The Year in 24 Hours of LeMons: A hazy 2014 retrospective, Part One

Lede
The end of the year is the time of examining one’s past year, finding faults, and then making half-hearted attempts to amend those faults the following year. At least, that’s what a very specific fortune cookie told me last weekend. Or maybe it was a scythe-wielding parrot from a great bad dream.
Ah, memories. I wish I had them.
Anyway, the year’s end also means time for yet another annual retrospective, irrespective of one’s invective toward this writer’s pervasively invasive prerogative. Yep, this is Eric Rood rambling about the 24 Hours of LeMons for the penultimate time in 2014 (You’ll get Part Two tomorrow). Follow the jump if you have an abundance of time.

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The year was 2-aught-14 and the racing was, in an unnecessary aside, typically strange for the 24 Hours of LeMons. The season saw zero 24-hour races and a Guinness World Record for Largest Motor Race (I think that’s the classification)—pending the folks in Dubstep, Ireland (or London or some such Dickensian fictional city) figuring out what endurance racing actually is and exactly how LeMons fits into that category of (another unnecessary aside to muddy this paragraph further) motorsport—at Thunderhill Raceway in September.
While we wait for official confirmation that you’ve understood that last sentence, let’s look at some winners and losers (those terms are generally interchangeable) from this year.

OVERALL WINNERS

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Believe it or not, some people actually try to win these races and some of those people actually do win races. I’ve long meant to write a post about how repeat winners manage to win races, but the idea is basically:

  1. Build the car right from the start. Then go over every nut and bolt on it between races. All of this takes lots of time.
  2. Have a plan before you show up and make sure everyone on the team knows the plan and his or her role in that plan.
  3. Follow that plan, but know when to deviate from it.
  4. Drive consistently, see trouble coming long before it arrives, and avoid it.

There’s a lot of subtlety in each of those points, but that’s the general idea of it. Let’s look at the teams that put those concepts into practice in 2014,
Two teams managed to clock three race wins in 2014 and the results hardly ever seemed in doubt for both of them. Texas’ Back to the Past with their Z31-generation Nissan 300ZX (above) swept the two Gulf Region races in very different conditions (a snow-shortened Dallas race in March and a soggy Houston race in November). They also ran away with the only one-session race of the season, the 14-hour race into the July night at Autobahn Country Club near Chicago. Back to the Past seldom run the fastest laps, but they’ve figured out what it takes to win.
RC Spiders matched that win total with victories at Barber Motorsports Park and two more at Carolina Motorsports Park in the spring and fall. They came up about a minute short of a third win at Sebring, despite starting with a handful of penalty laps to make it a challenge for the Mercedes Benz 190E squad. The Cosworth-powered Merc is really the perfect endurance racer and the team use its speed reserve and fuel efficiency to great effect.
In California, Cerveza Racing won two more races with their BMW E28—including the largest race in history at Thunderhill in September—to give them eight wins all time. That’s two more than anyone else.
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The big story of the season in the West, however, was Porch Racing’s utter domination of Sears Point/Sonoma/Infineon/Whatever People Call It These Days. The Porsche 944 (above) handily won both endurance races there this year and also won last December’s season finale, which was the first ever race win for a 944. This season saw four Porsche victories in total with the other two wins for United Ducktape Racing (Gingerman Raceway in October) and Floridiot Motorsports (Sebring in July).
With a little luck from a fumbling competitor, Speedycop, aka Jeff Bloch, managed to drive his B20-swapped Honda Civic to victory at Gingerman Raceway on Easter weekend, his first overall win and really the first time he was ever close to winning a race outright. Bloch drove all five hours of the Sunday session and split the nine hours of Saturday’s racing with his co-driver, John Heflin.
On the East Coast, Keystone Kops finally took home the team’s first win with their Ford 302-swapped Volvo 240. They team has raced crapcan Volvos since 2008 with a handful of second-place finishes and they at last came out victorious at New Jersey Motorsports Park. Near-Orbital Space Monkeys had similarly come runners-up many times and they rode some good luck to their first win at NJMP earlier in the year. The Monkeys’ victory was the first Ford Mustang win since 2008.
The East’s final race became LeMons’ (and possibly all of racing’s) first-ever tie between the BAR(F) Honda Accord and the Keystone Kops. The BAR(F) car led by a lap at the white flag, but they lost a wheel and ground to a halt before the checkered flag. Keystone Kops finished with the same lap count and were technically behind, but rather than debate the technicalities of it, both teams decided to split the win and donate the winners’ earnings to Alex’s Lemonade Stand Fund.
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The races in Colorado and Utah drew some spectacular competition, but they became noteworthy for more LeMons’ firsts. At Utah’s Miller Motorsports Park, Too Stupid To Know Better’s Volvo 740 held off the Model T GT to become the first Redblock-powered Volvo to win a LeMons race. In Colorado, Team Copyright Laws finally broke the curse that has prevented Audi from winning a LeMons race; their bone-stock Audi 90 (above) sauntered to an easy win and, just to maintain the balance in LeMons, the last-place finisher at High Plains Raceway was also an Audi.
The season also saw the first attempt at a LeMons “sprint” race with a two-hour race at Sonoma Raceway/Sears Point/Sonfineon Point in March during a National Auto Sports Association (NASA) weekend. Pistola Alto’s Z32-chassis Nissan 300ZX won that race.
Finally, the Model T GT won at The Ridge Motorsports Park during a soggy race. The T GT was rented out at that race to the Devilmaro folks who race the #666 Chevy Camaro at California races.
 

