Thunderhill Raceway is one of our favorite 24 Hours of LeMons tracks, in part because we have been racing there since the very earliest days of the series and in part because the course is so long that we can fit 242 cars on it. It takes even the quickest LeMons cars more than 3-1/2 minutes to run a lap at Thunderhill, so there’s plenty of space for passing and ample long straights for engine-killing excitement. Here’s what happened at the 2016 Vodden the Hell Are We Doing 24 Hours of LeMons.
Getting the most laps and winning Class A in the process, the toughest LeMons team to beat in the toughest LeMons region of the country did it again. Yes, Cerveza Racing and their BMW E28 got the overall win by a single lap.
Cerveza Racing now has nine overall LeMons wins, which is more than any team in series history (Eyesore Racing and Hong Norrth have six apiece). This time, they showed up with a nice “Beer of Mormon” theme for their race car, which had a PA system blasting the most annoying song ever recorded at top volume, all weekend long.
How does Cerveza do it? Their car is pretty quick, but mostly it comes down to drivers who make no mistakes. Watch this Cerveza grille-cam video from the 2014 Sears Pointless race and you’ll see the way the Cerveza drivers use unfathomable psychic powers to know when things around the next corner are getting sketchy. Note how the Cerveza driver neither goes for iffy passes nor dive-bombs anyone, and note the general smoothness and lack of drama in each lap. This is how you win endurance races.
In Class B, Team Black Bird and their 1976 Chevrolet Camaro managed to get the class win by five laps, an impressive achievement for a second-gen GM F body. Even more impressive was their fourth-overall spot in the standings.
In another one of the “didn’t see that coming” moments for the race, the Old Crows and their Jensen-Healey pulled off the Class C win, beating the Team Westafari Volkswagen Vanagon by four laps. It says a lot about the miserably fragile Jensen-Healey (and its even more fragile Torqueless Wonder engine) that beating a camper counts as one of the greatest Jensen-Healey accomplishments of all time.
The Bernal Dads team (from the Bernal Heights neighborhood in San Francisco), decided that the way to make a Volvo 245 dominate in LeMons was to tear out the reliable Volvo B230 engine and replace it with a BMW M52.
However, the Bernal Dads did succeed in turning their wagon into a San Francisco MUNI 67 bus (car number 67 was already taken by the time the Dads got around to registering for this race, so they had to go with 670).
The Bernal Dads finished 132nd out of 180 entries, which wasn’t a particularly stunning development. What was a surprise was the amazing P2 finish of the Nemo Money Mazda Miata, just a lap behind Cerveza Racing. This team has been racing in LeMons since the 2011 Sears Pointless, and along the way they ditched their fast-but-explodey Nissan NX2000 for a not-quite-so-fast-but-more-reliable Mazda. The Nemo Money (formerly known as Clergy MC) team had finished in the top 10 before, but never this close to the top of the standings.
Causing a sensation during the inspection, Team Highway Robbery arrived with this evil-looking, V8-powered FD Mazda RX-7. There was a predictable onslaught of “ZOMG LS SWOPED FD SOOO CHEATZ 500$$ KAR MY AZZ!!11!!” posts on various social-media sites, but the LeMons Supreme Court justices have seen this all before and didn’t get excited.
First of all, the ordinary-ass cast-iron Vortec 5300 and Vortec 5700 truck engines are not the same thing as the (allegedly) super-badass aluminum LS engines that now get swapped into all manner of cars popular with the Internet Car Expert In Mom’s Basement crowd; anyone who has been to the truck section of a U-Wrench-It wrecking yard recently has noticed that these Vortec V8s are cheap and plentiful these days. The Highway Robbery guys bought a rollover-victim Silverado at auction and sold off parts to get the cost down to nothing. This is something I have done myself, so the LeMons Supreme Court is not unwilling to believe that a running engine can be obtained for dirt cheap in this manner.
Unfortunately for the Highway Robbery guys, we were a lot more interested in looking at the documentation proving that they sold off sufficient parts from their RX-7 to get its cost down to something like the $500 LeMons budgetary limit, and that’s where things sort of fell apart. The numbers looked quasi-believable, maybe, but we didn’t see any receipts, eBay auction screenshots, or other evidence that could convince us that we were looking at genuine prices for stuff bought and sold. Then there was the matter of the allegedly junkyard-found T-56 6-speed transmission. So, the LeMons Supreme Court piled on some penalty laps— not billions of laps, because we’re suckers for such a cool-looking junkyard build, but enough to keep this beast out of contention.
Of course, the LeMons Supreme Court has a better eye for cars that are a threat to run away with races than do your typical Internet Car Experts, and we were pretty sure that this looks-good-on-paper machine wouldn’t do so well its first time out on a real-world race track. Sure enough, the Highway Robbery SUPER CHEATURZ EDITION™ Mazda finished four laps total before its engine exploded. 180th out of 180 entries, although the team moves up to 165th place if you remove the penalty laps and include the nine cars that never made it onto the track.
You can tell by this time that the LeMons organizers are suckers for a good engine swap, and we like ridiculous engine swaps best of all. For example, we were forced to endure many years of racing without a single rear-engined Datsun Z showing up, and Team Lemon From Lemons came through with such a car.
They picked up a crashed 2008 Chevrolet Cobalt SS at auction, sold off lots of parts, and ended up with a turbocharged Ecotec engine and 6-speed manual transaxle. Then they installed the entire Cobalt front suspension subframe, complete with engine and transaxle, in the back of their excruciatingly hooptie Datsun 260Z 2+2.
Instead of a nicely balanced Malaise Era Japanese sports car with a 105-horsepower straight-six in the front, the Lemon From Lemons race car has oversteer-friendly 20/80 weight distribution and a 260-horsepower four-cylinder engine in the rear.
