The first Real Hoopties of New Jersey race took place at New Jersey Motorsports Park back in 2011, and the eighth running of the Hoopties was the biggest yet, with 136 teams managing to drive, push, and/or drag their heaps onto the track this time. As always, we saw some spectacular racing machines and some tight competition, so let’s take a closer look at the events from last weekend.
Three Pedal Mafia, the team that catapulted themselves into instant Legend of Lemons status by introducing “The Boat,” a Sea Sprite waterski boat grafted atop a Chevrolet S-10, at the 2012 Real Hoopties of New Jersey race. Since that time, they have added many cars and many teammates, and they accrued so many championship points during the 2017 season— partly because some of their cars finished races high in the standings and partly because of the sheer quantity of 3PM entries— that they won the season points championship last year, establishing themselves as the top team in the entire series. For this reason, their theme at the 2018 Real Hoopties race was The National Effin’ Champions.
The first-ever Lemons Dodge Durango, campaigned by Team Fred, did pretty well for a giant SUV on a road course, finishing 81st overall. Rounding out the truck contingent, we had the 1994 Chevy S-10 of Bright Ideas Racing (finished in P23), the 2000 Dodge Dakota of Team Duhhh-kota (finished 67th), and Three Pedal Mafia’s 1997 Isuzu Hombre (finished 51st).
What do you do when your daily-driver Porsche 911 gets T-boned and totaled, and the insurance company sells it back to you for $5,000? If you’re the slow-witted, boring sort of Porsche owner, you’ll get it repaired and put it back on the street. If you’re a member of the Lemons team that runs the Brown Miata Wagon, you sell off the engine/transaxle (8 grand just for that!), the nice bumpers, the interior, the taillights, and everything else you can think of, and you pocket the profit…
…except for enough money to buy a worn-out Volkswagen Passat, from which you extract the engine and transaxle and stuff them into the back of your now-much-more-interesting 996. It turns out that the Porsche drive axles fit right into the Passat transaxle, provided you do sufficient cut-and-paste work to position all that VW hardware semi-correctly.
Since the Porsche’s rear bodywork got sold off to pay for tow gas and beer, the Passat donated a few body parts. There were plenty of confused double-takes in the paddock around this car during the weekend.
The Poorssat had about half the power of a stock 996, and the funkified cooling system couldn’t quite keep up with road-racing demands and limited the Poorssat’s drivers to about 4,000 rpm on the track. Still, the Poorssat’s best lap times were within a few seconds of many of the quicker cars, and we admired the team’s ingenuity so much that we awarded them a special Porsche Excellence trophy.
The 24 Hours of Lemons tech inspection can be rough on those teams who didn’t power-staple copies of the How To Not Fail Lemons Tech guide to the foreheads of every employee of their cage shop. The Other Pedal Family showed up to their first Lemons race and had their hopes dashed during the inspection, when their 1991 Honda Civic failed on too many counts to list here. Fortunately, the members of Three Pedal Mafia and Futility Motorsport dove in and spent the next 32 hours fixing all the bad welds, bad cage spreader plates, and the rest of the hellish laundry list needed before the car could be allowed onto the track.
Failure! Fifteen laps later, a connecting rod got loose and bashed a hole through the block.
Then another Honda team produced a loose-but-still-running Honda D15 engine and gave it to The Other Pedal Family. With about two hours to go in the race, the team got busy with the swap, and almost had it all buttoned up in time to catch the checkered flag. Almost. For the repeated dashings of hopes that came with their race weekend, The Other Pedal Family took home the character-building I Got Screwed trophy their first time out.
How do you turn a 1981 Chevrolet Chevette into a competition-shreddin’ road-race car? We can’t say, but adding giant wheel flares and stuffing a junkyard-turbocharged Chevy 4.3 V6 engine into the engine compartment is a good way to turn your Chevette into a Legend of Lemons machine.
The Frankenvette features an explodey-looking blow-through-carbureted fuel-delivery system that, in theory, should deliver as much power as a Saturn V launch vehicle. In practice, unfortunately, this rig breaks parts. Lots of parts, in this case popping the intake-manifold gasket and force-feeding cooling water into the cylinders, hydrolocking and destroying the engine.
The Frankenvette team never gave up, however, and spent the entire around-the-clock weekend spinning wrenches and running around the Northeast chasing parts. With about a half-hour remaining on Sunday, the car roared onto the track and turned eleven glorious laps, avoiding the ignominy of a DFL finish by six laps. We call that a Most Heroic Fix.
Team SillyNannies, a bunch of Polish engineers from New York, have been competing in the 24 Hours of Lemons since 2012. With three cars— a Miata, a Mustang, and an Audi A6— they spent more than 20 races teaching the judges of the Lemons Supreme Court new ways of being patient, usually leading the entire fied’s black-flag count in race after maddening race of spins, crashes, offs, pass-under-cautions, and mechanical failures. They’re nice guys, but it seemed impossible for the judges to change their over-aggressive ways. It’s fair to say that the SillyNannies were the worst miscreant drivers in the entire Eastern Lemons Region… until the last few years.
The SillyNannies got better and better, not exactly going entire black-flag-free races but managing fairly clean weekends. We resolved that if they ever managed to keep just one of their cars both running and screwup-free for an entire race weekend, we’d hand the team the Judges’ Choice award. Even with the great improvements to the SillyNannies’ driving in recent years, this prospect seemed about as likely as a Chrysler K-Car getting an overall Lemons win.
It turns out that redemption stories of this magnitude really do happen sometimes, because the SillyNannies’ 1995 Audi A6 took the checkered flag in P4 on Sunday, without even one black flag all weekend, taking home a most unexpected Judges’ Choice. If you’d suggested to us in, say, 2014 that this could ever happen, we’d have demanded some of what you’d been smoking. Well done, SillyNannies!
We had class winners as well, and Class A and overall wins were earned by the veteran racers of Rust In the Wind. This Nissan 300ZX features a Saab B234 turbocharged straight-four engine in place of the original Nissan V6, and it took the team quite a few broken parts to work out all the bugs of their creation.
Once they got the Nisaab to hold together all weekend, the Rust In the Wind drivers had a winning formula; this is their fourth overall win since 2012. They had to replace the worn-out Nissan chassis a few years back, but we still think of it as the same car.
Team Farfrumwinnin spent a solid eight years trying— and generally failing— to do well with a Volkswagen Fox. The team won Class C, barely, then labored mightily to get a Class B win with swapped-in Golf running gear. This didn’t work, so they found a Golf shell and swapped in the good stuff from the Fox. First time out with the new car, a Class B win for Farfrumwinnin.
There was some grumbling about the Class C winner at this race, from those who felt that the judges of your beloved Lemons Supreme Court might be somewhat less than just and/or wise. The names of those malcontents have been noted and they will be held to account at a later date. Let’s just say that the history of Triumph TR7s in Lemons— even, or maybe especially those with swapped-in Rover V8s— has been an unending cruel drama of broken parts and British Leyland misery.
We were awed when the Lemontarians, who won the Index of Effluency at last year’s Connecticut race, appeared at NJMP with a 1:1 scale replica of the notorious Big Daddy Don Garlits Swamp Rat XIII dragster mounted to the roof of their 1985 Cadillac Fleetwood Brougham.
With a frame made of electrical conduit, front wheels sourced from unicycles, and an engine constructed from plywood, soup cans, and plastic planters, the Lemontarians’ Swamp Rat didn’t add much to the weight of their extremely luxurious Fleetwood.
However, the steely-eyed Lemons tech inspectors couldn’t banish mental images of all that steel conduit causing mayhem during a crash, and so the team was ordered to remove the front portion of Swamp Rat XIII’s frame. The mastermind and drag-racing fanatic behind this brilliant theme, Halfdan Prahl, began thinking about workarounds to get the Swamp Rat Brougham’s frame into Lemons safety compliance.
Because this is the Lemontarians we’re talking about, something was done: the team fetched a bunch of PVC, glue, and black spray paint from Home Depot, and spent all day and night Saturday crafting an all-plastic front frame for their slingshot dragster…
Don Garlits was the first drag racer to break the 200 mph quarter-mile barrier, in Swamp Rat VI in 1960. This feat took place in Great Meadows, New Jersey, just a couple of hours to the north of NJMP; the Lemontarians built their Swamp Rat Brougham as a tribute to this great moment in New Jersey motorsports history. On top of all that, they finished 70th out of 136, beating eight BMWs in the process. Organizer’s Choice for the Lemontarians, hands down.
Which brings us to the big one, the Index of Effluency. We’ve had plenty of wannabe Bluesmobiles in Lemons, but it takes more than some spray paint and thrift-store suits to do it right. The only Bluesmobile based on the correct mid-1970s Chrysler C-Body platform is the 1976 Plymouth Gran Fury (sibling to the 1974 Dodge Monaco in the movie) of Interceptor Motorsports.
This car came from South Dakota, which is no big deal to a team with the cojones to race a Renault Fuego Turbo in Lemons, and it retains much of its slightly-nicer-than-the-Monaco Plymouth interior.
Under the hood, the correct 440-inch plant, running the factory 7:1 compression and rated at a Malaise-tastic 205 horsepower. Hey, it makes (slightly) more horsepower than the V6 in the Poorssat.
Torque is what counts when you’re racing a genuine Bluesmobile against all those spindly Porsches and Acuras, though, and the Interceptor Motorsports Gran Fury used all of its torques (not to mention all three forward gears in its Torqueflite 727 automatic transmission) to beat the holy crap out of 95 lesser race cars and trucks, finishing in 41st place by the end of the weekend.
The next Lemons race happens this weekend, at Thunderhill Raceway in California. We hope to see you there.