Lemons South Spring: A Catalog of Mechanical Carnage, Part 2

By: Eric Rood Photo Credits: Eric Rood
May 10, 2019

Earlier this week, we cataloged just a few of the many blown-up cars from the 24 Hours of Lemons first full 24-hour race at series mainstay Carolina Motorsports Park. Engines and brakes and other things all suffer at the hands of 1,440 minutes of non-stop racing. Indeed, even—and in some cases especially— teams who won trophies mostly dealt with carnage. Here are your Lemons South winners and the setbacks they endured.

Overall Winner – #81 Rod Throwin’ Fools – Toyota MR2

When a team hauls 12 hours from Northwest Indiana for a 24-hour race, they’re usually hoping just to have something left at the end of 24 hours. In the case of Rod Throwin’ Fools, they kept their Camry V6-swapped Toyota MR2 together just long enough for exactly 600 laps around CMP. They won by a healthy margin (12 laps), but things were anything but easy for the former Scrotium winners.

About 10 hours into the race and after some time struggling with it, the MR2’s clutch failed entirely. Luckily, the transmission was stuck in fourth gear. That gave the car enough speed to get around the track stuck in that lone gear. However, 14 hours of push starts and nursing home a garage-built race car doesn’t come easily. Nevertheless, the Fools have shown before that they know how to limp their car along.

Things almost went wayward at around 7 am, when one of the tires wore all the way through to cause a puncture. The Fools’ driver rolled into the pit space to find…no one there. The team was catching some much-needed sleep. Luckily, one team member just caught the radio crackle in time to see the MR2 roll to a stop a few feet away. He roused the rest of the team and swapped on a couple of less-used tires that limped the Toyota to the win.

Second Place – Surrealtime Racing, Honda Civic

The Alabama-based Civic just won Class B at Barber Motorsports Park in February by a thin margin. The team expected their promotion to Class A, but they had little expectation that they’d be competitive. Lo and behold, the car ran the 37th-quickest lap of the weekend. Still, Surrealtime hung onto second place as one of few teams without major mechanical issues.

Class B Winner – Comin’ In Hot, Ford Crown Victoria

“HOW DARE YOU PUT GREG BIFFLE IN CLASS B?!” We heard that refrain over and over all weekend and beyond. However, the NASCAR driver couldn’t drive the entire race for himself. Although the second-quickest lap of the weekend was a nice and unsurprising outcome, Biffle needed his teammates to drive the car. Biffle’s teammates and buddies raced the car competently if unspectacularly.

It turns out that what makes you successful in a 24-hour race is staying on the track. Considering Biffle has raced professionally for years, that piece made the team more effective than outright speed. The Crown Vic was again one of very few teams without major issues. That netted them the Lemons South win in Class B.

Class C – Fail Inc. Motorsport, Lexus LS400

Normally, the Lemons Supreme Court would put Lexus’ V8 flagship in Class B. However, the combined craptacularness of Florida’s aptly named Fail Inc. and the car’s utter stockness (down to worn-out bushings everywhere) kept them in Class C. They narrowly won, overcoming brake issues and hood-pin issues late in the race for the victory.

Those runners up? That would be Sputnik and their “longroof” Nissan Sentra. The poverty-spec Sentra is a far cry from its racing-pedigree SE-R cousin. Nevertheless, the Lemons veterans swear by the 115-horsepower Nissan GA16DE engine. It nearly got the job done. The final gap was just six laps, which made the slowest and least-reliable class also the closest.

Judges Choice – Smokey Unit, Fiat 124 Spider TDI

Yes, you’re reading that right. This is a Fiat Spider that packs a Volkswagen diesel engine under the hood and an enormous fuel cell in the trunk. We’ve seen this Fiat at Lemons South races for years and the conclusion (and outcome) is usually the same. In theory, this sooty little Italian should utterly run away with the race. It’s relatively quick but, more importantly, the diesel-sipping VW engine can make a 24-gallon fuel cell last at least five straight hours.

Of course, that’s only useful if the car actually works for more than, say, five minutes at a time. Smokey Unit got towed in at least eight times over the course of the race. Broken throttle cable? Yeah, two of those. Burned-up starter? Better push-start it for 22 hours. Ran it out of diesel somehow? Comin’ in on the hook. Still, the Fiat team never gave up and for their determination, they won the hearts and minds of the Lemons Supreme Court.

Organizers Choice – Duff Beer, Triumph Stag

The Triumph competed earnestly for the win in Class C against a Nissan Sentra and a Lexus LS400, but it came up just short. We’ll get to the real reason for the Lemons South Organizer’s Choice in our next blog post.

Heroic Fix – Club 991, Honda Prelude

As we no doubt pointed out in our last post, most of the engine swaps undertaken during the race failed again. A couple persisted, but the Club 991 Prelude was both the first engine to blow up and the first to return to racing. Then, it carried on to race the final 14 hours without issue to beat 30 teams. This was, of course, the team’s first race since a rather abrupt and unfortunate end to their run last fall at Gingerman Raceway. Their hopes for redemption were dashed after, oh, about 40 minutes of a 24-hour race.

Of course, the Prelude’s engine dismantled itself with extreme prejudice. The holed engine block trailed oil all the way back to the paddock space, but hey, the Detroit-based team weren’t about to let that shame trail define their weekend.

I Got Screwed – United Partnership of Pentastar Racers, Plymouth Sundance Duster

These guys are in the running for I Got Screwed every time they show up in their Duster. This time, the main story was much the same. They had a “fresh” (cheaty) Mitsubishi 3.8-liter V6 in it that would surely last all 24 hours. Naturally, the car began blowing smoke out of the bellhousing halfway through Lap 1 of pre-race testing. “It must be the transmission seal because there’s no way it’s the engine’s freshly replaced rear main seal,” the UPPR crew said. They pulled the driveline and put on a fresh transmission seal. While they had it apart, they changed the engine’s rear main seal for good measure.

Just kidding, they didn’t do that. And guess what? When they began the 24-hour race, it blew smoke again exactly the same way. So they took the driveline out a second time to replace the engine’s rear main seal.

That’s pretty much par for the course with these misfits, but the real screwing came from a ruined family weekend. UPPR’s Canadian team member’s wife enjoys making stateside travel to the races to hang out. We don’t know why, either, but who are we to judge? So they booked travel to the Carolinas for the whole family. The couple has an infant, however, and their pediatrician told them that, no, the baby wouldn’t be going to South Carolina. Because the United States currently has a measles epidemic.

Hence their theme for this Lemons South race. We’re not usually one to stand on a soapbox, but please vaccinate your children.

Still as in ‘Not Moving,’ not as in ‘Distillin’ – Frankenguitarcarheads, Chevy Camaro

In the days of Real Southern Bootleggin’ and NASCAR racin’, a good moonshine-runner would need to be able to scoot at a moment’s notice when the feds were onto them. That meant the ability to drive like hell. But it also meant the ability to swap a good ol’ American V8 with real haste. With only a few wires and bolts, how hard could it be? Well, the Frankenguitarcarheads proved they’d have been incarcerated had John Q. Law been breathing down their necks.

When the Small-Block Chevy V8 in their second-generation Camaro blew up during pre-race night practice, we figured they’d have it out in a matter of minutes. They’ve raced this thing for years and know their way around an engine bay. We’d see them for the green flag in about 12 hours’ time, right? Nope. Somehow, it took them about 30 hours to swap in their replacement.

They turned their first laps at 3:30 am. For the math disincline, that is 16-½ hours into the race. Cuff ‘em, boys.

Index of Effluency – Senior Citizens Club of America, Datsun B210

We first saw these autocrossers last spring at CMP when their mid-’80s Civic was plastered with the Sports Car Club of America’s rulebook. They filed protests over everything all weekend like good club racers. This year, they returned with both their Civic and an extremely haggard Datsun B210 that had rallycrossed in a former life.

Extremely. Haggard.

To that, they added a very accurate “mobile-home community” theme with their extended family, the Dirtsuns. They stayed in character all weekend, hollerin’ at the Penalty Box and generally carrying on non-stop like Your Neighbors From Hell. Naturally, not everyone in the Lemons South paddock knew this was an act.

The Datsun’s little unstressed engine ran like a champ all weekend, but like most everyone else at CMP, they had some minor issues. Namely, their four-speed transmission lost gears 1 to 3 in fairly rapid succession over the race’s opening hours. As the overall race winners proved, of course, a whole buncha gears can be overrated anyway.

They set to work on an old Lemons trick: Turning a multiple-speed transmission into a direct-drive gearbox. In this case, they stripped off the busted-ass gears off. Then, they welded it directly into fourth gear.

Voila, a new gearset! They put it back in the transmission case. They filled that with fluid. And the mated it back with the engine like nothing had ever happened.

Now, we’ve seen this in Lemons before and it has categorically failed with an upper limit of about four laps. Certainly, the Datsun’s clutch—brand new before the race—did not enjoy the punishment. Getting the car to leave the pitlane meant revving the engine to the moon and then basically frying the clutch.

 

But leave the pitlane it did in a cloud of clutch dust. Unlike previous Lemons attempts at this fix, the welded direct drive worked like it was designed that way and the engine was pretty unstressed in fourth gear. They ran at night for a couple hours without major issue but figured they were pressing their luck. They parked it until daylight, when it ran round a couple more hours until it took the checkered flag.

Everything finally came unglued on the cooldown lap, when it got pushed in by a helpful BMW. But who cares? They made it to the official end. For making that fix work and for still beating 20 teams, they earned this Lemons South Index of Effluency.

What’s next?

The 24 Hours of Lemons races (and wrenches) again at May 25-26 for the Yokohama 5-Mile Tyre Festival (aka TyreFest) at Thunderhill Raceway. We will soon recap the Florida Man Poker Run Lemons Rally, so check back for that.

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