ALMOST WINNERS

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So what’s interesting about all of those winners?
Not one of them raced a BMW 3-Series. The LeMons season of 2014 saw zero wins for the E30 and/or E36 (which actually hasn’t ever won a LeMons races). I’m not sure exactly what that says about the series; E30s were certainly competitive at many races with a slew of Top 5 finishes, but not a single one managed to win a race. All Bimmer-bashing aside, let’s acknowledge some teams that came so close to winning.
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Many teams likely had more frustrating seasons than Sour Aviation Racing, but their Ford Mustang (above) could not have come any closer to winning without doing so. The Southworst-painted (with pitot tubes!) Fox Body ran three races this season and finished second place in every single one of them. They finished just behind Porch Racing (twice) and Cerveza so there’s really nothing to be ashamed of, but there must be some sting there.
The crew of Vermont BertOne, a Volvo 262C, have been taking their Redblock-swapped, Italian-coachbuilt personal luxury coupe all over the country for the past year. They gave their Swedish fireball a sabbatical in California last winter before heading home to Vermont with a stop at Gingerman Raceway en route and then going back halfway across the country to Texas for the 2014-2015 winter. The Volvo must have liked its trailer time because it brought home a pair of P2 finishes and a third place.
In a season where many teams made good after trying for a long time to win, it was frustrating to see Grim Reaper Racing come up short again, their fourth or fifth second-place finishes coming at CMP. The V6-powered Ford Mustang is as good as anyone in the South Region, but they’ve just come up short in the last several seasons against Hong Norrth (who had their own near misses this year with P2 and P3 finishes) and RC Spiders.
Finally, California’s Tired Iron Racing deserves a mention, having racked up a second and a third this year while also putting their Mazda Miata inside the Top 10 at every single race where it showed up. That’s no small feat in California, where the competition is stout. We’ll have a little more to say about this car tomorrow.
 

