Thursday, October 23, 2008

24 Hours of LeMONS: Texas Edition

Nothing says patriotic like abusing $500 cars around a cow-pasture-turned-racetrack for 24 hours with nothing more than bragging rights and a few boxes of nickels on the line. Especially if you're a Texan.

The brain child of a sick, twisted car nut, the 24 Hours of LeMons is exactly that. A massive pile of wretched automobiles from the last several decades on their last leg vying for pointless bragging rights and a reward that hardly begins to cover their expenses. 96 wretched automobiles to be exact, some so wretched they blew up before the start of the race. All of them eyesores, a prerequisite to participation These cars, purchased for $500 or less, are pitted against each other around a race track for 24 hours straight, this weekend at Motorsport Ranch Houston's 1.1 mile course. The teams can have many drivers and stop for nothing more than driver changes, fuel, repairs and the occasional punishment. These punishments are inflicted by a panel/pair of judges and as our luck had it, we were associate judges for this weekend's fiasco.

Our work as semi-guest-judge-secondary-enforcement-officers started in the pits several hours before the race. Before any car is allowed to race, it must first meet a run-of-the-mill technical and safety inspection followed by a bullshit inspection carried out by the judges and Rally Ready Texas Enforcers (that's us). This is the deciding factor on the validity of their $500 claim. The judges poke the team for information such as pictures, documentation, craigslist ads and really bogus stories. Bribes are happily accepted and rewarded with a BRIBED branding on the side of the car featuring the scales of justice clearly being tilted by a dollar sign. While the judges are busy with this task, we, the questionably cowboy clad Texas Enforcers, climb underneath the cars looking for shiny suspension bits, fancy new bushings, secret turbos, fairy dust and hopefully cash attached to any cheater bits. A decision is made based on the culmination of our inspection, the teams documentation, stories and attitude and a penalty is decided (one lap for every $10 over budget). In addition, the cars deemed too pretty or simply not ugly enough, were beaten with hammers and baseball bats or painted to our liking (see Jalopnik's Neon turned Civic).

During the race, our jobs were much to the same effect. If a driver made contact with another car, grass, concrete, spun the car, generally acted a fool, a black flag was waved and the accused was brought into the paddock to cool down. As the accused (and by default, guilty), you often had a choice; park your car for 30 minutes in the penalty box, (a crudely marked off section of asphalt with used race tires and CRIME SCENE: DO NOT CROSS tape marking its circumference), or swallow your pride (and I mean all of it) and spin the wheel of misfortune. The wheel of misfortune is a dry erase board that features a series of painfully degrading punishments devised to bring the sadist out in everyone but allow the team back on track much quicker. Here are just a few of the punishments the brave men and women endured:

The Sarah Palin: Spray your wrists with coon piss (authentic raccoon urine, none of this Chinese counterfeit nonsense), grab your camoflauge headsock, shotgun and baby and head out in the pits in search of the hidden bear! Bring back the bear and you're team is free to go!

The Barack Obama "Change You Can Believe In": Grab the paint cans, crew. It's time to inspire the judges. Repaint your car to an entirely new theme as quickly as possible. Once the judges are believers, you can go back to pretending to be a race car driver.

The Pantera: Named after the famously homophobic southern metal band, this punishment is for two drivers who don't see eye to eye. You must both take off your shirts and embrace.. And stay that way for the duration of Cowboys From Hell.

The Matthew Mcconaughey: Famous in Texas for his stoned, nude bongo antics and subsequent arrest, this black-flagger must take his bongo on tour through the pits and spectators playing righteous tunes for a pre-determined amount of time.

The Too-Touchy Tango: Shawn the mannequin lacks appendages. In order to dance with him you've really only got one choice: wrap your arm around the back side of his hot pink Houston t-shirt and gently cup his buttocks with your other hand. Don't worry, we cut the shirt short enough that it's all bare mannequin down there. You'd better really show the passion, too. Dancing all the way through Bonnie Tyler's Total Eclipse of the Heart is bad enough, you don't want to have to get all the way through any tracks off of "Country Sings Disney".

The driver would (usually) carry out their punishment in good spirits for the greater good of their team and for the enjoyment of any passers by. A day as involved as this after a night of sleep in our inadequate trailer beds and we were exhausted. We caught a bit of the action from the spectators balcony before the sun went down.

