By on March 10, 2014

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Racing is more than the story on track. If there’s thing I’ve learned in the last few years of rassin’ adventures is that the real battle in racing is the one leading up to getting the car on track. Not just the mechanical struggle of preparing a car to drive in conditions its creators had never anticipated, but in the personal struggles the teams could never had anticipated, too.

Some may have noticed we’ve been quiet on our Lemons exploits last fall, and it wasn’t for lack of trying. Plain and simple, the deal for our 450SLC fell apart in such spectacular fashion that we decided to tactfully push it under the rug and move on with plans for our own in-house team. Sure, we’d wasted a ton of money, travel, and time off work, but what would the point be of publicly humiliating the person who had let us down?

That was our opinion, anyway. But Brandon Spears, owner of the Syndicate Lemons team, “builder” of the 450SLC we’d arranged to rent, and the letter-downer in question, had a different opinion about letting sleeping dogs lie.

buy a Mercedes SLC and race that MoFo  Page 1  — Bench Racing — The 24 Hours of LeMons Forums (2)

TTAC: coverage yes, paying their bills no.

Those guys showed up and hogged all the seat time from my other drivers, blew up a motor, and wouldn’t lend a hand to help finish the car they came to race.  3 hours before the end of the race I gave up working on it and went and drove. Didn’t help that the cage came in Thursday afternoon before the race.

But hey, at least they didn’t pay anything.

Car just needs the rear down bars and it is good to go.  Should see it at ECR, be sure to check out the team name 

After a few brief forum posts in which we rebutted Spears’ claims, we even let that go. We’ll get to the hard response to this in due time. However, a month later, the Eagles Canyon Raceway 24 Hours of Lemons event rolls through and there’s a nice surprise for us in the team name.

Classification

So much for tact.

Here’s the deal. Our car, the #107 Mercedes Benz 450 SLC, was supposed to have arrived Friday morning of the race weekend around 9 am. I was driving to Motor Sports Ranch Houston from Austin, a three hour drive, when I got Jack’s call that the car was late. By noon, everyone but Bark M. had arrived. We spent the afternoon learning the course in Jack’s rental ’13 Mustang Penske GT. Through out the day, unanswered text messages and phone calls to Spears built up in our phones as each promised ETA was passed. We had lost count of the number of times the 450SLC was “on the way to the track” by the time we made it to the Pappas Brothers’ steak house for dinner that night.

The last message we heard about the car, that evening, was that it would be at the track on Saturday morning, just a few hours before the 3pm start. You can see where this is going.

At 9pm, Saturday evening, six hours after race start, a Benz arrived… But it was not our 450 SLC. Spears’ other car, the “red pig” 560 SEL arrived with half of his crew. When the truck rolled up, we immediately started working with the crew to get the Pig ready. The to-do list included:

  • Replace right-rear brake caliper
  • Wire PIAA lights
  • Fix major fuel leaks

While we were establishing what was needed on the Pig, the Tiki/Jettarossa was offered to get our drivers on track. The car had mysteriously been abandoned by the team running it earlier on in the race. A quick fluids check found over a gallon of oil missing from the pan. Yes! A quick drive to Wal-Mart and a fistful of dollars in Royal Purple later, Bark M. was put on course around 10pm to try out MSR Houston for the first time — in the dark, driving an unfamiliar car.

It didn’t take long before he had to return. The car was losing oil pressure right before he put the car into the grass to avoid broad-siding a three-way accident ahead of him. It stalled in the maneuver, and when restarted lit its oil pressure light with great fury. When it was pulled back in, it was terrifyinly low on oil, again. This time the entire engine bay was sprayed with oil, it had been leaking under pressure from somewhere.

We had already started on the Pig by this point, and just left the Jettarossa aside for now. Marc and a member of Spears’ crew started working on the fuel fitting leak. I started on the brake caliper. A rally friend of mine, Matt, who was here after his Lemons team threw in the towel the day before, started working on wiring the headlights; even bleeding the brakes with me simultaneously. Jack was off working with Steven, the nominal team captain, to get a way to get the Red Pig teched after the John Pagel, the main tech inspector, left. They eventually worked to transfer tech responsibility to Steven after Mr. Pagel did an initial evaluation of the Pig. Though brakes and lights were now sorted, the fuel leak was still a major issue.

Matt went around looking for new crush washers, while Marc worked to modify what was around to the right diameter. Basically, we didn’t have a large enough copper crush washer. Despite all these efforts, the system still would not seal. After pulling the pump out of the car, it was seen that the mating surface on the pump had been damaged by some ham-fisted install in College Station.

Around 12:30am, Brandon finally rolls up with the 450SLC, only for us to find out that it too is unfinished. Some of the roll cage had yet to be welded in, the kill switch needed to be installed, and who knew what attention it needed once running.