CLASS WINNERS

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In addition to several teams winning overall after trying, a number of teams cinched up long-overdue class wins. Most notably, Three Pedal Mafia’s Chevy S10-based boat (above) finally won Class C after two-and-a-half years of trying. The Boat and its keepers are, of course, the Internet Crapcan Grandmasters Nonpareil, a unique and high honor among literally tens of automotive enthusiasts.
Another of the series’ craziest builds, the Charnal House “MetSHO,” won Class B at Gingerman Raceway almost four years after its debut. The car is an incredibly assembled amalgamation of trash-heap diving (road signs, 2x4s, and a basketball hoop pole to name a few of its bespoke components) by junkyard aficionado Crab Spirits. It took several years of sorting to get the SHO V6-powered to stay together for an entire race and even so, the MetSHO needed a rear hub rebuilt overnight between race sessions. Similarly, Team Farfrumwinnin won Class B with their Volkswagen Fox, which lasted just long enough to finish the race before the engine quit while trying to load it on the trailer post-race.
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Three-time LeMons drivers’ champion Anton Lovett (above center with Mike Taylor of Hong Norrth, left, and Christopher Blizzard of Hella Sh***y) at last scored a Class B win with his ONSET/Tetanus West Chevy Cavalier, a much-delayed replacement for his Cavalier wagon from the series’ early days that met its end at Sonoma back when it was called Sears Point. Another veteran California team, The Black Flags, finally took their godawful Toyota Celica to Class C glory at the season-ender at Sonomfineon Point in the car’s 25th race or so.
In the South, it was Mock Grass Racing finally driving their rental-grade Kia to a Class C win at Carolina Motorsports Park and the Duff Beer Honda Civic winning Class B at Sebring.
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[Hackneyed lead]This season also found some regular winners continuing their success.[/Hackneyed lead] LemonAid Racing became the first team to win all three classes and Index of Effluency with a Class B win at Gingerman in the fall. Their Class A (and Overall) win came with their BMW E30 last fall at Road America in the closest LeMons race in history. The other trophies have all come for the team’s Geo Metro, which in stock, three-cylinder trim won Class C three times and took home an IOE. Their Class B win came with a BMW M50 stuffed under the econobox’s bonnet (above).
California’s Hella Sh***y Racing absolutely knocked it out of the park with their four-car team. The Subaru EJ-swapped, dual-control Volkswagen Beetle nabbed Class C and IOE honors at the NASA Sprint race and then followed it up with a Class B win at Buttonwillow and a Top 10 finish in shortly thereafter in the 24-hour ChumpCar World Series race at the same racetrack. The team’s Volkswagen TDI-swapped Porsche 911 also won Class C at the massive Thunderhill race while the team’s two BMW E30s each managed some Top 10 finishes.
In Texas, TGTW Offroad Racing have been no strangers to endurance racing success and while their Jeep Cherokee had finished in the Top 10 on multiple occasions before the season, a Class B win had eluded the Jeep enthusiasts (although their Jeep Comanche won Class C last year). The Cherokee managed finally to pick up the class win at the frigid Eagles Canyon race and, to boot, their bone-stock Toyota Corolla then went on to win Class C at MSR Houston in the fall when the class-leading Mercedes from The Syndicate blew up with 15 minutes remaining.
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Two teams managed to snag a pair of Class C wins a piece this year. In the Midwest, Der Schnitzelwagen’s Volkswagen Type 4 Type 3 Squareback (above) cluttered and clanked its way to a class win at Autobahn. Their win then earned them 10 penalty laps to start the race at Gingerman in the fall, which they overcame to win by a healthy margin for their second class win. In California, the Pinewood Dirtbags’ pair of Chevy Luvs won Class C in consecutive races with both trucks being promoted to Class B. The team responded by scoring a totaled BMW E36 M3 and cladding it with Luv body panels. It is almost certainly the world’s fastest Luv.

