North Dallas Hooptie LeMons: The Winners!

There are many things not to like about North Texas’ Eagles Canyon Raceway—the remote location, the icenado-prone weather, the paddock that is arranged like a cross between a kid’s toy parking garage and a wedding cake—but when it comes to the track itself, it’s not a bad place to race. Which is why LeMons has been going there for years. A small but hearty band of Texan racers keeps coming back for more—here’s how they fared at the 2016 North Dallas Hooptie.

For once, there was a reasonably close race for the Class A/overall win—since LeMons staffers care little about trivialities such as victory, this was a fact learned long after the race was over.

The Car-B-Q 300ZX team (who deftly rowed a Harbor Freight shift-kit-equipped Pathfinder transmission to the top of the podium) didn’t have an easy time of it, however.

The Camry V6-powered MR2 of Spin It to Win It finished just 22 seconds aft of the Car-B-Q Nissan.

The flame-spitting, metallic-sound-making, and inevitably blowing-upping third-gen Camaro “IROC Maiden” of Team Steam was close behind.

Class B honors went to Yard Sale Racing, who finished a thoroughly impressive sixth (after running in third for much of the weekend) in a Honda Accord that very well could have been picked up at a yard sale.

Class C was utterly dominated by an unlikely competitor: an aluminum Buick 215-powered Maserati Biturbo campaigned by Team Bi-Curious. No joke: The Maser finished 11th overall, more than 50 laps clear of the next Class C entry.

One might argue that that’s just a classing error, but we prefer to think of it as the aluminum Buick 215-powered Maserati Biturbo loophole.

LeMons’ traditional I Got Screwed award often winds up being a Heroic Fix candidate that didn’t actually fix anything, but this was a rare occasion where the Screwed winner—the two-car stable of ORCA Racing—didn’t actually break anything.* A lot of factors went into their Screwing—existing as a two-car team composed of a Porsche 914 and a totaled Cadillac CTS being the main one. But the hardship most noticeable to the average bystander was how the CTS accelerated onto the main straight. With third gear shredded in their tortured automatic transmission, the team discovered that if the driver held the gas flat on the floor at corner exit, the gearbox would just endlessly bounce off the rev limiter in second. So they developed a technique wherein the driver would lift off and double-tap the gas just before redline in second, and the tranny would be confused into skip-shifting into fourth. The accompanying sound effect of this method was a thrashy, trademark GM-V6 consonant-heavy HHHHHGGGGJJGGHHHHRRJJRRRNNNN, followed by a two-beat pause, and finished off with a pathetic and droning djooooooooooooooooooooooooom as the car fell off a cliff into fourth gear. This, at every corner, for 14 hours.

*Well, of course they broke lots of stuff. We’re just using “anything” in the context of simultaneously endurance-racing a 914 and a CTS.

Judges’ Choice went to the Sticky Bandits, who were competing in just their second LeMons race in their wretched Cutlass Supreme. The team’s fall 2015 debut at MSR Houston featured an anemic Buick V6, an achingly stock suspension, and a cage that failed tech and had to be completely replaced the Friday night before the race. This time, the team showcased a swapped-in Chevy 350, fully legal safety gear, and achingly stock suspension.

The Heroic Fix was equal parts no-brainer and Munchausen Syndrome. On the one hand, the accomplishment of this team was undeniably heroic; on the other, these doofuses totally brought all this crap upon themselves. I’m speaking, of course, about the third leg of the Ramble On Forward program.

Ramble On Forward is a spinoff of 2013’s K-It-Forward— which was where a street-legal Plymouth Reliant K-car station wagon perpetually traversed the country, driving from LeMons event to LeMons event, being raced and “improved” by different teams along the way. By the end of the season, it had covered 30,000 street and race miles, and featured a horrifying amalgam of multi-LeMons-team engineering “solutions” that ultimately led LeMons staffers to dub the K-Car the all-joking-aside Worst LeMons Car of All Time.

K-It-Forward was, to LeMons nerds, a legendary tale of overcoming adversity. To the casual observer, it was more like watching a cat with its head stuck in a paper bag. Either way, it wasn’t something anyone thought should be tried again. Which, of course, is what’s happening now.