We put our efforts back in the Pig, and two new mechanics from Spears’ crew installed the hoodpins, and were less than pleasant to us as we repaired their car.. While they finished this, Marc and I went over the Jettarossa with Spears. We found that there was a loose AN fitting on the oil pump, and in Spears’ own words, the oil pump was an aftermarket unit that might have been over pressurizing the engine and leaking from everywhere it could have.

The Pig was finally ready, and Jack Baruth took the first laps in it to shake it down and assume any risk of mechanical failure… Which took two laps before we found out that the transmission was quarts low on fluid and the radiator hoses were not fitted correctly. The 560SEL returned on a hook, accompanied by a thoroughly pissed-off Editor-In-Chief who, unbeknownst to him, had finished the only race lap he would see that weekend.

At 3am, we left with a promise from Brandon that the 450SLC would be ready by 9am on Sunday. We went to the hotel, assuming the obvious.

And at 10 am, nothing was done. But when we did arrive, we at least found the Spears crew digging into the catering truck before reluctantly sending the Red Pig out. It made a few laps, but burned through its power steering hose. Someone installed a hose that was 4″ too long, which routed it next to the exhaust manifold. That ended well, as you can imagine. “We’ll fix it,” Spears offered, “but first, OMELETS!” We sat around and watched him eat an omelet while the race, you know, continued behind us.

Around 11am, we finally put a driver, Marc P, on track. The end of his stint was a rain-induced caution that nearly put him into a sideways Camaro as the Red Pig’s wipers began to fail. The Pig came in for an emergency zip-tie repair on the wipers to lock them back onto the arms, and to wait out the rain. Marc swapped with me, and I put down about 8 laps before handing the car to Bark M. for about 10 laps. At this point, Steve came by to repo the car, despite that our 450SLC still hadn’t ran. It was at this point we learned that they hadn’t started working on the Pig until 4 days prior… on a car that hasn’t been raced, much less driven, in a year.

After Bark M. finished his 10 meager laps, we gave the car to Spears’ crew, and they ran the car for the final four hours. Their best dry laptime wasn’t equal to Marc or Mark’s wet laps. We bounced out for a fine cuisine at the local Pizza Hut, and returned to watch the race finish before loading out for the flights home.

So what did TTAC get out of this? By Jack’s estimates, $6,000 in combined travel and hotel costs, plus $950 paid to Lemons for a race entry that wasn’t actually fulfilled. Jack had also arranged for shirts to be made to hand out to readers, but although Spears had received those shirts on time thanks to Jack paying for FedEx two-day shipping, he’d forgotten to put them in his truck before leaving the shop. Our total laps on track number around 35 between four drivers. We were given not just one, but three broken cars.

After the end of the race, Mr. Spears sent Jack a bill for $1,600 for catering, light rental, and miscellaneous expenses. Jack counter-offered with the $150 per driver on which he and Spears had agreed prior to the race. “I am not,” he fumed, “paying for that guy’s fucking omelets.” Spears wouldn’t take that, and Jack wouldn’t pay any more than the original agreement, so that’s where the conversation stalled. Jack offered to give Spears the $950 race fee if Spears could get it back from Lemons, but apparently Jay Lamm decided a while ago to stop refunding money for teams that couldn’t make it to the track. Care to take a guess on which team the rumor mill says was responsible for that decision? Still, we decided there was no use in beating Brandon over the head online. Everybody has a bad weekend some time, right?

But months later we get the white glove back hand, and again in the Syndicate’s team name, so we decided it was time to get the story out there.

I won’t say it was a bad time, because the group of people suffering with me were some of the best I could have suffered with, but I can speak for everyone when I say we would have preferred to suffer behind the wheel of an R107; rather than in the back seat of someone else’s clusterfuck. Take a lesson from our mistake: when you rent seats in a LeMons car, make sure you know you’re renting from someone who knows what they’re doing, who will tell the truth to you, and who won’t whine on the Internet about you not paying him for a drive you didn’t get.

Photo: Brian Sidle

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37 Comments on “Team TTAC: Unfinished Syndicate Cars Need Not Apply...”


  • avatar
    sirwired

    Soundly-deserved or not, I don’t think feature articles are the place to be airing dirty laundry. It wasn’t cool when the previous E-I-C continued his Steve Lang vendetta here, and it’s not cool now.

    • 0 avatar
      Detroit-Iron

      Tales of racing shenanigans are a little different that in-house fueding or even the sniping that sometimes goes on between TTAC and Jalopnik.

    • 0 avatar

      As I see it, this post fulfills a promise to readers. This is the first time readers have heard the entire story of what happened with Team TTAC’s racing effort at the Houston LeMons race.