INDEX OF EFFLUENCY

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Who are we kidding, though? The real winners are those who take home the Index of Effluency, the coveted prize for those whose least-racecar-like heap did the best, as determined through a highly complex series of calculations locked in a vault in Emeryville, California, and committed to memory by Those Who Know. Here’s a chronological rundown of the 2014 IOE winners:
Barber Motorsports Park – The Knoxvegas Lowballers’ Geo Metro is powered by a Ford Duratec 3.0-litere V6 following the idea laid out by the Charnal House MetSHO folks. Their Lowballers car was built with a little more refinement and they’ve shaken it down with a lot of testing. It’s a mean machine and if they can ever get good fuel milage out of it, I think it could fall into an overall win someday.
Eagles Canyon Raceway –  The Syndicate proved what LeMons Legend Mike “Spank” Spangler has known for years: Preparation is overrated and LeMons is far more exciting when it’s simply a test of what the car you bought is. For The Syndicate’s ancient Mercedes 450SLC (above), that meant that its worn camshafts weren’t opening the valves for as long as they should have, which in turn meant that the V8 personal luxury coupe couldn’t make enough power to destroy itself while it made killer gas mileage. DOMINATION.
Infearsnoma Pointway, Spring –  Panting Polar Bear Racing brought a cushy, three-on-the-tree AMC Rambler Classic and if ever there was an indestructible LeMons car, this is it. The shifting linkage may eventually be an Achilles Heel and it’ll never be fast, but the tiny straight six seems impossible to kill. Of course, I’ve now jinxed that car.
Gingerman Raceway, Spring – The Flux Decapacitators finished 11th overall with a four-cylinder 1991 Ford Tempo. If LeMons had existed in 1991, a brand-new Ford Tempo could not have done that.
Carolina Motorsports Park, Spring – NSF Racing are a strange group of racers in a strange racing series with a penchant for racing completely strange automobiles. Successfully campaigning a 1956 Ford Crown Victoria with its roof haphazardly sliced off set a new high watermark for them, which is remarkable because they once raced a Mercedes 170S with the 1.8-liter engine out of an MGB and also raced a Frontenac this year.
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New Jersey Motorsports Park, Spring – Super Grover (above) became instant legends by bringing the series’ first Rover and went a step farther by bringing a P6 Rover rather than an SD1. Even more remarkable: It ran like a top and was an easy IOE choice.
Miller Motorsports Park – The quest for the slowest LeMons car ever has gone to some pretty remarkable lengths this year, but the Grumpy Cat Racing 1950 Dodge Truck must be in the glacial running. Its lap time at Utah’s premium racing facility should have been measured with sundial, but it still beat a couple dozen teams in the standings.
Buttonwillow Raceway – The aforementioned Spank really stretched the thematic possibilities of his Renault R10, but he sold the car-and-livestock theme of a Romanian-built Dacia (“YOU WANT BLUE JEANS? I HAVE AMERICAN CIGARETTE.”) so well and the air-cooled Renault barely failed at all in the forbidding desert heat. The end result: Another IOE for Spank, his sixth.
Sebring – Team Fairlylame’s 1964 Ford Fairlane was a no-brainer at this race that, despite low attendance, featured an all-star crowd.
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The Ridge Motorsports Park – The Ridge may have been the first LeMons race with multiple Peugeots and while the turbocharged Cheese-Eating Surrender Monkeys are an actually capable car, Fflat’s sadly stock 505 (above) was extremely slow. Guess which team finished higher.
Autobahn Country Club – The 14-hour, single-session race at Autobahn was extremely interesting in Class C with the class-winning Schnitzelwagen struggling to stay running and with an IOE battle royale between Afunzalo Racing’s Fiat X1/9 and Sir Jackie Stewart’s Coin Purse Racing’s Ford EXP. Both were on equally unsure footing for most of the race and when the June bugs had all been spattered on windscreens, Afunzalo emerged slightly less awful.
New Jersey Motorsports Park, Summer – It would be easy to jump to the conclusion that a Ford Capri should be a great LeMons car. That is a poor assumption to make, however, as those like Prompt Critical’s occasionally develop their power from the outdated Cologne V6. They overcame that to win a tough IOE at NJMP.
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High Plains Raceway – Volatile RAM is the nom de hooptie of the famous pair of twin-engined Toyotas known colloquially as the MRolla (above) and the FX32. The car(s) took some sorting to work out their bugs, but they’re proper race cars now, as demonstrated by a sixth-place overall finish for the MRolla.
Thunderhill – PeugeotDaddy would give the Grumpy Cat truck some staunch competition for slowest LeMons car, as their Peugeot 404 ran its fastest laps under caution because it could actually, for once, use the whole track.
Carolina Motorsports Park, Fall – Speedycop focused less on outlandish builds this year, instead focusing on winning overall (which he did) and winning Class B with the Honda Accord-ion (which he did not). However, he did build two picture-perfect film car replicas, a Jurassic Park Ford Explorer and a National Lampoon’s Vacation Ford LTD/Family Truckster, which dragged its way to an IOE at CMP.
Gingerman Raceway, Fall – The shortcut to LeMons glory is to bring big, Malaise Era tanks, which is exactly what Team Sheen—formerly known as a repeated almost-winner with their Acura Integra—did with a Dodge Mirada. They left the all-leather interior and squishy suspension intact, which allowed the sweet side-exit pipes for the car’s Mopar 318 to scrape under heavy corner loading.
New Hampshire Motor Speedway – Futility Motorsports had, until this race, been the perfect name for a team crazy enough to run a cousin to That Godawful K-Car, a Dodge Daytona. Somehow, their G-Body kept all of its pieces mostly together for an entire weekend, little short of a miracle.
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MSR Houston – First-generation Honda Civics are exceedingly rare anymore, but The Resistance found a survivor (above) in Texas, where it won an easy IOE at the Houston race.
Searsnomainfeonraceway – RUSTANG have been racing their slow, automatic 1971 Ford Mustang for a while now and while it’s almost always finished in the bottom 10 percent of the standings, they cracked the top half of the 180-car field this time around. The quantum quality leap was just enough to give them the year’s final IOE honors.
 