Unfortunately, no lighting on cars or track meant the cars stopped when the sun did. This, however, was a great opportunity for some of the cars that met grave misfortune during the day to attempt some true Lemons style repairs. The 3 liter Yamaha V6 in El Toro Loco's Taurus SHO gave up the ghost late in the day Saturday (miraculously before the mid 90's Ford it was encased in). In typical SHO owner fashion they dashed into town and found not one but TWO complete engines for the cost only of the fuel it took to pick them up. A good old fashioned pizza injection and the crew wrenched late into the night getting the new engine ready while their car sat hoisted up on a pile of tires. The starter cranked and it breathed to life around 4am, just in time for a 4 hour nap before getting back up for the Sunday drivers meeting.

The beginning of day 2 saw a plethora of day 1's retirees back on track sure that their JB welded rod bearings and zip tied suspension bits would stay together. This supplied an epicly long caution as each of them either limped off the track of their own volition or was dragged out on a stretcher. Eventually the herd thinned enough to allow green flag racing and the half of the field that still remained battled for top honors on a now well-oiled track (car's like the SLAAB teams Saab Exxon Valdez were dumping as much as 3 quarts an hour onto the track). There were a few consistent black-flaggers again and new, innovative punishments were in order. A V8 Lexus bit the dust the previous day and for a team who found themselves in the penalty box one too many times, the unenviable task of removing the starter was listed as an option. The alternative was a pile of metal shavings into the crankcase. After a fair amount of begging and pleading, the hood was opened to the Lexus. Five minutes pass and the team is still scratching their head wondering where in the rising sun they might find a starter on a Lexus V8. Eventually it becomes evident it is sandwiched between the cylinder heads underneath the intake manifold and the true intensity of the project is revealed. The team swallows the collective bad taste and dives into the top end of this Japanese/Murican engineering marvel. An 8 hour job according to Toyota, this team of 5 had the starter out and in hand in just about an hour. This proved convenient for the Lexus crew who had to remove the starter to get the blown engine out anyways, apparently.

Some time during all this mess I found time to take Justice Martin out in the heart of the chaos for some snapshots from inside the Rally Ready Evo VI. The car, mostly in Pikes Peak settings, felt more like grandpa's 69 Coupe DeVille than a race car on the greasy pavement. Two laps in and the car overboosted and went into safe mode allowing a Mustang II to slip by. There are few things in life more embarassing than getting passed by a Mustang II-- especially in a race car with four times the power. We brought it back in, turned down boost and gave it some fresh fuel before romping out another 5 or 6 laps. Taking it easy through the traffic, we got to see first hand the lunacy that is seasoned drivers and complete newcomers all on the same track at the same time chunk of pavement.

The Evo back in the paddock, we took a few minutes to cool off before heading back to the crime scene and finishing up the days punishments. The checkered flag waved around 4:30 and a Behr blue FX16 Corolla was crowned king of kooks in a ceremony that celebrated the fastest, slowest, dumbest and most fun cars from the event. Cash prizes are handed out in the form of $100 boxes of nickels, many teams struggling to lift them after a day and a half of racing. The entire paddock was empty a mere minutes after the awards with the exception of a few zip tie ends and greasy strips of duct tape.

In our quest to sleep in our own beds we are delayed a half hour as one of our crew has won a ride in a Nascar via his blindingly fast times at the karting track over the weekend. While we wait on the Nascar to warm up, an Enzo pulls up to the pump and Justice Liberman hops out of the passenger seat wearing a helmet and flip-flops. Safety first.

Marcus gets his face-ripping, asshole puckering romp in the 750 hp NASCAR roundy rounder and the Justices take their rides in the Enzo shortly thereafter. Watching your buddies take rides in race cars and Enzos back to back, you know for once you're in the right place at the right time. The soundtrack to the ride home is a symphony of snores from every corner of the truck broken only by the occasional post-greasy-mexican-food gas.

It's two days since we got home from the madness and I'm back to work prepping two of our rally cars for testing in a matter of days. On lunch break between cutting Lexan and breathing epoxy resin fumes I received an email from Jay Lamm. The subject reads "LeMons Arse-Freeze-Apalooza: YOU'RE IN!"

Looks like I'll see you sickos at Thunderhill.

No comments: