Last weekend, we returned to Miller Motorsports Park near Salt Lake City for the second annual Return of the LeMonites 24 Hours of LeMons. Last year at this race, we saw the race debut of a flathead-six-powered ’50 Dodge pickup, and this time we were surprised by the sudden appearance of a fully caged 1960 Studebaker Lark during the inspections. Plenty more good stuff happened, so let’s check it out!
Miller Motorsports Park is a first-rate facility in an amazingly beautiful setting, but there was a cloud of uncertainty hovering over the place due to the track’s recent purchase by a subsidiary of China’s Geely Automotive.
Geely, which purchased Volvo five years ago, started out building variants of license-built Daihatsu Charades and grew into an automotive empire, making such cars as the Gleagle Panda and the Beauty Leopard (in addition to the full Volvo line, of course).
Because this is LeMons, where nothing is sacred, we decided to honor MMP’s new Middle Kingdom overlords in the same way we honored Texans’ fears of a United Nations invasion or the legacy of Fulgencio Batista in Miami. So, the LeMons Supreme Court donned our Red Guard outfits for the occasion.
In the case of this Volvo 740 wagon (the overall winner at last year’s Miller race), we added a big Chinese flag to celebrate the Geely-ization of Volvo.
Not every team went all Hundred Flowers Campaign for the occasion, however; this Nissan 240SX team showed up as “Ernie Sanders 2016.”
Yes, it looks like a genuine Burt Reynolds-grade ’77 Pontiac Trans Am, but this is in fact a ’79 Chevy Camaro with a much-thrashed-and-patched junkyard Firebird nose job. Sort of what you’d call a “hundred-footer,” which is fine when the car is roaring by on a race track.
The Team Jello 2016 BMW 320i looks like a genuine IMSA E21 from 35 years ago, but all this bodywork was done in the team’s driveway, using electrical conduit and hand-formed sheet metal. With a very tired 125-horsepower four-cylinder engine under the hood and all that extra weight, the Jello 2016 car looked about ten times faster than it actually was… but so what?
Rocket Surgery Racing brought their Renault 4CV (which boasts a mid-mounted Volkswagen Golf engine), done up with a full 1980s cassette mix-tape theme. Left to right, that’s David Bowie, Annie Lennox, Loverboy, and Mark Mothersbaugh.
The Class C trophy ended up going home with Blue Falcon Racing and their 1995 Geo Metro, which has three cylinders and uses ’em all. What other series gives you a gripping duel between a GM-badged Suzuki and a 60-year-old Renault with a giant cassette-tape-shaped boombox on the roof?
After years and years of chasing a Class B LeMons victory, the drivers of John Galt Racing and their 1974 BMW 2002 accomplished the feat last weekend, getting the win by three laps over the Neon Pope ’97 Dodge Neon.
Taking the Class A and overall wins, we had the Model T GT, which was campaigned by Hella Shitty Racing. These guys usually run a nitrogen-oxide-belching TDI-powered Porsche 911 in LeMons, but this time they opted to rent the T GT and shoot for the overall win.
In the grimy yellow race suit, Hella Shitty driver Anton Lovett (who normally races a Chevy Cavalier) has competed in 61 LeMons races, far more than any other driver, and finally has his first overall win.
The Model T GT’s margin of victory over the TWF BMW 5-Series was a mere 12 seconds, after a full weekend of racing. The drivers of the Hella Shitty Model T GT, the TWF, and the Auto Lemon Union BMW 5-Series swapped leads all weekend, but a last-minute pass of the TWF car by Lovett (captured in the video clip above) secured the win.
Not every team had a great weekend, unfortunately. The Cannonball Bandits brought their Toyota Supra (which is very fast with its Vortec 5300 truck engine swap) and promptly set the fastest lap of Saturday morning. Then, as so often happens with GM V8s that get beat on a bit too hard at our races, a couple of connecting rods came a-flyin’ out through the engine block.
No problem, said the Cannonball Bandits, we’ve found a replacement engine… at Mountain Home Air Force Base in Idaho. So, they hopped in the pickup, drove the 340 miles from MMP to MHAFB, and then had to wait hours and hours in order to get security clearances to set foot onto the base and get their engine.
They got back on Sunday morning and commenced with the engine swapping. Since the Supra was never designed to fit a great big Detroit V8, this is not an easy task, but the Cannonball Bandits persisted. With an hour or so to go before the checkered flag, everything was all buttoned up and the engine ready to fire for the first time.
Then this happened, which took out the starter solenoid and clutch slave cylinder along with whatever bad things took place inside the crankcase. With insufficient time to fix the problems, the Cannonball Bandits never returned to the track. For this, they received the not-so-desirable I Got Screwed award.
