Since Sonoma Raceway (which is located on the San Francisco Bay Area landform named Sears Point) is the closest track to 24 Hours of LeMons HQ, we race there often; last weekend was our 15th effort to lower the property values of this tradition-rich facility in the Wine Country with our hooptie-centric antics. We saw a lot of close, exciting racing… and a lot of bent metal. Here’s what went down at the 2016 Sears Pointless 24 Hours of LeMons.
The overall and Class A winners were the members of the Pistola Alto team and their 1991 Nissan 300ZX. This team had been bringing their Z32 to West Coast LeMons races for many years; at first, the LeMons Supreme Court justices were unwilling to accept that a Z32 could be had for LeMons money, but (after four or five years of watching this car break parts and seeing many of its brethren showing up at U-Wrench-It junkyards) we came to accept the Pistola Alto car as a quick-but-flaky Class A machine.
The Class A battle was an unusually tense one, all the way down to the final minutes of the race. The Eyesore Racing ‘ghettocharged’ Miata got nearly obliterated in a nasty head-on crash in December, but the team grafted on some junkyard metal and leaped right into contention in this race.
By Sunday’s race session, it had become clear that the battle for the P1 spot was a three-way deal, with the Eyesore Miata drivers trying to stay ahead of the Pistola Alto Nissan and the Bunny With Or Without a Pancake On Its Head VR6-swapped 1983 Volkswagen Rabbit. All three cars stayed within a lap or two of the lead for most of the weekend, so the whole game came down to a question of fuel consumption: could the drivers of the fast-but-thirsty 300ZX stretch their range further than those in the efficient Miata and its tiny 10-gallon fuel tank, or would the Rabbit blow past both when they had to pit for a last-second splash-O-gas?
In the end, the Pistola Alto team held off the other two teams, taking the checkered flag with the Eyesore Miata about 30 seconds back and the Bunny With Or Without a Pancake On Its Head VW two laps behind. Winning Class A in California is no walk in the park!
Cerveza Racing and their BMW E28 5-Series is the team to beat at most of the West Coast LeMons races, thanks in large part to the Cerveza drivers’ amazing skill at driving fast in heavy traffic. This time, though, the 24 Hours of LeMons head honcho, Jay Lamm, got irritated with the Cerveza guys for leaving their car in the inspection garage while they went to turn in their tech sheet and decided it would be funny to pull a couple of their spark plug wires. He figured that they’d notice their car wasn’t running right during the 100-yard trip back to their garage space and have a brief moment of panic before solving the problem.
Of course, Chief Perpetrator Lamm spaced completely on his plan to make sure the Cerveza guys put their plug wires back on prior to the green flag (because he likes to indulge in a hearty meal after a long day of inspections, as seen in the above photo), and they drove their first stint on Saturday with just four out of six cylinders hitting… which made the car a bit slower but didn’t stop them from staying in the top few out of 147 entries. Once they figured out what was going on, the drivers pushed too hard and got a few black flags, knocking them out of a shot at the win. The red-faced Chief Perp is going to waive Cerveza’s fees at the next race and— we can only hope— scrub their toilets with his toothbrush— but for now we issued the team a very well-deserved I Got Screwed trophy.
The I Got Screwed trophy is one that you don’t want to win, while the Most Heroic Fix trophy is its much happier counterpart. This time, the battle for the Heroic Fix was just as hard-fought and down-to-the-wire as the Class A struggle. It began early in the going on Saturday when the Fordsche Ford 302 V8-swapped Porsche 944 suffered one of the most dramatic engine explosions we’d ever seen, oiling down a huge section of the track and scattering sharp-edged metal shards everywhere.
The wrecker crews dropped off the dead Fordsche in the paddock, then proceeded to dump out several 5-gallon buckets full of broken engine pieces they’d swept up. Crowds gathered to gaze in awe at the battered flywheel with a segment of crankshaft still attached.