Add a roof-mounted intercooler and a dicey cooling system that puts a random junkyard-found radiator in the passenger door with electric fans blowing hot air out a bunch of holes in the car’s body, and you’ve got a car that looks right at home on a 24 Hours of LeMons track.
Check out that engine-lid latch! We think more automotive reality shows need to build cars like this. Oh, wait, there is one that does!
The Lemon From Lemons Z had some first-race teething problems and finished P135 with a best lap time well above the four-minute mark, but we loved it so much that we created the Poor Man’s X1/9 Award for the team.
We had quite a few rookie teams at the ’16 Vodden the Hell Are We Doing race, and the LeMons Supreme Court Justices decided to give the Judges’ Choice trophy to the first-timers of Gone In 60 Characters and their Ford Contour SVT.
The Gone In 60 Characters drivers stayed out of trouble all weekend, and their car had this big message-board sign that displayed text messages sent to the car’s phone number. Naturally, the judges sent many texts referring to one of our role models, Enver Hoxha.
As so often happens with the Ford 302/5.0 Windsor engine, the SchtüffNZPänts’ powerplant dumped its guts on the track early on Saturday. Channeling the screaming 1980s spirit of Udo Dirkschneider, the team started working local Craigslist ads and found a purportedly strong-running replacement engine. In fact, this new engine was so good that the seller claimed it had been doing burnouts in the Circle-K parking lot just the week before. The bad engine came out, thousands of parts and tools were scattered around the SchtüffNZPänts compound, and the swap commenced.
Many difficulties were overcome, as the new engine wasn’t quite as perfect as its seller alleged, and a radiator-hose kludge required hacking holes in some valuable BRIBED stencils, but the car was ready to go late on Sunday.
Hella Shitty Racing brought five cars to this race, including the purist-enraging TDI-swapped Porsche 911, a dual-control, Subaru-swapped Volkswagen Super Beetle, a pair of hideous BMW E30 3-Series, and the world’s most terrible Bricklin SV-1. Hopes were high.
The team had gone all brightly-colored this time, with pink shirts for the crew, pastel paint jobs on the cars, and a My Shitty Hooptie theme that included these happy labels.
Then, of course, every last one of the Hella Shitty cars broke. Late on Saturday, only the SV-1 was running… right up until the moment its Torqueflite 727 transmission (which takes 28 hours to swap, due to crossmember/roll-cage construction) crapped out.
Some of the cars limped back out for brief spells on Sunday, but most of the aptly named team’s weekend was spent spinning wrenches and running to junkyards and parts stores. The Super Beetle did best, finishing 108th overall. That’s right— five race cars, none of which cracked the top 100! For this, Hella Shitty Racing took home the I Got Screwed award.
Engine-swapped cars and rookie teams continued their domination at the ’16 VTHAWD awards, with the SOTP Racing Mustang II snagging the coveted Organizer’s Choice award at its very first race.
The engine setback was done mostly for awesomeness reasons (the team kept both the automatic transmission and rear drum brakes, but did add a racy-looking Ford GT40-style hood scoop), but there was a practical reason as well. You see, the team got a great deal on an OMC 175 engine (which is a marine version of the Ford 302 with backward-rotating distributor and weird firing order) that came from a sunken houseboat, and the oddball houseboat oil pan wouldn’t clear the Mustang II crossmember.
Rather than just go to the junkyard and buy a $20 oil pan, the team moved the engine rearwards and created a masterpiece of what we like to call Unnecessary Yet Spectacular Engineering. For this, an Organizer’s Choice trophy for SOTP Racing.
As for the big prize, the Index of Effluency, San Diego-based Mike “Spank” Spangler (also known as Spank Worthington) triumphed yet again, by bringing the American-market version of the Zastava Koral known as the Yugo GV and a two-part theme incorporating Squatting Slavs In Tracksuits.
The rest of the theme involved tracksuit-wearing Slavs, apparently working in the Zastava factory in Yugoslavia, sheltering beneath Yugo parts at the sound of the air-raid sirens during the 1999 NATO bombings that destroyed the Yugo assembly line in Kragujevac.
Just in case nobody understood Spank’s Yugo theme, he created “YUGOt NATO’d” team T-shirts. This is one of the best LeMons team shirts ever, and we have seen plenty of good ones.
Spank won the IOE at the Arizona race by racing a horrible first-gen Hyundai Excel. The only real competition for the ’86 Excel in the shoddy ultra-cheap car segment was the ’86 Yugo GV, and so Spank immediately went out and found a Yugo. Which wasn’t quite ready to join the race when the green flag waved on Saturday, because a lot of stuff had to be fixed first.
The last time we’d seen a Yugo in LeMons, the driver put it on its roof about 30 seconds into the race at Thunderhill, back in the 2008 Arse Freeze-a-Palooza race. To avoid this outcome, Spank knew that he had to rig up some kind of lowering spacers on the suspension. The Thunderhill wrecker guys came through, giving Spank a bunch of busted-off motorcycle foot pegs that they’d found in the weeds after a bike race.
When the Yugo finally did hit the track, later on Saturday, it was much quicker than anyone expected.
For all of this, another Index of Effluency trophy for Spank. Just as Cerveza Racing has more overall LeMons wins than any team in LeMons history, Spank has more IOEs than any team; we’re not sure what the exact count is (Spank does not count IOEs earned while racing in cars he didn’t build himself), but it’s something like nine total.
For more photos from the 2016 Vodden the Hell Are We Doing race, check out the quasi-official LeMons Über Gallery page.
We’ll be racing in Colorado next weekend, so be sure to keep up with all the action here at your Roadkill home of the 24 Hours of LeMons!