2020 La Carrera Arizona 24 Hours of Lemons: The Winners

Last week, the potato-for-a-gas-cap/coat-hanger-for-an-antenna ’79 Olds Cutlass Salon that is the 24 Hours of Lemons sputtered into the upscale Inde Motorsports Ranch for the fifth time. No connecting rods penetrated engine blocks— you can’t say that about most Lemons races— and we’re pretty sure that Inde’s property values will recover from the onslaught of downscale racing hoopties, given enough time. Here’s what happened at the 2020 La Carrera Arizona:

The owner of Inde collects Cold War fighter aircraft, and this vintage aluminum is scattered all over the paddock in sort of an open-air museum. There’s an F-100, an F-5, an F-111, a MiG-21, a MiG-19, a MiG-17, an F-104, an F-86, and much more, and now the track has added a genuine, numbers-matching Swedish fighter plane with an extremely metal name: a 1960s-vintage Saab 35 Draken. Naturally, we’ve been counting the minutes until we could show that Saabs really were born from jets (although, strictly speaking, the first Saab car came out about the time that the extremely ungainly “Flying Barrel” was taking to the Swedish skies) by shooting photographs of a Lemons race Saab next to a Saab aircraft, and this finally happened. Here’s the SAMs Saab ’91 900 next to the supersonic Draken.

The SAMs Saab team finished 25th overall, but they weren’t piloting the only Swedish machine to enter this race. They were, however, piloting the only one that turned any official race laps. After the Blue Swede team— the drivers of which are members of Inde, naturally— won the Index of Effluency with their Volvo PV544 at the 2017 Arizona race, the team decided that they wanted both moar powah and to remain in Class C, the slowest most awesome Lemons category. So, the wise and fair judges of the Lemons Supreme Court said that they could drop a mid-1960s Ford 289 V8 and Ford-O-Matic automatic transmission into their Volvo and remain in the Wotan-approved class. Naturally, the team name changed from Blue Swede to Fjord Moostang.

On paper, a V8-swapped PV544 should go pretty well. In reality, the V8 developed a fatal rod knock while being driven out of the trailer and the Moostang couldn’t finish a single lap under its own power. For this, the Fjord Moostang team took home the not-very-coveted I Got Screwed trophy.

We’ll see what happens when the Moostang and the ONSET Racing LZ9-swapped PV544 take on the Salty Thunder Racing Fiero at Willow Springs in May.

Eyesore Racing— well, three out of the five members, at any rate— decided that they’d be the shark in the aquarium and compete in a race with 39 cars instead of the 150-200 cars they’re used to at Sonoma and Thunderhill, so they towed the 575 miles out from Long Beach.

Unfortunately for them, none of the PhD scientists on the team knew that water expands when it freezes, and so they neglected to drain the water out of their Frankenmiata‘s engine prior to visiting the Grand Canyon and then sacking out at a hotel where the overnight temperature was forecast to be 20°F. The thermostat housing, water pump, and cylinder head all cracked as a result. The team patched the car up as well as they could, but the cracked head leaked water in a hurry and the drivers had to pit every half-hour or so. Needless to say, Eyesore failed to dominate at this race, in stark contrast to their performance at the Arizona race of ten years ago. They’d have won the I Got Screwed trophy this time, but they decided to leave the track before the awards ceremony. Must be present to win!

At many races, contenders for the I Got Screwed and Most Heroic Fix trophies often look indistinguishable until about Sunday afternoon. Members of the Parcheezi Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Marque team thrashed on their Volvo (actually VW) diesel-swapped Porsche 924 all weekend long. We lost track of whether the engine block or cylinder head or both were cracked, but copious quantities of J-B Weld were deployed during the fix attempt.

Compression seemed on the low side after the fix, but the car did return to the fray late on Sunday.

Fortunately for the team, there was a low-mile Volvo 760 with the correct diesel engine and transmission, located at a junkyard a few hours away in Phoenix. I photographed this car the day before the race, for later use in one of my Junkyard Find articles, but— unfortunately— I forgot about it and neglected to inform the Parcheezi Jones crew of its existence until after I got home and went through my junkyard photos. Sorry guys!

They went and grabbed the engine and transmission a few days after the race, of course, but they sort of got screwed by your wise and fair Chief Justice of the Lemons Supreme Court. So it goes.