YOU MAY ALSO HAVE ENJOYED

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Several cars failed to take home class wins or an IOE but are winners-slash-losers in this long-winded writers mind. So this long-winded writer will now subject you to his thoughts on a few of them.
Zero Budget Racing made a name reputation for themselves with the masochism that is a pair of 30-horsepower, early-1980s diesel compacts. The Cincinnati-based team outdid themselves, however, by bringing LeMons first Chrysler Cordoba (above) to the season opener at Barber Motorsports Park. It was a miserable piece of Malaise Era machinery, which contributed to its earning the awarded-by-the-sociopath-who-is-writing-these words Michigan Malaise Mopar Misery Festival (MMMMF) at the fall Gingerman race for its utter misery. Expect them to double triple quincentuple their problems by ghettocharging the Chevette and, far worse, inheriting and attempting to run That Godawful K-Car.
This season was far from the Year of the Corvette, but several appearances by the reviled 1984 Corvette have ignited one of the most enjoyable aspects of Internet LeMonsdom for the average keyboard racer: The Shocking Reality of Real World Car Values. As it turns out, the utter disdain for the C4 Corvette—particular those with Crossfire Injection and/or the Doug Nash 4+3 transmission—means that actual values of these ‘vettes is pretty darn close to $500.
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LeMons Legend Spank was already mentioned, but his theming really went up a peg this year. The Romanian-themed Renault R10 was spectacular, but the “Spank Worthington” (above) theme at the spring Sears Point-By Raceway-neon event was spectacular. He ran three cars—a completely stock 300,000-mile Prius, the Toyohog, and a 1968 Oldsmobile Tornoado—and walked around all weekend dressed as a used car salesman caricature trying to sell his heaps. He succeeded, selling the stock Prius to an East Coast arrive-and-drive from the Chariots of Fire team. That team member then drove it cross-country without issue and raced it at Carolina Motorsports Park a month later. Spank followed that up later in the year at Thunderhill by turning his oft-rethemed Austin Mini Moke into Bob the Builder‘s backhoe.
At the same race, Directionally Challenged Racing debuted their “International Scout,” a racing vehicle of whose origins I’m not entirely positive, though it does have some Ford Mustang bits from the now-pulverized My Little Pony car that once belonged to friend of Redusernab Chris Hanzel of Hanzel’s Second Saturdays fame. What a remarkably strange “racecar.”
Speaking of strange racecars, Team Sputnik from the East Coast were once a relatively normal LeMons team who raced a Nissan Stanza Wagon. OK, that’s actually kind of weird, but then Sputnik’s team captain got entangled with the Damn K-Car and turned to a weird place. This season, Sputnik rid themselves of their K-Car affliction only to replace it with a Nissan Quest minivan (shown way above somewhere) and a Porsche 924 powered by the GA16 engine out of a base-model Nissan Sentra. It’s all gone about as well as you might expect.
The small field at Sebring also included two Chrysler Sebrings under the LeMons’ clause of free entries for the Sebring at Sebring. The LeMons “juggernauts” of Speedycop and NSF brought the two cars, which both struggled to finish midpack and couldn’t have been gotten rid of quickly enough for both teams after the race.
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One of the most astonishing cars of the year came from Mod Squad Racing, a team long known for running SW20 Toyota MR2s in crapcan racing. They surprised everyone by bringing a third-generation Toyota MR2 that had been wrapped around a pole and then affixing the body of a Volkswagen forward-control van around it. It’s a pretty remarkable sight.
Speaking of body-swapped Toyota MR2s, TARP Racing also hung up the SIMCA 1000 GLS body panels from their body-swapped AW11 MR2, a long-running and occasionally successful car. They replaced it with a convertible BMW E36 homage to one of the great paintings of the modern era: Cookie Monster Warlord.
Finally, the Faster Farms Racing Plymouth Belvedere earned the series’ first Lifetime (Under)Achievement [my brackets] Award for their car’s six years of utterly incredibly existence and its unmistakeable battle scars from the series’ rougher early years and the occasional on-its-roof mistake. What a racecar!
We’ll be back with more analytical analysis tomorrow for you to read. It’s considerably geekier but also slightly shorter.
Slightly.
 
[Photos: Murilee Martin]

By |2014-12-29T10:30:03+00:00December 29th, 2014|24 Hours of Lemons, Featured, Motorsports|10 Comments

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