Ramble On Forward actually began as Nash It Forward, where Florida-based NSF Racing’s 1949 Nash Airflyte was slated to retrace the K-car’s steps. Those plans quickly changed at the season opener at Barber Motorsports Park, where the Nash (being guest-driven by an automotive journalist) crapped out on track and was promptly rear-ended and flipped over by a Miata run by an entire team of automotive journalists. (People who write about cars: What an amazing bunch.)

With the Nash totaled, the program was essentially dead in the water, until California’s Corey Dickman of Panting Polar Bear Racing offered up his 1961 Rambler American sedan as a Nash replacement—thus, Ramble it Forward was born.

The Rambler, running its original six-cylinder and column-shift drivetrain, successfully completed races #2 and #3 at Sonoma and Inde Motorsports Ranch, respectively. For the fourth race of 2016— this one, at ECR— the team decided that more performance and practicality was in order. On paper (or, more accurately, on the internet), the plan made some sense. With the original Nash powertrain in the Rambler, performance and reliability were suspect at best (although, in all of its races in stock form, the Rambler finished solidly mid-pack). Perhaps more importantly, the Rambler stuff was weird—with the car being driven cross-county, the idea of trying to find a Rambler distributor cap in Gnaw Bone, Indiana at 1am on a Sunday was understandably daunting.

So, naturally, the team developed a solution that didn’t solve any of the theoretical problems but succeeded wonderfully in creating numerous problems that didn’t previously exist. Gone was the Rambler six and three-on-the tree, and in its place was a Ford 2.3 four-banger and floor-shifted manual. I should say loosely in place, since at tech start, race start, and day two race start, the Rambler was nowhere to be found.

The logic of the Ford powerplant (and the also-swapped four-wheel disc brakes and Mustang II-based front suspension) was that the parts were all normal off-the-shelf crap that probably could be found at the Gnaw Bone Autozone on a Sunday. But as is often the case, Internet Logic and The Real World have a bit of a gap between them.

By the time the Rambler hit the track (in a position devastatingly arrears of the Little Buckaroo Baja Bug, just to add insult to injury), the team had been forced to fabricate custom brake lines, exhaust, and firewall. They also wound up having to take a grinder to the inner hub surfaces of their front wheels so they would properly clear the Ford Granada hubs.

At the rear, which somewhat predictably used different hubs, the wheels were fine but none of the lug nuts would fit.

Turns out the rear studs were metric, so all of the lug nuts from Corey’s rental Nissan Versa were spun into service. At this juncture it’s probably worth pointing out that the universal/modular/buy-anything-at-Autozone idea might still need some fine-tuning.

1961 Rambler Classic-01
Since the Rambler officially did turn laps, and officially didn’t finish DFL, the organizers considered that definitely “heroic,” and technically a “fix,” and awarded the team the appropriate trophy. But may God help the guy who’s now driving the thing from Texas to the next race in Michigan.

Yes, the Race Rambler lost to Little Buckaroo by 113 laps, but three other teams finished lower in the standings than George Romney‘s innovative compact car.

In happier news, the Organizers’ Choice was the predictably-named (and –numbered) Chevy El Camino of Mullet Motorsports. This rookie team missed a few key rules points, which resulted in an initial tech failure, and a misunderstanding of what’s exempt from the $500 cap and what isn’t (brakes are exempt, and suspension isn’t, but these guys had it reversed, and thus sported brand-new Belltech underpinnings and bone-stock G-Body brakes).

Despite these setbacks, which resulted in a long night of cage repairs and a handful of Belltech-derived penalty laps, the Mullet gang stayed in great spirits and eventually crawled their way back to a mid-pack finish.

That just leaves the Index of Effluency, which was long-overdue recognition of Ratsun Racing (only spiritual relation to the Rotsun) and their 1978 “210ZX“—which is a real, period, fiberglass bodykit on top of a B210 Honey Bee. The seventies, I’ve been told, were an amazing time.

In addition to its bodywork-beyond-reproach, the B210ZX features an early Nissan KA24DE powerplant and several suspension upgrades changes—actually, a formula that should work relatively well.

But much like a Cray Supercomputer in the hands of Jeff Spicoli, the Datsun had generally failed to reach its potential. What that potential is, we’re not entirely sure, but at least this time it sucked less than before.

Stay tuned for the next update from Gingerman Raceway— if for no other reason to find out where those Rambler guys wound up on the hopeless-o-meter.

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