So why didn’t those poor bastidges with the diesel Porsche get the Most Heroic Fix award for their semi-effective J-B Weld engine patch job? We had our eyes on them for that award for much of the weekend, but then Ran Outta Talent Racing performed a miracle with their Geo Metro and glommed the sacred trophy hardware.

They nuked the transmission in their “big-block” four-cylinder Geo Metro, and the nearest junkyards were in Tucson (a couple hours each way) or Phoenix (several hours each way). Then they remembered that they’d seen a Metro sitting in a driveway at one of the scary desert compounds on the highway leading to the track, so they decided to risk getting shot full of holes and knocked on the door to ask about buying the car.

Amazingly, the owner of the car not only didn’t cold blast the Ran Outta Talent guys with an assault rifle, she told them they could pull whatever parts they wanted for free.

The donor car was a three-cylinder Metro, so minor stuff like the starter, transmission mounts, most of the trans-to-engine bolts, and so on didn’t line up. The clutch disc was tuna-can-lid size instead of the four-banger Metro’s coffee-can-lid-diameter clutch, but the team got their new gearbox installed and, more or less, working.

For that, Most Heroic Fix went to Ran Outta Talent Racing.

Team WaySlo figured out a way to Beat The System™ in this racing thing, by bringing an incredible 340-horsepower Japanese muscle car: an Infiniti M45. At the 2019 Arizona race, this car had gone into limp mode whenever it became aware that it was on a race track, but the team felt that they’d sorted out this problem for 2020. This went the way of all illusions and the car refused to run after the first few minutes after the green flag on Saturday. What to do?

Good news! Lemons Legend Spank Worthington hauled his Hyundai Accent (of Jay Leno fame) all the way out from San Diego, just in case a team needed to rent a caged, tech-inspection-passing race car. He even brought a container of white paint, for doing car numbers.

So, Team WaySlo rented the Accent and enjoyed a full day of racing on Sunday. In the process, they won the created-for-the-occasion Scottsdale To Willcox Luxury Downgrade trophy.

Team $500 MY AZZ got many, many black flags back at the 2019 Arizona race, and they continued that streak on the first day at the 2020 race. However, they cleaned up pretty well for Sunday, and on Saturday night they fed everyone tasty homemade tamales at the traditional paddock party.

They also “volunteered” (after getting a black flag) to include their car in our impromptu Datsun Car Show by Race HQ. We had Judge Brett’s Datsun 510 (which drove all the way from Denver), a racer’s Datsun 510 (which drove all the way from Los Angeles), and a spectator’s Datsun 210 (which drove from nearby but was even rarer than a 510 or a 240Z). For all this, the members of $500 MY AZZ got the Life of the Paddock Party trophy for this race.

Parcheezi Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Marque didn’t just bring a diesel Porsche 924. Oh no! They also brought their 1959 Borgward Isabella Coupé, which took the Index of Effluency prize a year earlier.

In the off-season, the team had swapped in a Mazda Miata front subframe, because Borgward brake and suspension parts are a bit tough to acquire these days. Sadly, the connection between the Borgward steering shaft and the Mazda steering box kept failing, causing the car to veer off the track and then get towed back in by the wrecker.

Why is that, you ask? Well, the Parcheezi Jones mechanics could have used a Miata steering column, but that would have meant switching from the high-performance four-on-the-tree manual shifter to a mundane four-on-the-floor shifter.

Obviously, real racers prefer column-shift manuals, so the team kludged up some adapter hardware that failed repeatedly. The judges were so impressed that we handed over the Judges’ Choice trophy to these guys.

We had class winners to go along with all this action, and we haven’t forgotten them. Amazingly, the Team Lowball 1977 AMC Hornet Sportabout ran away with the most important Lemons class this time (after many, many races of constant breakdowns), taking the win by 55 laps over the M45 Racing Studebaker Avanti (which also had its best-ever Lemons race, by far). 55 laps is well over two hours at this track.

Since Toyota MR2s have proven to be quite unreliable and (in many cases) fairly slow, the judges put the Skid Marks West car into Class B. In the end, the MR2 beat the Car Parts automatic Corvette by a single lap, taking P5 overall.

The drivers for the overall and Class A winner, the BMW E36 of It’s All About the Waste, stayed so clean and invisible all weekend long that we only got a single photograph of their car. Avoid the penalty box, win races.

