2020 Colorado 24 Hours of Lemons: What Happened

We’ve been doing two races each year at High Plains Raceway in Kansas eastern Colorado since 2018, but certain virological global events conspired to force the cancellation of the B.F.E. GP race in June. We managed to put on a proper 24-straight-hours High Plains Drifter event a few weeks back, though, and fun was had by (nearly) all despite the lack of spectators.

We got a break from the wildfire smoke for the course of the race weekend and the temperatures were about as good as you can get for racing. Teams did their best to socialize at a safe distance and while wearing clutch-dust-saturated protective masks, but everyone missed the giant potluck dinners of past Colorado races.

Due to epidemiological concerns, the Lemons Supreme Court could not accept fairness-enhancing bribes at this event. However, we still offered a stencil application commemorating the event to any team desiring one; the ENDURED stencil features the symbol used by the 1960s Toyota Corona.

Because we’d planned to make the June race a straight-24-hour affair and the September race a two-race-sessions-with-overnight-break deal, Lemons HQ decided to allow participants to compete in their choice of a 12-hour or 24-hour race this time. If you chose the 12-hour race, your checkered flag came at midnight Saturday. As it turned out, Class C and Class A had but one entry apiece for the 12-hour race, and so Blues Clues and their four-cylinder/automatic 1993 Dodge Shadow ran away with the 12-hour Class C win.

We’re pretty sure that this car would have had a shot at a 24-hour Class C win as well, since it didn’t break at all while it was on the track.

Unfortunately, your Lemons Supreme Court hadn’t worked out the logistics of the 12-hour race-within-a-race awards ceremony, so the dignified and wise Chief Justice (me) had to look for the Shadow in the paddock at 1:30 AM and then leave the Class C trophy on its hood, the team members having gone to sleep long before.

The 12-hour Class B race proved far more competitive, since there were two teams slugging it out for the trophy. One was this Pontiac Fiero campaigned by Salty Thunder Racing.

The other was the 1991 Ford Mustang of Pole Position Racing. The Windsor 5.0 in the Mustang never ran right, due to some undiagnosable combination of fuel-delivery, ignition-system, oil-pressure, and charm quark woes, and the team finished DFL with just ten laps turned all weekend.

Salty Thunder ran away with the 12-hour Class B win, turning 250 laps and finishing 36th overall among the 24-hour teams. Salty Thunder’s other Fiero finished fifth overall, one of the best performances in the long and storied history of Pontiac Fiero racing. The members of Salty Thunder who weren’t busy keeping the 24-hour car running came by the penalty box for a solemn 12-hour Class B awards ceremony, presided over by Robot Judge.

Yes, Robot Judge! Tom Webb of Tommy Salami & the Meat Wagon fame realized that the flesh-and-blood judges would be vulnerable to The Plague while working in the penalty box, so he fabricated a Robot Judge that can be controlled from anywhere in the world. Robot Judge can be switched between Judge Mode (in which the human judge operates it via telepresence through a computer or smartphone) and Nixon Mode (in which Robot Judge explains that he’s not a crook and has earned everything he’s got). You’ll be seeing a lot more of an upgraded and more feature-packed Robot Judge at future races.

The 12-hour Class A competition had but a single entrant: the Lackadaisical Racing 2001 BMW 330i, run by our old Car and Driver friend Csaba Csere and famed E46 builder T.C. Kline. We’d been allowing this bunch to get away with budgetary murder for quite a few races, mostly because we figured any team full of automotive journalists would stomp on their wieners with all of their hobnailed boots all weekend, but this version of the team had just a single car writer on board and the E46 was built really well. So, the Lemons Supreme Court buried it in penalty laps… which didn’t matter, because a class with one entrant will be won when that lone entrant is billions of laps below zero. Sadly, Lackadaisical Racing packed up and left the track seemingly minutes after midnight, so we had to mail the trophy.

The judges of the Lemons Supreme Court lack enthusiasm for the BMW E46, just as they do for its E36 and E30 predecessors. What should a prospective Lemons team do if its members must race a BMW but still want to get into Class C, where the coolest cars race? Get a BMW E23 7-Series, of course! Campfire Racing picked up this luxurious 1982 733i with manual transmission and brought it to HPR for its first race.

The Campfire Racing car (which sold new for the inflation-adjusted equivalent of $92,000 in 1982) had some fuel-delivery problems and finished 50th out of 54 entries, but we expect to see it run away with Class C at a future race.

The Gorilla Greasers, who dragged their 1972 Plymouth Valiant 1,034 miles from Indiana a few months after winning the Index of Effluency at the Rust Belt GP in Michigan, didn’t have quite as much success at the High Plains Drifter, but they finished third in Class C and well into the top half of the overall standings.

Those of you who know anything about Colorado know that Subarus are much loved here, with a sort of statewide collective hallucination convincing Subaru owners that their cars are both sensible and reliable. Therefore, when a rookie team from the suburbs of Denver— calling themselves Lemons on a Prayer— decided to compete in the 24 Hours of Lemons, only one car would do: a 1996 Subaru Subaru Impreza coupe that put in some work as a rally car prior to sitting behind a local race shop for 15 years.

It reeked of bad gas and the suspension was completely shot, but the team seemed to feel it was pretty much a brand-new WRX at heart.

And who wouldn’t, with racing heritage like this?

Well, all the Lemons officials (who have seen nearly every Subaru entered in Lemons fall apart, explode, and/or catch on fire) figured this car would be good for something in the range of 15 to 60 laps over the course of the weekend. In fact, the Lemons On a Prayer drivers managed 164 laps before the icky fuel system sludge finally sidelined their Impreza. Sure, it was the slowest car on the track (just a bit slower than the Polished Turd Datsun 280ZX), but it outperformed our expectations and so we awarded it the special regional award for this race: the Moving to Colorado Starter Kit Trophy.

Teams towed to Colorado from all over the country for this race, and one of the teams that traveled the farthest was the Dipsticks. They hauled their Volkswagen New Beetle (a long-submerged victim of Hurricane Harvey) all the way from Houston, and this after enduring one of the most frustrating I Got Screwed weekends in Lemons history at the 2018 Houston race. This time, the Dipsticks ran well enough to finish 40th out of 54 entries, a great improvement.

Speaking of long-distance travel, the fact that we were running two 24-hours-straight races on the same weekend (one in Colorado, the other in South Carolina) meant that two racers felt an ungovernable compulsion to drive in both events. Yes, Derek Steinkamp of the Wonderment Consortium (plus a bunch of other teams) and Christian “Mental” Ward of Three Pedal Mafia (plus a bunch of other teams) planned to do stints in a Fox Mustang and a BMW E36, respectively, at the South Carolina race… then get to airports hours away, fly to Denver, and travel another hour to High Plains Raceway. What could go wrong?

You’ll get the complete tale of the Idiot of Effluency competition in a future LemonsWorld video episode, so we’ll just hit the high (low) points here. Mental Ward drove up from Las Vegas to the Colorado track on Thursday, to help the organizers set up the event, then flew to Atlanta and drove the four hours to Carolina Motorsports park. He raced on Saturday morning at CMP, then drove back to Atlanta and caught a plane to Denver (wearing his race gear in the airport and on the airplane, as one does).

Meanwhile, Derek had flown to Charlotte from his home in Illinois, only to find that he’d been blackballed by every rental-car company in America (and maybe the entire world), for reasons he declines to discuss. What to do? Well, Derek managed to get a Lyft ride the 100 miles from Charlotte to the middle of South Carolina. He raced on Saturday morning at CMP, then took a Lyft back to Charlotte and flew to Denver… where he had to find another Lyft driver willing to drive him from DIA to a mysterious location halfway to Kansas in the middle of the night.

Amazingly, all these moving parts came together to bring both our Effluent Idiots to High Plains Raceway within an hour or so of one another, in the middle of the night and about 13 hours into the 24-hour event. Both managed to break the cars they were driving (in both states) but showed signs of having a good time.

We’ll reveal the winner of the Idiot of Effluency competition when the official recap video comes out (and when we can finally puzzle out the way-too-elaborate scoring system we devised).

Because USMC Racing (yes, the same team that managed to finagle a Marine Corps attack helicopter— which promptly picked up the Lemons vibe and broke down— at the New Orleans race last year) brought three cars (a second-gen Camaro and a pair of P71 Crown Victorias) staffed with a huge crowd of veterans and showed sufficient lack of judgment to allow Derek Steinkamp to drive their cars, we handed them the prestigious Organizer’s Choice award.

Speaking of military personnel, Colorado is where the United States Air Force has its headquarters, and the deadline for USAF personnel to take the oath to switch to the newly formed Space Force fell on Friday at the race. So, Team Lemo’ktoberfest members Lt. Colonel Bertsch and Captain Morris took their Space Force oaths at the track and then toasted the occasion with beer made from Space Yeast.

The Buffs Racing team, made up of what appears to be most of the Engineering Department at the University of Colorado at Boulder, has been competing in Lemons since bringing an exceptionally horrible Chevy Cavalier to the 2017 B.F.E. GP. They won the Judges’ Choice trophy for their futile-but-energetic attempts to keep their Cavalier alive at that race, then discarded that car and replaced it with a pair of Mazda Miatas.

With their cast of thousands (well, dozens) of drivers and crew, a big crowd always showed up to shame the team’s miscreant drivers in the penalty box. When both Miatas broke, they proved far better at repairing them than they were a couple of years ago. For this, another Judges’ Choice award!

It had been a while since a Lemons team has run the pickup version of the Volkswagen Rabbit aka Golf (known as the Caddy outside the United States), so we were excited to see the Caddy Daddy Racing 1981 Caddy (get it?) at the ’20 High Plains Drifter inspections.

