ll see, this is still not enough for the vaunted Index of Effluency, but the performance merited mention.
Among the spectacular first-time teams was Debris on the Track’s Chevy Camaro. A quick post on the LeMons Facebook page from Friday’s BS Inspection stirred up the social media masses with their mid-engine Camaro, whose hatch-mounted small-block Chevy motor was clearly running a few thousand dollars of speed parts and bird-deafening zoomies.
On closer inspection, people would have noticed that it was just a dummy block propped up in the trunk, but the effect was still amazing. The real small-block engine under the hood was caked with three decades of valve-cover seepage and Turnpike grime, so we’ll chalk this up as a quality LeMons trolling success.
Debris on the Track weren’t the only rookies with an interesting engine. The Nut Jobs (one of many LeMons teams to go by that name) turned up in a Volvo 760 GLE with the truly wretched PRV V6. When the letters stand for a joint effort between Peugeot, Renault, and Volvo, one can accurately surmise that the French laissez faire attitude toward reliability overrules Swedish efficiency. We’ve had a couple PRV engines in LeMons with decidedly mixed results; one ate itself up in its first race hour and the other lasted multiple races, so we weren’t positive what to expect.
The Nut Jobs, it turns out, were oval-track racers who had simply come into the car for free—an entirely believable situation with that engine—and knew literally nothing about the engine’s awfulness. The LeMons Supreme Court put the over/under on the engine life at around 35 minutes, much to the team’s consternation. However, the 140 wheezing horsepower managed to last a full 4-1/2 hours before cooking a hole in one of the head gaskets and overheating into a predictably useless lump.
New Jersey’s draconian safety rules lent a strange air to the race for this visiting Midwestern LeMons correspondent. State laws regarding fuel pumps as well as seatbelt certification gave a certain Baltic feel to the race, where teams wondered to whom they should pay tribute just to skate past the state regulators’ meddlings [Author’s note: There was no actual palm-greasing]. Sputnik, a notorious team that includes Russian expatriates, acknowledged this with their highly effective Squatting Slavs in Tracksuits theme and some of the most frighteningly high-gravity Lithuanian bribe beers known to man.
The LeMons Supreme Court’s commemorative “BRIBED” stencil also acknowledged the Baltic-New Jersey parallels. At a glance, the map outline seems to resemble New Jersey, at least after a whiff or two of Transylvanian moonshine. However, it is instead a map of Albania with the Albanian word for “Tribute” (and possibly “ransom”) underneath. The thought was that few LeMons racers would notice it wasn’t New Jersey. As it turns out, they didn’t, but that’s mostly because most LeMons racers have no idea what the map of New Jersey looks like at all.
We’ve seen valiant attempts by several BMW LeMons teams to run homebuilt forced induction and almost none of them have worked. Skepticism abounded at this junkyard Eaton supercharged force-feeding the Knights of the Roundel BMW E30’s M20B25 straight six, but the blown Bimmer ran nearly untroubled for 10 straight hours before suffering catastrophic failure. Much like the PRV-powered Volvo, the life expectancy was something like 11 laps so this should be considered a marvel of LeMons engineering. We’ll have a bit more on this car in the near future.
LeMons is nothing if not controversial for the average automotive enthusiast and we figure that the world of Internet Car Experts will explode at the notion of not one but two different model year 2000 Mercedes V8s running in LeMons. This E430 looked used-car-lot fresh, though it’s not hard to imagine routine maintenance on the climate controls to total out a luxurious beast like this. The engine and transmission ran strong, but the two-ton Teutonic behemoth cooked a couple sets of parts-store brand brake pads. The team were smart enough not to cut any of the myriad of wires that run an assortment of overpriced, underperforming luxury items, but we’re sure that at some point in a future race, the relays for the heated rear door handles will fail and fry the entire wiring loom.
The Men in Black also brought a V8 Mercedes and the CLK’s 275-horsepower V8 proved to be more than they could handle. Apparently, cutting up a 55-gallon drum to make aerodynamic elements is insufficient to offset bad rookie driving, but despite some scrapes and missing body panels, they finished the race. If you’re keeping track at home, by the way, these two cars cost something like $140,000 combined (adjusted for inflation, of course) and now the upwardly-ambitious-upper-middle-manager-mobiles are getting stomped in endurance races by Chevy Cavaliers and AMC Hornets. The world is a cruel place.
Those Mercedes, despite being poorly driven, somehow avoided the pitfalls of devastating mechanical failure, a fate that curiously seemed levied mainly at experienced teams. How bad was it? Sunday morning brought lingering vultures waiting to pick clean the carcasses of those teams who had expired wrench-in-hand after 40 consecutive hours of blood, sweat, tears, and more tears.
Philthy Motorsports, actually, exemplified that very thing, though none of their wrenching nightmare didn’t kill any of them (more than symbolically, at least). During pre-race practice on Friday the 13th, their veteran Datsun 510 decided to nuke the bottom end of the L18 engine. Thus started the aforementioned 40 consecutive hours of wrenching.
The team had to make one good motor out of a bad one and a slightly-less-bad one, which would have been easy for a team that had rebuilt many motors. However, the crew from Philthy claimed to have had an engine apart once and they didn’t suggest very strongly that it had ever gone back together so this was actually something of an ordeal. After much wailing, Sunday tech, and then chasing of fuel delivery issues all day, Philthy finally had the Datsun sorted enough to cane it around the track for the race’s final hour, earning them a much-deserved Heroic Fix trophy and probably a prolonged nap.
The flipside of the Heroic Fix is of course the I Got Screwed award and at this race, it went to the the Philthy Datsun’s descendent, the Gadget Inspectors’ Nissan 240SX. These poor saps spent most of their first race in 2015 swapping an engine after clocking a single lap on the motor that came with the car.
That replacement engine lasted a handful of laps at this race before dropping a valve, which the #2 piston then ate up. As it turns out, the team’s shirts were frighteningly prophetic.
A pretty sight, it was not, but the team found a replacement KA24 engine and spent nearly all of Saturday dropping it in. The end result? Another dozen laps or so before that engine went kaboom. The team proclaimed their newly reinforced disdain for the KA24 mill with a promise to bring back something—anything—but another one at a future race. In the time being, their tribulations at a second consecutive race earned them I Got Screwed honors.
The Gadget Inspectors offered to make their blown-up piston part of an extra trophy for the LeMons Supreme Court to award at this race. That paired nicely with the wood-carved LeMons inspector from the #95 Mercedes team and because of the excess carnage and the teams willing to go the extra mile to attend to it, it was decided that both should be granted as additional Heroic Fix awards.
Glue Sticks’ fourth-generation Pontiac Firebird took home the second and well-deserved Heroic Fix. As the LeMons Supreme Court was actually drafting up the trophy list with just a couple hours left Sunday, the Glue Sticks’ Firebird clanked to a halt at the Penalty Box entrance after a spin. The cause of the spin was pretty evident immediately with the entire trailing arm dragging on the ground and catching on the lip of the Penalty Box garage with a properly F-Body clamoring. After the trailing arm’s failure, the entire rear subframe had slid forward with the rear wheel mashing the front of the wheel well before bounding back and sticking to the rear of it. Incapable of rolling at all, the Firebird required a tow truck just to get it back to the team’s paddock space.
That ordeal took most of a half-hour and when they’d left the area, the LeMons Supreme Court was convinced they’d not see the car again because of the horrendous damage from a freewheeling rear subframe. The Glue Sticks squad didn’t mind, though; after an hour with a welder, the Firebird was back on track and just like new-ish to take the checkered flag. Heroic!
The Escort Service Ford Escort was also slated to take home the final Heroic Fix. Having towed all the way to NJMP from Cleveland, the team had successfully lobbied their way into Class B, where their Zetec-swapped sedan had a real chance to be competitive for a class win. They were so eager to compete, in fact, that they lined up about third on the grid, ready to start with a class lead. However, when it came time to fire the engine up, the horrible sound of a shredded timing belt left the first driver with head in hands.
They managed to fix their terrible Escort after an all-day thrash and run strongly all day Sunday. When the awards ceremony rolled around, the team had already packed up and hit the road for the long tow back to Cleveland. As you must be present to win, the Escort Service were unable to accept their Heroic Fix, so they kind of get a de facto I Got Screwed mention here in lieu of a trophy.
