Gator-O-Rama 2010: One Race, A Bounty of Bad Ideas in Houston

By: Eric Rood Photo Credits: Murilee Martin, Nick Pon
February 20, 2020

In the series’ early years, the 24 Hours of Lemons plowed a deep furrow into the landscape of road racing. The year 2010 found Lemons expanding into a full-blown “series” with 21 “races” (word used loosely). A decade later, we’ve decided to look back at the absurdity that marked Lemons’ first totally full calendar. And today marks exactly 10 years since Gator-O-Rama at MSR Houston in February 2010.

The Houston race marked one of the early implementations of Lemons Supreme Court Bribed Stencil #4. Murilee Martin has written extensively about those BRIBED stencils, but the first several years of Lemons and bribing included repeated use of the same stencil. The judges applied those stencils in different colors for each event. The fourth BRIBED stencil (right) differed only slightly from the third one (left). Maybe you can spot it, maybe you can’t. Barrett-Jackson experts in 40 years will be able to divine that provenance, though.

Of course, the Lemons Supreme Court instituted many lasting penalties for those drivers who failed to learn on their own. Driving off the track, spinning, making contact, or passing under yellow flags? You would likely end up wrapped to your hooptie’s roof to apologize profusely and publically.

If that didn’t work, drivers might have to mime their crime(s) in the style of Marcel Marceau.

And if the whole team couldn’t manage it, the evil Lemons Judges might make all of their drivers spread the communist word of Lemons indoctrination to Gator-O-Rama.

There was, of course, ample mechanical carnage among the 122-car field. You can almost bank on a half-dozen mid-race engine swaps in a field of that size.

Substandard Racing had brought Lemons’ first AMC Gremlin to the prior Houston Lemons race late in 2009. Little did the team know that the 20 laps their AMC put up at that first event would be their high point. In order, their lap totals for the car’s four-event “racing career:” 20, 12, 5, 0. DOMINATION!

Not long after that ‘73 Gremlin was built, AMC “merged” with French automaker Renault. Renault hoped that would give them a built-in dealer network to sell fine automobiles like Le Car. It’s still amazing that the French built a “The Car,” but Crewe Le Pew’s skunky Le Car debuted at Gator-O-Rama.

While it breezed past its odd marque-mate (of sorts) Gremlin easily in the standings, the Renault’s race came to an end when it rolled over on Lap 142. Everyone was ok, including the Le Car that would race again another day. Or attempt to race another day.

Creative modifications were many and amazing at this race. The Fall Guy Stuntman Association took a cutting wheel to their 1988 Ford Escort. The Fall Guy pickup conversion was a solid choice and we’ve seen far too few pre-1991 Escorts in Lemons for our liking. They’re still around, we’re certain of it, since Ford built about four milllion of them from 1981-1990. Bring , be a hero.

Mostly Harmless’ Volkwagen Karmann Ghia remains noteworthy not just for being Lemons’ only-ever Karmann Ghia but for a fantastic Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy theme. Still one of the best of all time and its engine showed up again in Lemons’ only Volkswagen 411 in 2017.

Bodywork and them weren’t the only Lemons modification of note, either. The famous Sensory Assault team added a comically oversized airbrake to their Mazda RX-7. This was a Gator-O-Rama modification. That RX-7 suffered through countless (extremely) ill-advised “enhancements” over many years.

Apex Vinyl tacked an extra axle onto their Toyota Pickup. Amazing stuff and you may know Apex Vinyl currently makes numbers and number boards for Lemons car that we sell right here. The same people behind the six-wheeler Toyota also have used their years of Lemons expertise in cleaning up after crap cars to start selling White Pony Dry, the official “Desperately Needed Absorbent of Lemons.

If extra wheels or airbrakes don’t do it for you, Mid-Drive Crisis’ entrant may be up your alley. Your eyes don’t deceive you; the team converted a Mitsubishi Mirage into a center-drive car. JUST LIKE A MCLAREN F1.

They didn’t fare too terribly well in their debut, but they eventually won a Lemons race overall. No, really. The amazing part of that, naturally, is not that the center-drive position worked but that a Mitsubishi did.

Speaking of winners, Lemons organizers had written off the Ford Taurus SHO as the blow-uppiest of high-performance sedans from the 1980s and 1990s. That probably remains true, but the Red Rocket Ratnest Revival SHO managed to keep its transmission and Yamaha-built V6 together long enough to win Gator-O-Rama overall. Years later, Judge Sajeev would review this very car for The Truth About Cars.

If you’ve kept up on the Lemons YouTube Video Recaps—and if you aren’t, shame on you and subscribe now—you’ll recall that the 2019 season ended with Troy Hogan’s long-suffering Datsun 240Z forced to retire with an Index of Effluency. Ten years ago today, Troy and his Z-car took home the IOE for a 29th-place finish, which means it’s one of very few Lemons cars with two Index of Effluency trophies.

We thought that first IOE was the high point for someone who had a Penalty named after him, but he proved us wrong with a bunch of Top 10 finishes in the decade since.

Troy and the Z were far from the only overachievers. Pontiac Grand Prix GTP finished third place overall. That would be the Team JB-Weld Grand Prix, so named because they fixed a burned valve with JB Weld and then ran several races—including this third-place-finishing one—without touching the cylinder head.

One position behind them was the aptly named Never Give Up BMW 1600-2. Fourth-place overall and beating every other BMW 3-Series and 5-Series? That’s what we’re talkin’ about.

That was perhaps still not the most incredible outcome. Team Festivus’ cleverly Misfits-themed Ford Festiva finished 15th place with the 101st-quickest lap. That earned them the Grassroots Motorsports Most From the Least trophy, which GRM once sponsored before they wised up.

Little Buckaroo—called “Little Buckadillo” for this race—has devolved into one of the most hopeless air-cooled Lemons cars. That is a deep well, of course, but for once race, the Baja Bug held together well enough to win Class C by a lap over a Triumph TR7.

Finally, Lemons handed out the event-specific “Mustang That Makes You Say ‘Dang!’” trophy to Brass Burro’s Ford Mustang II. Can you build a cheaty Mustang II? Well, yes. This one ran the sixth-quickest lap of the entire Gator-O-Rama. Dang, indeed.

Of course, that covers only a small slice of the goings-on in a 122-car race. We’ll be back at MSR Houston in November to make memories good and bad as part of our 24-race calendar this year. Next up on our 10th Anniversary list: Our first visit to Sears Point in March 2010. In the meantime, be sure to check out Lemons on YouTube, on Facebook, on Instagram, and on MySpace.

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