Every component of the engine was destroyed. The bellhousing was destroyed. The clutch was destroyed. Every single handmade bit of one-off engine-adapter hardware (all made by the car’s previous owner… who wouldn’t answer the phone when the team called him): destroyed. Not giving up, the Fordsche guys started running all over the Bay Area, tracking down a replacement engine, getting a bellhousing and modifying it, and so on.
Not long after that, the Dirty Little Freaks, who race a slow-but-reliable ’79 Mercedes-Benz 300CD converted into a very menacing Dalek, suffered a blown head gasket and cracked cylinder head. You’d think that OM617 parts ought to be easy to find in the Mercedes-diesel-loving Bay Area, but such is not the case.
The Dirty Little Freaks could not find a new head gasket anywhere within a day’s drive, so they found some Mercedes-Benz parts hoarder on Craigslist and bought a used head gasket, plus cylinder head, from him. Hey, a used head gasket ought to be good enough for a 21:1 compression ratio, right? By this time, it was very late on Saturday night, and the Benz Wrenchfest began in earnest.
Meanwhile, the Fordsche crew spent all night chasing parts and pounding on stuff with big hammers. By Saturday afternoon, they had an engine in the car, sort of, but nickel/dime problems were confounding them at every turn.
However, both teams managed to (barely) fire up their cars and limp onto the track to catch the final minute of the race. It was very inspiring, and we decided that the Most Heroic Fix trophy would go to the Fordsche team, due to the larger number of miles they put in while pursuing nearly-impossible-to-find components.
The Misfits went home happy, though, because their 2003 Jaguar X-Type somehow refrained from exploding into a vapor of Jaguar-stamped Ford Mondeo parts (as it had done in each of its previous LeMons races) and held together well enough to win Class C by an 11-lap margin over the Polished Turd Racing ’86 Ford Escort wagon. We look forward to seeing more X-Types (and maybe even S-Types) in future races, as these cars have depreciated to well below scrap-value prices by now.
For the Judges’ Choice award, the LeMons Supreme Court selected the LeMons rookies of the McProbe Ford Probe team. This bunch had a lot of spins and offs on their first day, but then cleaned up and drove very well on the second. We like to see a new team learn so quickly.
When this team showed up with a beautifully crafted Honda N600 featuring Suzuki GSXR motorcycle power and a way-the-hell-beyond-$500 budget, we assigned a lot of penalty laps; this allows such a team to get some wheel-to-wheel track time without actually competing. Still, many racers were upset by this car’s presence (though it turned out to be nearly as slow as the Supranos’ 1970 Toyota Corona, which has 80 horsepower and 2-speed automatic transmission), so much so that we created a Much Ado About Cheating trophy and handed it to the Team Baka guys. Tora! Tora! Tora!
The Zitronen Kommando team and their 1991 Volkswagen Vanagon earned the Organizer’s Choice award for their great POLIZEI theme. By the way, the Team Westafari Vanagon won the Vanagon-vs-Odyssey-vs-Vanagon Van Challenge, with the Odyssey coming in last.
Coming off their glorious Class F victory over Top Gear USA at the December Sears Point race, the Hooniverse Huevos Ranchero got smashed up pretty badly in a spectacular head-on crash with a C4 Corvette. Nobody was hurt, thanks to modern safety gear, and the resulting in-car video was so dramatic that we awarded the Huevos Ranchero the created-for-the-occasion Best Video Clip trophy.
That takes us to the Index of Effluency, the top prize of LeMons racing. After trying to get their car to finish in the top half of the standings since way back in 2009, the Faster Farms Chickens and their 1966 Plymouth Belvedere were in 48th place— the top third of the standings— when the checkered flag flew on Sunday.
This car features hundreds of pounds of weird stuff glued all over the body, 7-year-old pizza slices epoxied to the dashboard, and a couple of stuffed Foster’s Imposters dolls clinging to the Superbird-style wing.
This car is street-legal in California and gets plenty of daily-driving use. The team enters it in car shows, drives it in 4th of July parades, and generally spreads the word about the joys of our kind of racing. A long-overdue Index of Effluency for the Faster Farms Chickens!