Twenty Four Hours?
If you want to go out and see some racing, just go to your local track this weekend. “This weekend??” I hear you saying, “There’s no IndyCar or NASCAR or F1 or WTCC at my local track this weekend…”
Who cares? You want to see racing. And that means screaming engines as cars piloted by maniacs are flogged within inches of their life. Which happens most days of the year at the “big” race tracks, especially on weekends.
On this particular weekend, there was a “24 Hours of LeMons” event at one of my local tracks, Sonoma Raceway. They actually name their events; this one, dubbed the “Good Effort Grand Prix” (complemented by the “Arse-Freeze-Apalooza” a month previous), was held over two days in January, 2015.
So it’s a 24-hour race? What’s the deal with that?
Well, not exactly. The racing itself actually lasted closer to 14 total hours–the sessions began at 10 AM, and stopped right around sunset, which was a little after 5 PM.
It’s less of an actual race than a way to just spend a bunch of time battling other people wheel-to-wheel on a closed course. Supposedly, you need a theme and a car that costs less than $500, but something tells me they are less than strict about that.
For example, this team didn’t seem to have much of a theme at all. They also dominated the first day, lapping (at least) a few seconds quicker than the next team in their class (yes–there’s an app for that!); however, a mechanical failure which led to a crash dropped them back by the end of the second day.
I’ve seen many types of racing in my life, but absolutely nothing sounds or smells like a LeMons race.
Take this 912 for example. Apparently it was powered by…some sort of turbodiesel?
Wow. It feels really strange saying that a Porsche was a unique sight at a motorsport event, but a water-cooled TDI 912 at a $500 crapcan event is, well, a unique sight.
One more pic of the 912 battling with a Volvo 240 wagon. Spectacular.
I was attending the race in support of my friends, “Team Surf Bums” in their Half Moon Bay surfer bro-themed E28 BMW. Actually let’s rewind a bit here. This is the part of driving a race car that’s not so glamorous–the part where you actually have to create your race car.
Enter this checklist. After work on Friday night, three of us (me being little more than a casual observer/documenter) arrived at the shop ready to work. As you can see, the wheels needed to be swapped (for a cheap set with fresh rubber); brakes needed to be checked (pads and rotors turned out to be fine, although the LCA bolts were loose); change diff (it was having major issues…I’ll come back to this); control arm bushings (they were destroyed, and solid bushings the cure); lastly, the exhaust was hanging down after two of its hangers in the rear broke, and needed to be secured. All that stuff, and then you just have to pack the truck and trailer for the drive to the track the next morning! Brilliant.
Immediately, the wheels were removed and the box of bushes was attended to.
The old bushes were torched, then yanked out.
The inserts were then Sawzall’d off (not shown), and the new bushes were pressed in.
In case you were wondering where race car work gets done…well there’s an example.
Here’s a quick glance at the interior; pretty gutted.
Since I love panning shots, here’s one of Art making a diff by carrying a diff. Unfortunately, this was the only thing that didn’t get done that night–it would have to wait for the track.
Anyway, we were loaded up and out of there by around 3.
On Sunday morning, this happened. I decided to get a good night’s rest so I wasn’t there when the green flag dropped, but I did get there to see Art’s stint.
Unfortunately, they didn’t replace the differential before the first session. At some point in its life it was an LSD, but after 400,000+ miles it would kind of lock and unlock sporadically, and given the torque of the straight six combined with the leaning nature of the suspension meant the inside wheel would spin helplessly if any throttle was given out of turns.
Despite this, they still battled flat-out. After all, that’s the point, right?
And really, that’s the draw of this sort of racing. You spend a lot of time actually on track, surrounded by like-minded lunatics, and instead of politics or cashflow, you can really concentrate on having fun.
Even if you’re just a spectator like I was, you can find a way to have fun at a LeMons event. The pits and paddock are completely open, so you can wander around and chat with people; it’s a great atmosphere.
Every garage is filled with snacks, tools, and all manner of gear and gadgets.
And you’re guaranteed to find laughter too.
The number of spectators was probably somewhere in the dozens, so you could get right up close at all the good locations where people usually pile up during major events.
The middle of the bridge is normally covered with ad banners during races, so you can’t capture shots like this.
Personally, I just like being close to the action, and luckily Sonoma is really great for that. I took this photo from a normal public viewing area.
Speaking of getting close, as one of my friends likes to say, “If you ain’t rubbin’ you ain’t racin’.” There was definitely more than a little rubbing here. Another car had outbraked itself and run into the E28, launching it into another car in the braking zone.
As you can see, everyone is concentrating on the front, which is where the major apparent damage was.
The rear quarter panel had crinkled up; it was the sort of thing that would total a regular road car, but didn’t really seem like major damage on this race car.
In any case, they raced on.
Golden hour was beautiful on this particular day, but unfortunately the car was pretty haggard. All they needed to do was limp it to the end and they could spend some time working on it for the next day’s action.
The last rays of light over Turn 2 were beautiful to behold, but it must have been a pain in the ass (or eyes) to drive straight up in to the setting sun.
This Mini Moke was slow, ridiculous, and awesome. It was definitely a rolling roadblock, but at least it was amusing and very much in the spirit of the event.
I just thought this thing was totally cool.
At this point, the track was starting to get nice and shady, but the day’s session was about to end, so it was time to head back to the paddock and see cars rolling back in.
This Citroën SM was leaving the paddock right when I showed up, driven by none other than…well, keep reading.
Our garage neighbor was this Volvo team, who were in for an unscheduled pit stop.
I thought their team was pretty cool, especially because I’ve spent a good amount of time hanging out in Bernal Heights in San Francisco.
This widebody Honda thingy was pretty rad; unfortunately I know nothing about it.
Then I saw the Citroën again!
Kind of a bummer that it was on stilts, but it’s still a beautiful design.
At this point, the owner got in and started to drive away. I positioned myself to get a good panning shot…
…and right after I captured a frame he slowed the car down, and stopped. Dammit! He looked at me and said, “Hey, you look like you know what you’re doing. Can you send me those photos?” So he gave his phone number and he told me to text him; he then introduced himself as Alex Roy. It didn’t ring a bell at first, but after he drove away, that name sounded way too familiar. I googled it and–wow! It was THE Alex Roy, the infamous dude who did the Cannonball Run (aka driving from NYC to LA) in 31 hours, as well as some other crazy/illegal stuff. Cool! I hope he likes these pics…
Anyway, so at this point I was just pootling around the paddock, taking in the sights.
This 964 belongs to one of the dudes on the E28 team. Yup, those are the new Fifteen52 52 Outlaw wheels.
I really like narrow 964’s.
Although the track was silent, the garages were buzzing. I thought it was pretty awesome that they get to use indoor garages instead of an outdoor paddock.
After a day of racing, the sun was setting, and the real work was to begin. Finally, the differential would be swapped out for a proper working LSD. As for me? I was outta there; prior commitments. The next day they were significantly faster, like 3-4 seconds per lap. With consistency in car and driver, these guys think they have what it takes to bring home a class win next time out. Let’s see what happens, eh?