The flip side of the I Got Screwed award is the Most Heroic Fix award, and this time we gave it to the team captain of the Pit Crew Revenge team, Chris Overzet. The Scuderia Limoni Alfa Romeo Milano, which was on its 33rd 24 Hours of LeMons race, suffered massive failure of just about every weld on its Italian unibody (which can happen after 25,000 race miles). Overzet, who has been racing in LeMons since the earliest days of the series, volunteered to spend all night re-welding all those dozens of feet of split seams, and the car got back onto the track on Sunday.
Our special regional award went to the Latex Larrys and their ex-Kanab Police Department Ford Crown Victoria. The Latex Larrys received the Utah Tourist Tax trophy, and here’s why.
It turns out that this very car spent a good decade parked near the Kanab city limits with a mannequin cop dubbed “Latex Larry” behind the wheel, and now it has entered its second career as a road-racing machine.
The justices of the LeMons Supreme Court opted to issue the Judges’ Choice trophy to the members of OMG Racing, thanks to the extreme generosity on the part of the OMG guys (who had the misfortune of being pitted right next to the LeMons Supreme Court’s penalty box) in allowing the judges to take their 1994 Mercedes-Benz S500 coupe out for some laps during the race.
The 24 Hours of LeMons was started by automotive journalists and most of the LeMons Supreme Court’s judges come from that profession. In addition to myself, we had Judge Aaron Cole of TTAC (and about a thousand other publications) and Judge Andrew Ganz, managing editor of Cheatsheet, donning the sacred black robes of the Court. Each drove the OMG Racing Benz without stuffing it into a concrete wall, putting it on its roof, or setting it on fire, which (as we’ve seen) is quite an accomplishment for car writers.
Sordik Racing picked up the Organizer’s Choice award for sorting out the many bugs in their Renault R5 Turbo (actually a Renault Le Car that got submerged in river silt during the 2013 Colorado floods, then had a 190-horse Infiniti I30 V6 engine stuffed into the back and a 1981-vintage fiberglass body kit slapped on) and making it run a whole LeMons race without breaking anything.
Engine swaps like this are very difficult to get sorted out, and the resulting spin-happy machines tend to be nearly impossible to control on a race track, so Sordik’s accomplishment in their car’s third race was impressive. We predict ever-decreasing lap times from this car in the future.
That brings us to the big prize of the 24 Hours of LeMons, the Index of Effluency. A car that shouldn’t be anywhere near a race track yet does astoundingly well gets consideration for the IOE, and sometimes the difference between expectation and reality with a LeMons car is so extreme that the Index decision requires no deliberation whatsoever. Such was the case at the 2015 Return of the LeMonites race and the Index of Effluency win for the Premature Combustion 1960 Studebaker Lark.
The Premature Combustion Lark isn’t the first LeMons Studebaker, which we think says a lot of good things about this series. The LeMons legends of NSF Racing, who have raced such fine machines as a 1949 Nash Airflyte, a 1956 Ford Fairlane, a 1950 Mercedes-Benz 170S, and a swamp-find 1963 Plymouth Fury, found a rusty 1959 Studebaker Silver Hawk, dropped in a Chrysler 360 V8, and won the IOE at the Alabama race in February.
The Premature Combustion guys got the Lark’s original 259-cubic-inch V8 and automatic transmission working, caged the car, applied some metalflake racing stripes, added a gigantic lark sculpture to the roof, and were ready to race.
The car hadn’t moved under its own power in more than 40 years prior to the team buying it. Most of the time, when such a long-idle vehicle shows up to race in LeMons, it clanks around for a couple of laps and then spends the rest of the weekend on jackstands. This was not the case with the Premature Combustion Lark.
Which isn’t to say that the Premature Combustion team’s weekend went perfectly smoothly. Soon after the start of the race, the transmission input shaft seal failed, lubricating the tarmac with all of the Lark’s slushbox juice. Amazingly, the big auto-parts stores still carry seals for the Borg-Warner T12 transmission, and the team had a new one in place a few finger-mashing hours after a parts run to Salt Lake City.
Unfortunately, they’d forgotten to disconnect the battery when dropping the transmission, and the starter assembly grounded out and suffered seemingly irreparable damage. Where do you find Studebaker starter-motor parts on Saturday afternoon in Utah?
It turns out that Studebaker used off-the-shelf Delco components for their starters, and that the same car-parts store that had the transmission shaft seal also had a starter rebuild kit. The Lark made it back into the race. Congratulations, Premature Combustion!
We’ve got another race going on this weekend at Autobahn Country Club in Chicago, so be sure to check in here if you can’t make it to the track in person. For more 2015 Return of the LeMonites photos, go to the quasi-official gallery.