Not only was it a golfing-themed Caddy (we got the joke, eventually), the team had installed a turbodiesel engine out of a slightly later Volkswagen. This meant that the Caddy Daddies would be harnessing a mighty 70 or so lug-shearing Clydesdales instead of the 52 dog-food-grade ponies that went in the regular Diesel Rabbit (having taken my driver’s-ed training in a 48-horsepower Diesel Rabbit, I can attest that these cars are among the most miserable ever manufactured). We like diesels in Lemons racing, so we were eager to see what would happen once this cartruck hit the track.

The problem with diesel race cars— at least in our hooptie-ass series— is that they tend to get smokey when not running perfectly.

Naturally, The Caddy Daddy Volks became catastrophically smokey soon after the green flag at noon on Saturday, and proceeded to get worse as the day went on.

The smoke got so bad that it became a visibility hazard on the track, especially after sunset, and the Caddy Daddies got black-flagged dozens of times with orders to do something about the problem. Eventually, the turbocharger came off and many hours of fine-tuning ensued. In the end, the Caddy got a lot slower but also quite a bit less smokey. For this, the Most Heroic Fix trophy went to Caddy Daddy Racing.

For every Heroic Fix, there is an I Got Screwed, and this time the sad trophy went to Petrosexual Racing. You may know this team best for their innovative Spaghettios-inunexpected-containers judicial bribes, but the Petrosexuals also have achieved fame for building the car that holds the record for the fastest lap by any Lemons machine at High Plains Raceway: a “trashback” Mazda Miata with the 4.9-liter version of Cadillac’s much-loathed HT4100 V8 engine.

The Petrosexuals seemed unstoppable by Saturday evening, but then a rookie driver in a Maxima braked too late for a corner, spun out, and collected the Caddiata.

It wasn’t a particularly hard hit by road-racing standards, but the front of the Caddiata got mashed up badly enough to knock the team out of the race.

To add insult to injury, the Maxima looked like it got bumped in the driver’s door by a shopping cart in a supermarket parking lot. For all this, a well-deserved I Got Screwed trophy went home with the Petrosexuals.

The demise of the Caddiata left the door open for Sew So Fast and their 1996 BMW 318Ti. This car was the four-cylinder hatchback version of the E36, the very cheapest new BMW available in America when new, and conventional wisdom holds that such an underpowered race car just can’t win road races, especially at the horsepower-killing mile-high elevation of High Plains Raceway. The drivers of Sew So Fast pay no mind to conventional wisdom, however, taking back-to-back overall and Class A wins at the 2019 and 2020 High Plains Drifter events. 13 teams out of 53 had quicker best lap times than the Sew So Fast BMW, but (for the millionth %$@&*&$ time) consistency and mistake-free driving are more important than fast laps in endurance racing and Sew So Fast had a seven-lap edge over the second-place car when the checkered flag waved at noon on Sunday.

What was that second-place car, you ask? It was another BMW 318Ti, the one belonging to Rattenpakung Racing and the winner of the Class B trophy. Like Sew So Fast, Rattenpakung broke no parts and got no black flags. Yes, we’ve been putting a lot of four-cylinder E36s in Class B, due to their alleged lack of power… but that may have to change, now that we see how relentlessly unbreakable they are in the hands of a well-organized team.

The Lemons Supreme Court and all right-thinking racers everywhere consider Class C to be the most important competition in a 24 Hours of Lemons race, and the Class C trophy went to Cuzzin’ Racing and their 1989 Volkswagen Golf Cabriolet. They’d won the class at a previous race, but the car remained so horribly stock that the judges decided to let the Cuzzins remain in the cool class while receiving a handicap of ten laps. After 24 hours, though, the Cuzzin’ Racing drivers had turned 35 more laps (that’s about an hour-and-a-half at HPR Class C speeds) than their quicker-but-less-reliable nearest Class C competitor.

The members of the P2 Class C team didn’t feel too bad about their performance, however, because they took home the big one for keeping a wretched Geo Metro in the top ten of the standings for nearly all of a 24-hour road race. That’s right, Index of Effluency glory for Ran Outta Talent Racing, following up their hard-earned Heroic Fix at the Arizona race last spring.

To make the IOE story even more dramatic, Ran Outta Talent had just two drivers all weekend, a father-and-son team that overcame exhaustion and altitude sickness to not only beat most of the BMWs with a Geo Metro but fixed a broken axle by welding it to the hub on Sunday morning (though this repair didn’t hold together for very long, we admired its Lord Humungus-grade post-apocalyptic moxie). Isn’t it time that you got to know the Geo Metro?

For official timing-and-scoring results from the 2020 High Plains Drifter, go here. For a big photo gallery, go here, or here for full-resolution versions of those photos. The official race-recap video should be out pretty soon, so keep checking the 24 Hours of Lemons YouTube channel for that.