When I bring a press car to review at a race, I always like to shoot that car with at least one Lemons car made by the same manufacturer (probably to the great displeasure of that manufacturer’s PR staff, but so far nobody has sent hired thugs to break my kneecaps over it). At this race, I drove up in a 2020 Toyota Avalon TRD (yes, such a car exists), and so it was perfect that one rookie team brought a grandma-grade 2000 Toyota Camry with four-cylinder engine and automatic transmission and another rookie team brought a soccer-mom-grade 1991 Toyota Previa All-Trac with manual transmission. This trio made for some great photographs with my Avalon TRD, and we became very excited about the idea of the Previa v Camry Challenge.

The team with the Camry, Procrasti-Racing, chose their name in the aftermath of a very ambitious project involving two crashed Subarus (presumably WRXs). The team was going to Beat The System™ by selling off parts and scrap metal from two mangled cars, joining them together in a frenzy of welding and general awesomeness, then winning their first race by 200 laps. Here’s the diagram they sent me when asking about the official budget considerations for such a project. SYSTEM=BEATEN.

Well, it turns out that pasting together a couple of scrunched hoopties is more work than one might think, and suddenly the race was a month away while the Subaru of Race Dominance was a year away from being ready. Most teams would have thrown in the towel at this point, but not Procrasti-Racing! They scavenged up an octillion-mile, fleet-spec silver Camry, caged it, added Jazz Solo Cup graphics, and breezed right through the tech and budget inspections.

Nobody told these guys that they’d need more than one set of wheels and tires to race all weekend on Inde’s rubber-hungry asphalt, so they had to knock off early on Saturday and dash over to the Walmart in Tucson for a fresh set of Dextero DTR1s (sadly, Walmart no longer sells the famed Douglas Xtra Tracs, but the Dexteros appear to be just as hard and even cheaper).

Even with several lost racing hours during the tire-obtainment run, the Procrasti-Racing rookies racked up 158 race laps (about 440 of the roughest miles that Camry ever experienced) and didn’t get too many black flags. They didn’t quite beat the Previa, but they earned one of the top Lemons trophies, the Organizer’s Choice, for their persistence in the face of difficulties that would have stopped most other new teams cold.

As it turned out, the Previa triumphed in the Previa v Camry Challenge, beating Procrasti-Racing by 81 laps.

This van was purchased new in 1991 by the mother of one of the drivers, and it has Toyota’s then-revolutionary All-Trac all-wheel-drive system and a 5-speed manual transmission. This combination was a one-year-only setup and is extraordinarily rare… though not at all valuable. With a curb weight of 3,580 pounds being dragged around by 138 non-supercharged horsepower (the Previa blowers came later on), we’re talking about a mid-engined all-wheel-drive supercar here, albeit a slow-motion one.

“Slow” is a relative term, though, because a couple of the Gate Crashers could hustle this ponderous egg around the track in a hurry. The team took an early lead over the Camry and never relinquished it. Once they had a comfortable lap cushion, they backed off a few tenths in order to keep the mechanicals intact.

Unlike most rookie Lemons teams, the Gate Crashers had very efficient and orderly pit stops; they took advantage of their ability to do quick driver changes by swapping drivers every half-hour or so. This tactic reduced driver fatigue in a high-effort race car and helped prevent black-flag-attracting mistakes. We’re pretty sure this team has at least one professional or high-level-amateur racer on board, which makes their choice of car look even better from our point of view.

Quite a few— hundreds, in fact— of our teams running much faster cars could learn some lessons from the Gate Crashers. When the checkered flag waved on Sunday afternoon, they’d finished 29th out of 39 entries, just one place below Eyesore and ahead of everyone in Class C except for the Hornet and the Avanti.

Index of Effluency? There was never any doubt about that. Well done, Gate Crashers! Be warned, the Lemons Supreme Court has authorized the installation of a supercharger out of a later Previa into this van, so it will be even quicker at the next race.

We look forward to returning to Inde in 2021, by which time we hope they’ll have a de Havilland Vampire parked in the paddock. Now get ready for the next 24 Hours of Lemons race, which takes place in New Orleans at the end of the month. Below, you’ll find a gallery of Carrera Arizona photos shot with a 1977 Canon AE-1 and a 1958 Yashica-44: