Roadkill Guys Do Pretty Well For Car Writers, Still Lose To ’64 Humber Super Snipe at Buttonwillow

By: Judge Phil "Murilee Martin, The Ayatollah of Rock-n-Rolla" Greden. Photo Credits: Nick Pon, Anton Lovett, Davey G. Johnson, Sophie Aissen.
March 19, 2020

Yo cats, this post from 2015 got lost in a website update a few years back, so we have restored it to its original glory.
One thing that we’ve learned putting on these races is that automotive journalists make the worst Lemons racers. They— or, more accurately, we, because just about everyone running Lemons is a current or former automotive journalist— tend to spin out, crash, dive-bomb, break the car, lock the tools and the keys in the trailer, screw up the simplest registration process, and generally make a lot of head-clutchingly stupid mistakes at these races. It’s a measure of how low expectations for car writers are that when the Grassroots Motorsports Miata team managed to finish in 11th overall at the Alabama race earlier this year, it was seen as a shockingly unexpected triumph. With that in mind, we weren’t expecting a whole lot from our new sponsors from Roadkill at last weekend’s Button Turrible race, given that Finnegan and Freiburger are handicapped by their autojourno job description.

Somewhat jokingly, we challenged Finnegan and Freiburger to turn more laps than the Team Tinworm 1964 Humber Super Snipe station wagon during the course of the weekend. The Super Snipe features a potent mix of great weight, primitive suspension, double-digit horsepower, and Lucas electrics, and it’s both slow and unreliable on the race track. The Roadkill guys brought their infamous Rotsun, a Datsun 240Z with turbocharged Chevy 4.3 V6 engine, giving them four times the horsepower, half the weight, and a suspension design about seven decades more advanced than that of the Snipe. Finnegan and Freiburger are pretty good on a road course, too, so you’d think that the Rotsun ought to eat the Super Snipe alive, right? We knew better.

Remember, we are automotive journalists ourselves, so we know how impossible it is for a team handicapped by car writers to do well in this kind of race. My very first time behind the wheel of a Lemons car (at Altamont in 2008, before I was recruited to be a Lemons Supreme Court Justice), I tried to keep up with a better driver in what I thought should be a slower car and wiped out in spectacular fashion; here I am facing the Wheel of Misfortune in the Penalty Box. So when I say that our expectations for Finnegan and Freiburger were so low that we were sure they wouldn’t be able to beat a miserably slow 51-year-old British car full of flaky electrical components in their cheat-tastic monster Z, it’s with affection and understanding. Of course, we were so right!

Naturally, the Rotsun wasn’t ready for the tech inspections on Friday, because Finnegan and Freiburger were still installing a roll cage, 100 miles to the south at their shop in Los Angeles. Saturday morning, they showed up and Chief Perp Lamm inspected the car. The car numbers were marginal (car numbers are very difficult for automotive journalists) and the fuel-tank vent wasn’t right, but other than that the Rotsun was just about good enough. After some fixes, the car got the OK to hit the race track.

The guys from Hella Shitty Racing were kind enough to make some helpful “CAUTION: AUTOMOTIVE JOURNALIST” signs for the Rotsun, to warn other racers to keep their distance, Jay figured that all the penalty laps in the world weren’t going to make any difference with these guys, since they’d have about as much chance of contending in this race as they would for winning a Nobel Prize, but he opted to create a special class just for our sponsors: Class F.

Hooray, racing!

11 laps later, however, the Rotsun clattered off the track with horrible transmission problems. This surprised nobody, and we figured the Roadkill guys would be in for a few hours of character-building transmission swapping.

Meanwhile, the Team Tinworm Humber pilots kept turning laps. Very slow laps, but slow laps add up.

The transmission in the Rotsun had a bunch of broken internals and was stuck in 5th gear, and the Roadkill guys figured they weren’t going to find a replacement at the Bakersfield Pick-n-Pull. Instead, they went on Craigslist in search of a late-1990s C-series Chevy pickup with 4.3 and 5-speed, finding this one in lovely Delano. Unfortunately, their car had a Getrag/Muncie S-10 transmission, and their donor truck came with a totally incompatible New Venture NV3500 transmission. What to do?

Eventually, they decided to disassemble their bad transmission and remove the broken 5th/reverse shift fork, which would give them four forward gears— enough to race! They had some help from other racers, including the Alloy Motors guys (who had just returned from driving their ’35 Ford shop truck on the Hot Rod Power Tour) and Fish Newman of Model T GT fame, and a late-night wrenching session gave them what appeared to be a working 4-speed.

Hooray, racing!

Sadly, fixing the transmission in the Rotsun merely exposed other weak points, and a cascade of mechanical woes kept track time short. The water pump gasket failed, the ignition-system ground fell off due to excessive vibration, the turbo wastegate wasn’t working right, and finally the engine just gave up and seized solid. Final score in the Rotsun-versus-Super-Snipe battle: 24 laps for Roadkill, 121 laps for Team Tinworm. Here’s Team Tinworm captain Alan savoring his victory.

The second-slowest car in the race was the Panting Polar Bear Racing 1961 Rambler Classic, with three-on-the-tree transmission and 196-cubic-inch six rated at 78.5 horsepower when new. This car turned 196 laps during the weekend. The message here: you’re better off with a half-century-old car and ancient straight-six power in our race.

In the end, Roadkill finished 105th out of 112 entries. That sounds bad, but it’s actually an excellent performance for a team full of automotive journalists. Well done, Roadkill! Next race, we suggest you bring a 1961 Borgward Isabella.

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