The LeMons schedule is a big jigsaw puzzle, designed so that there are events in most corners of the country, that events in the same regions are evenly spaced across the calendar, and that places with weather extremes are avoided on risky dates.
But, as the LeMons racers who sloshed through nearly two inches of rain at New Jersey Motorsports Park can attest, no schedule is perfect.
The Real Hoopties of New Jersey, scheduled for mid-May in south Jersey, seemed reasonably safe— a blizzard was unlikely, anyway— but the intrepid bunch of 125 LeMons teams definitely drew the short straw when it came to water of the fully liquid variety.
On the positive side, Sunday was almost completely dry. On the negative side, that means ALL of those two inches fell on Saturday’s session. And, on the inexplicable (but maybe not unexpected for those familiar with LeMons racing logic) side, Sunday’s excellent conditions led to way more on-track driving blunders.
Such is life in the LeMons universe— no matter how much GoPro footage, race simulators, and post-event CSI may be involved, it’s still a bunch of cats in a room full of firecrackers. Which, occasionally, may have the overhead sprinklers running at full tilt.
Of course, many teams made it through these various challenges unscathed, or at least less scathed than the average competitor. (Or, in the case of the I Got Screwed award, the most hilariously scathed of them all.) Here’s the full list of trophy winners:
Porsches, as owners and fans are frothing at the mouth to inform you, have a successful racing history. That’s not generally so in LeMons. LeMons Porsches, for starters, are generally watercooled,* i.e., Not the 911, i.e. Not The Model That Has All That Racing Success. No, LeMons Porsches are the Donnie Walhbergs, the Cooper Mannings, the Ralf Schumachers of the storied Stuttgart family— maybe not bad dudes in a void, but certainly not as legendary as their relatives. Actually, scratch that— Ralf Schumacher might not be a bad dude, but the typical LeMons 944 is AWFUL. In a rarely-told tale of early LeMons history, series founder Jay Lamm himself teamed up with an experienced racer who was going to prep a 944 for Lamm to co-drive—details are foggy, but at least three replacement engines were paid for without anyone getting any actual seat time. And that experience isn’t uncommon— occasional oiling problems, expensive repair parts, and the needlessly complicated rear-transaxle configuration (and don’t you mouth-frothers give me any jibber-jabber about 50/50 weight distribution) all add up to a car that is a much bigger challenge to campaign in LeMons, than, say, a Ford Crown Vic.
The razor-thin silver lining is that when they work, as rare as that may be, the results are potentially excellent. There may be fewer Crown Vic utter heartbreak stories, but there aren’t any Crown Vic overall win stories. That’s not the case for the LeMons Porsche, which has maybe a 100:1 heartbreak-to-triumph ratio. Or 1000:1. Whatever. Scotch Rocket Racing played these odds and won. Their tool of choice was a 924S, a weird crossover model using the narrow 924 body and 944 running gear, all of which held together through the rain and (apparently more daunting) sun to take the win going away.
*The one exception is the 914, and that’s not helping the whole “success in LeMons racing” cause.
Winner, Class B: Volkswaggin, Volkswagen Jetta
MK2 Volkswagens are a bit of a LeMons enigma. When they’re good, they have overall-win potential, and when they’re bad, you’re over there drowning your sorrows with the 944 dudes. So, LeMons judges usually put these cars in Class B, to hedge against both possibilities, and like Scotch Rocket Racing, Volkswaggin came out on top of that particular roll of the dice.
Winner, Class C: The Nut Jobs, Volvo 760
On the subject of weird crossover models, the Volvo 760 was an early attempt by Volvo to get out of the sensible-everyday-transport market and into the luxury realm. In the height of the Gordon Gekko era, we’re not sure how many sales the 760 took away from, say, BMW. But like its Munich competitors, add a few decades and several northeast winters to a once-proud status symbol, you will end up with a LeMons-worthy machine. And the case of this chunky Swede, a Class-C-worthy machine.
I Got Screwed: Dahlinboysracing with Frankenphil, Cadillac Eldorado
A common theme in I Got Screwed history is the suggestion-from-a-LeMons-official-that-is-followed-with-disastrous-results. Notable examples of this over the years include the time Judge Phil told a team they should try racing a Subaru XT, or the time LeMons HQ issued a mandate that the Renault Fuego Turbo was the car they most wanted to see race. The IGS “winner” from NJMP was no different— these poor bastards had showed up for the winter LeMons Rally with this roached-out Caddy, and Rallymaster and LeMons Judge Steve McDaniel was so impressed with its potential that he said “Man, you guys should just put a cage in this thing and take it to the track.” They did, and spent the majority of the weekend in the mud working on the danged thing. Thus, the only extant photo of the car on track is this blurry Bigfoot-grade snap from the initial roll-out on Saturday morning.
Most Heroic Fix(er): Sasha Rashev
(In)famous LeMons participant Sasha Rashev, known primarily for his Russian can-do attitude and propensity for needlessly Sawzalling cars into pieces, wasn’t even racing at NJMP. Despite that minor detail, he somehow found himself performing 11th-hour cage repairs to the Safety Recall MR2 team–a bunch of first-time Lemons racers who didn’t stand a chance of passing tech without some expert help. Operating under the official instructions of “Do not cut the roof off of this car,” Sasha proceeded to use a borrowed welder and scavenged rollcage tubing to bring the MR2 up to snuff. The team was impressed, the staff was relieved, and Sasha went home with a trophy.
No Chevette In Our Chevette: Frankenvette, Chevrolet Chevette.
The special award for this event, the “No Chevette In Our Chevette” trophy, went, deservingly, to a rookie team that took a total rust-bucket Chevette and injected liberal amounts of backyard engineering to make it into a very viable LeMons competitor. With heavily corroded suspension attachment points, the team broke out the welder and fabbed custom mounts to accept an assortment of chassis pieces from Chevy S10s and Ford Explorers (the latter, presumably, because there was one lying around). The humble S10 also donated its 4.3-liter V6, which, once the bugs are sorted, should move this terrible little crapbox right along. Unusual for a first-time team campaigning a heavily customized chassis, the car passed stringent LeMons safety tech on the first try. Which proves these guys can read, which may suggest they might not stick around in LeMons after all. We hope they do.
Judges’ Choice often goes to a redemption story, and although Park Bench Racing’s rock-bottom particulars (automotive journalists racing a General Motors product) never really led to a truly awful performance, they were certainly never this good. Campaigned by a crew from cult-favorite automotive site Hooniverse, this Buick Regal sports a fullsize wrought iron-and-wood FRICKIN’ PARK BENCH atop its trunk, as…downforce assist? In LeMons, bolting highly non-automotive and likely performance-robbing accouterments to one’s race car is applauded, and piloting a so-equipped machine to a 14th-out-of-125 overall finish gets a standing ovation.
Organizers’ Choice: Press the Button Max, Plymouth Valiant
“Press the Button, Max” is a famous line from the 1965 screwball comedy The Great Race—but of course you knew that. The two team leaders used that fine film as inspiration, never breaking character (of Jack Lemmon’s Professor Fate and Peter Falk’s Max Meen) during the weekend. Which was admittedly creepy at times, but also gloriously weird in a very LeMons-approved way. And, almost as an afterthought, they packaged the whole obscure concept into a highly respected competition machine: A 1967 slant-six Plymouth Valiant.
Winner on Index of Effluency: Speedycop and the Gang of Outlaws, Suzuki X-90.
Speedycop (an actual DC-area cop and reasonably speedy driver named Jeff) is no stranger to absolute ridiculousness, and thus LeMons IOE wins. This doesn’t come without a price: When images of his latest creation, an ersatz hot dog stand wrapped around a Suzuki X-90, hit the internet, some complained it had no business clogging up a serious racetrack, and others suggested that a hot dog stand wrapped around a car was simply a bad idea. While it may be hard to refute those claims, and while even Speedycop himself admitted he’s had better creations in the past, the thing that stood out about the racing hot dog stand was, you guessed it, performance. Among the list of machines defeated by the aerodynamically-challenged kiosk were E30s, Mustangs, Integras, Miatas, Audis, and a 2000 BMW 528i. By foodservice implement standards, a 48th-overall finish was sheer dominance. As a nice finishing touch, the crew spent the entire weekend distributing free hot dogs to fellow competitors, in exchange for donations to Bella-Reed Pit Bull Rescue.
For more photographs from the 2017 Real Hoopties of New Jersey race, check out the gallery here. LeMons returns to the Northeast in August. Until then, follow continuing shenanigans here at the Roadkill Home of the 24 Hours of LeMons and at the official 24 Hours of LeMons Facebook page.