With no one to accept that trophy, an impromptu prize was instead given to the Confused Blue Angels and their incredibly terrible Volkswagen Beetle. The team were all rookies, but they showed up with a great attitude and a perfectly horrendous car for first-timers. For their utterly blind and possibly accidental dedication to LeMons, we christened this the “Hopelessly Enthusiastic Rookies” award.
We already mentioned the Ford EXP getting hosed on an Index of Effluency run and the same is equally true of Great Globs of Oil, which is not only an incredible team name but also a bizarre piece of automotive history.
The average weird-car enthusiast will know Great Globs’ entry as an Isuzu I-Mark, but theirs was one of the much-sought…no, that’s not the word…much-malaised Buick Opel. The car was essentially an Opel Kadett that, with General Motors unsure how to market any kind of car in the Malaise Era, was sold randomly on Buick lots. Thinking the general public was confused and stupid, GM slapped a Buick badge on the car to make it a “Buick Opel” and further confuse the confused.
With a carbureted 1.8-liter Isuzu motor, that effectively makes this an Buick Opel Isuzu, just to convolute things farther. Whether or not you’ve got all that, the Great Globs of Oil BuickOpelsuzuKadettImark turned lap after slow lap without incident, finishing a remarkable 47th place ahead of literally dozens of BMWs. In any other race, this would have been IOE territory, but the team had to settle for the made-up-on-the-spot race-specific trophy for the Incredible Feats in Badge Engineering Engineering.
This brings us to Judges Choice, which is given to the team that amuses the judges most. This was really a no-brainer for Sinical Racing, who not only brought us a most-effluent 1950 Hudson Pacemaker but also a 240-horsepower Volkswagen Beetle.
The Hudson featured an original Twin-H 308-cubic-inch straight six, which makes it just the third flathead engine in LeMons history (after a previous Hudson and a 1950 Dodge pickup). The huge six makes a unique purring sound and this one sounded pretty healthy (for LeMons anyway).
The interior was mostly gone on the car, although the dash was still pretty intact. The clock even made a bit of a whirring noise, even if it didn’t show the right time.
It wasn’t at all fast and the team had some struggles to keep it running, but there was no mistaking the absolutely gorgeous mid-century design on the racetrack. In LeMons, if you can’t have speed, have gravitas.
The story behind this Hudson is certainly the most interesting part. It was a replica of Mario Andretti’s very first race car and had been on display at a museum before being moved to the museum’s “storage” (aka, back lot). Andretti even had his photo taken with this very car at one time. With the interior gone and the original fenders long ago chopped, Sinical Racing decided that the best (and only) course of action for this Andretti replica was to put it on the racetrack where it rightly belonged. We’re glad they did and we bet .
The team’s second car remains one of the most absolutely insane contraptions built in LeMons. Sinical’s Beetle had run a few races with a 2.3-liter Ford Pinto engine hanging out behind the back axles and when they got bored with it, the team looked for different options. They soon found a 240-horsepower Honda J35 V6 for sale by a JDM importer for a scant $250. The all-aluminum V6 was actually a few pounds lighter than the Pinto mill while more than doubling its horsepower.
On the track, the Beetle was insanely quick, flying past V8 Mustangs and BMW E36s with no trouble whatsoever. That said, the handling characteristics looked interesting and the team were average just 35 minutes of racing from the 9-gallon fuel tank.
As it turns out, throwing modern levels of horsepower at a 1950’s chassis produces suboptimal results. One of the Beetle drivers experienced a fuel stumble at just the wrong time as he was powering out of a corner, at which time he became intimately familiar with the classic Porsche problem of lift-throttle oversteer. The Beetle still bears the unmistakable imprint of the guard rails on its sad face. Still, for their pluck, determination, and insane two-car team, Sinical took home a well-deserved Judges Choice trophy. We have a feeling we’ll see the Beetle back and perhaps with the Insane-O-Meter kicked up a notch.
Speaking of Insane-O-Meters, Organizer’s Choice was an easy trophy with LeMons Legend Jeff “Speedycop” Bloch and his Gang of Outlaws putting a retired Bell OH-58 Kiowa military helicopter back to work as a road racer. Yes, this actually drove on the racetrack.
The “Speedycopter” started life as a general use OH-58 that had been put out to pasture. Bloch picked up the scrapyard-bound chopper for relative pennies and while he certainly exceeded the LeMons’ $500 budget, consider this: If you’d like to build a road-racing car from a helicopter chassis, consider all such entries immune from budgetary constraints.
Underneath the helicopter was a 1980’s mid-engined Toyota Van. Actually, it was not just a van, it was the Black Ops van that LeMons tech guru John Pagel from Evil Genius Racing had begun preparing in 2009. Pagel sold Speedycop the Black Ops van with a turbocharged 10-valve Audi five-cylinder, which Speedycop discarded for his own powerplant. He then also chopped the van chassis down to a bare minimum floor pan onto which he could drop the helicopter body.
Compared to the epic Spirit of LeMons Cessna 310, Bloch kept relatively few of the helicopter’s original gauges, though he did use the OH-58 control stick as a shifter for the chopper’s transmission. The armament buttons to the right of the shifter were also retained with plans to wire the lighting to the buttons, though they weren’t functional at the race yet.
Naturally, the racer being a helicopter, Speedycop and his crew pulled off a Predator theme.
A late arrival meant that the theme wasn’t totally appreciated during tech and BS inspection, however. The helicopter had required an absolutely incredible amount of last-minute thrashing, during which both Bloch and his wife Jamie had gotten the flu. By the time the car finally rolled through tech inspection on Sunday, Speedycop looked like he’d been stuffed through the wringer a dozen times.
Nevertheless, the Speedycopter passed tech inspection after a brief interlude to fix a bad ground on the brake lights and Bloch was off to make laps in the helicopter. Unfortunately, the timing setup at NJMP mean that to complete a lap, one must cross the start/finish line on the track to begin the lap and again cross the line on the track to finish the lap. The Audi 3.0-liter V6, however, developed rod knock on the car’s first flying lap and Speedycop had to pit the next time around. That meant that while he officially started a lap, he never finished it.
The 3.0-liter Audi V6, by the way, was mounted amidships in a box underneath the rear “seat.” Why in a box?
Because Bloch needed to make the engine waterproof, as not only was this the world’s first road racing helicopter, it was also the world’s first road racing and amphibious helicopter. After turning the first laps on the racetrack, the plan was to take it to a nearby boat launch and see if it would float.
During the race, Bloch and Company trailered the Speedycopter to a nearby lake, where he drove the OH-58 into the water. Remarkably, it floated and moved under its own power in the water, making it the first amphibious LeMons car and possibly the first amphibious racecar in the world. The little bit of nautical maneuvering finished off the mortally wounded Audi V6, unfortunately, meaning that the car could not actually finish its one and only official lap. Nevertheless, the tremendous excitement over its very existence was far more than sufficient to earn the Organizer’s Choice trophy.
Despite a number of strong Index of Effluency candidates, there was really one team to which LeMons’ to prize could go. Three Pedal Mafia’s Citroën SM was, yet again, simply the thing from which effluency is made. With functioning hydropneumatic suspension and a pretty sweet-sounding Maserati V6, the SM was really the peak of luxury and driving pleasure for the weekend.
The Citroen’s part of the “Sorry for Attention Whore Racing” theme played to the of course famous video of the Sorry for Party Racing Firebird intruding on a fellow racer, but there was little racing to be done from Three Pedal Mafia’s Class C contender. The Citroen was the absolute slowest car in the field by a significant margin, yet they managed to finish almost squarely in the middle of the field by simply turning laps.
The luxurious Frenchmobile had suffered from fuel-delivery problems in past races, due to excessive crud in the fuel tank. Sick of replacing daisy-chained fuel filters at every stop, the team took the fuel tank to get cleaned out professionally, a duty that left the tank cleaner to tell Three Pedal Mafia that never before had he seen such a filthy tank. If you’re wondering, that is how you get a Citroen into LeMons for $500. The deep tank cleaning worked and the Citroen ran almost flawlessly all weekend.
That’s real racing™!
Congratulations, Three Pedal Mafia!
Check back here on Roadkill for more 24 Hours of LeMons coverage from Thunderhill Raceway in WIllows, California, where we’ll see a classic Yugo vs. Bricklin battle for the ages.