Smells Like AMC Spirit 24 Hours of Lemons: The Winners

It’s a Lemons tradition (if not exactly a Lemons forte) to create clever event names that reflect, variously, things like crappy cars and event-specific geography. (Good ones include “Houston, We Have a Problem” for a south Texas race, while “The Cure for Gingervitis” at Gingerman is more of a head-scratcher than anything).

56107229921__C7705D04-7B71-4742-8857-894B4250212EThe second Pacific Northwest race of 2018, at The Ridge Motorsports Park, featured maybe the most successful event name of all time: Smells Like AMC Spirit. The name itself may only be mildly chuckle-worthy, but the REAL benefit was that it somehow inspired FOUR different teams to bring actual AMC Sprits to race. Which led to glorious all-AMC front-row starts, hilarious AMC suspension angles during cornering, and—thanks to lots of mechanical attrition—points during the race where dang near 30% of the entire running field was made up of AMC Spirits.

_MG_5612Predictably, the award winners also featured a high percentage of Spirits, but it wasn’t a clean sweep—here’s a rundown of all the teams that took home trophies.

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Class A + Overall Win: Crap-Can Mixed Tape Dating Club
While it has now been proven technically possible for a VW Corrado to win an endurance race, it must be noted that it took a decade of trying combined with the hands-on expertise of one of the country’s best VW specialist shops. If you’re just a guy trying to do well in Lemons, maybe try a Miata instead.

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Class B: Dirty Duck Racing
Longtime Lemons veterans Dirty Duck Racing took a maybe/maybe-not intentional approach at this race: Instead of trying to figure out how to prevent front-wheel-drive Volkswagens from chomping through CV axles like Slim Jims, they just let it happen like Wolfsburg intended, and focused instead on speeding up their axle replacements. This succeeded, and despite exiting the track on day one at the end of a tow strap, they were back in action on day two and breezed to a Class B win.

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Class C: Silversleeves Racing
The Canadian Austin Mini enthusiasts of Silversleeves racing have done a couple of things recently that would have seemed impossible: 1. They’ve won a Lemons class in a like-a-Mini-but-worse MG 1100, and 2. They’ve inspired— as a result of their success— some other teams to complain that the MG 1100 is too dominant for Class C. As Lemons staffers like to say, “It’s a loophole!”—Anyone who wishes to bring their own MG 1100 and unfairly dominate Class C is welcome to do so.

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Most Heroic Fix: Team Sawzda
In its debut campaign earlier this year, Team Sawzda brought a dead-stock, quarter-million-mile, just-retired-from-daily-driver Mazda 323 and proceeded to steamroll to a Class C win. Returning for round two, the team figured the next logical step to be PERFORMANCE. So they swapped in a twincam powerplant from a Protégé LX and—you’ll never guess what happened next—exploded. Fortunately, they had brought the old low-output 250k lump with them, and proceeded to swap it back in and finish the race. Mixed in there somewhere was the part where they had to rewire the engine harness since the two engines have different ECUs.

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Judges’ Choice: Hella Shitty Racing
The first of the AMC Spirits to score a trophy was Hella Shitty, who dragged a mostly-stock Spirit all the way up from California. The various team members have countless Lemons builds to their credit, including a Bricklin SV-1 and a Jeep Cherokee, so the AMC way of thinking wasn’t completely foreign to them.

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It didn’t make the car GOOD, mind you, but it was a solid showing that earned a tip of the judges’ caps.

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Galloping Gertie Excellence in Engineering Award: That Guy Racing
This race’s special regional award was named after Galloping Gertie, the local nickname of the famous Tacoma Narrows Bridge that pretzeled in high winds and collapsed. This recognition of similar engineering prowess was bestowed upon That Guy Racing, which is one of a handful of recent teams to race a Porsche Boxster.

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And like all of the other Boxster teams, this one failed to dominate. After leaving their previous Lemons race with an undiagnosed overheating issue, That Guy determined in the weeks before this race that a blown head gasket was the problem. Without any time to fix the gasket properly (due to the dynamically superior mid-engine layout, any minor service to the car requires roughly three months of shop time), the team installed a diabolically innovative (read: dumb) coolant overflow system.

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Instead of the standard couple-of-quarts expansion tank, the team installed a ratchet-strapped 40-liter reservoir in the trunk, which promptly broke loose, popped its connections, and dumped all 40 liters across the facility. Undeterred, the team patched the system together enough to complete about four smoky/steamy laps, which was good for DFL, behind all four AMC Spirits.

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I Got Screwed: Low Road Racing
Of the four AMC Spirit teams, Low Road Racing was perhaps the most likely to bring a Spirit, for two reasons: 1. They’ve previously raced a Mustang II and a Pontiac Sunbird, and 2. They already had a 1979 AMC Spirit AMX with personalized “AMC” license plates as a street car, long before Lemons announced the name of this event. Despite this on-paper jump on the competition, the Low Road gang didn’t arrive at tech until after the green flag on day TWO—and when they did, it was with a poorly-running AMC 401 that then blew up not long after hitting the track. As a result, they missed all of the Spirit-centric photo shoots, Spirit formation laps, and general Spirit festivities—they got screwed.

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Half-Eaten Box of Cheez-Its: Rattlesnake Electric Sport
When the final awards were determined, the staff realized that three out of the four Spirits were awarded a trophy—and they didn’t want to leave the fourth one hanging. So that car—the fastest and most penalty-prone of the Spirits—was handed a half-eaten box of Cheez-Its.

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Organizers’ Choice: Team CCCP, Lada Niva
Lemons’ first Lada Niva (which was somehow sold new in the Canadian market) didn’t disappoint. Complete with actual Russian drivers and a damn bear rug on the roof (which was disappointingly removed for racing), the little Lada truck neither rolled nor exploded, defying most some expectations.

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The biggest hiccups were driver-related: One driver stopped on track and attempted to enter the pits in reverse, and another left his iPhone on the roof of the car as it entered the track… twice.

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Winner on Index of Effluency: Team Lowball
While it may have been somewhat of a foregone conclusion that an AMC Spirit would win the grand prize for this event, Team Lowball‘s spectacular showing would have been good for IOE at any Lemons race. The team’s journey started in their home state of Texas, where they’ve been campaigning a Gremlin at MSR Houston Lemons events. Armed with much compact AMC tuning expertise, the team knew they had to bring a Spirit to The Ridge, but local searches turned up few-to-no viable candidates. At the last minute, a promising lead turned up in El Paso, about 750 miles west—or, almost a third of the way to The Ridge. The logical conclusion was clear: Agree to buy the El Paso Spirit sight-unseen, load up their (literal) horse trailer with tubing, benders, and welding equipment, pick up the Spirit on the way, and build the cage in the paddock Thursday night before tech.

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Amazingly, this all went essentially perfectly. Plus, the team used all of that fabrication gear to help other teams with cage issues, cooked chili (without beans, obviously) for everyone in the paddock, and came home with an incredible seventh-overall finish.

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For full-resolution photographs of the Smells Like AMC Spirit race, check out the Lemons gallery on Smugmug. The next 24 Hours of Lemons event will be in less than a week, when the tenth annual South Fall Race will take place at Carolina Motorsports Park in beautiful Camden, South Carolina. This race was postponed due to Hurricane Florence, but the traditional parade through town and street party will still take place.

Roadkill Fall 2016 Cover