    • 0 avatar
      Josh_Howard

      Dirty laundry? I don’t think I’d call it that. They were writing about their experience and decided to hold off until it was abundantly clear what had happened. This basically is a review of what happened when trying to buy seat time for Lemons racing. If it sounded like a more personal attack, yeah, I’d have a problem with it. Instead, it comes across as more of a “here’s what happened just so you guys know”. With the promise of telling the story fulfilled, I’d love for them to try again and succeed with a story about a good experience. Everything that could go wrong, absolutely did.

    • 0 avatar
      Frank Galvin

      I wouldn’t call it airing dirty laundry. TTAC has been accused, quite openly, of breach of contract. If they are going to field an inhouse team, its best to get this out in the open rather than be perceived as bunch of ne’er do wells who left the local guy footing the bill. Spear’s accusations demand a full and public response.

      Second, if he doesn’t keep his mouth shut, this would make for a tidy small claims case (most small claims are now capped at 5-10k).

    • 0 avatar
      burgersandbeer

      I thought it was a great account of what goes on behinds the scenes to put a lemons car on the track (or not). Anyone unfamiliar with the preparation for this events (me) might think you buy a barely running beater, then spend a few weekends with your buddies throwing suspension parts at it before having a blast on the track.

      I didn’t actually believe it was that simple, but it’s cool to hear about how many people are involved and how many things can and do go wrong.

  • avatar
    Blue-S

    The 2013 Baruthian racing season: It was the best of times. It was the worst of times.

  • avatar
    Compaq Deskpro

    This whole Lemons thing is a bad idea. You should stop this right now before you waste more time, money and goodwill.

  • avatar
    danio3834

    From my own experience running in the 24 Hours of Lemons and managing a team, this type of situation is all too common. Even if you’re running a tightly knit team of people who know and regularly see each other, people WILL let you down if you’re not on top of everything, then will let you down again even if you are.

    Bringing the team in-house is a great idea. As I’m a decent manager and mechanic and OK driver, I might even be able to help with the TTAC effort if the help is welcome/needed. having a designated manager/crew chief that serves as a last/back up driver if needed is one of the best plans a team can have.

    To make the Lemons weekend as smooth as possible takes months of preparation which seems lost on many teams. Our car needs refreshing for the Chumpcar race in September which are already under way (OK, so I have the parts, but the work will be done but I’ve got a shakedown lapping day planned in May).

  • avatar
    racer-esq.

    How did you find this guy?

  • avatar
    Steven Lang

    If prices weren’t so damn high at the auctions, I would even be tempted to find a willing candidate. The charity runs have their share of willing race fodder. Although you are usually multiple major parts away from a reasonable runner.

    Then again… I do know a lot of guys who own and operate junkyards, tow businesses, title pawns, etc. To be frank, it obviously takes a team with special talents to create any vehicle that is Lemons competitive.

    So with that said, I know of a guy who has been sitting on a Mercedes S430 for over two years now. Ugly as all hell. but it runs and can be auctioned off / stripped down to meet the barest of qualifications.

    If that works as a template, or something else along those lines, let me know.

  • avatar
    Travis

    Wow. Wow wow wow wow wow. Glad to finally read up on what was ACTUALLY going on behind closed doors here. I have to say, the TTAC crew was very optimistic and good at hiding just how royally hard they were getting fucked. I had a good time meeting everyone and had a good time watching shenanigans unfold with every bit of relazation that occurred when another layer of shit was piled onto the already shitty deal they obviously made.

  • avatar
    krhodes1

    I’ll make you guys an offer – I will DONATE my PITA ’87 924S to the cause. It’s a 60K car. Everything works. Fairly rare non-sunroof car, which I imagine is a big plus on the track. Except it sat in a garage in FL for ages so basically all of the seals and hoses need to be replaced. And the oil cooler seals. And it needs the brakes rebuilt. And of course, a full timing belt service. Being an S, this is a 2.5L Porsche-engine 924, not the 2.0L Audi engine. It will certainly be about the nicest looking car on the course, until you wreck it.

    The catch? It’s in my garage in Westbrook Maine and you need to come and haul it away. The cooling system is new, but still in the boxes – hoses and radiator, oil cooler seals, many, many other new parts. And I am keeping the stereo that is in it. :-)

    It’s time just get this thing out of my garage, my work travel schedule just leaves me no time or energy for this much of a project. You REALLY don’t want to know how much money I have in this car…

    • 0 avatar

      Maine? My goodness. That’s a good offer but I have to figure out how much it would cost to get it to OH/KY.

      • 0 avatar
        mcs

        There’s a Porsche independent in Portland (not sure how good they are) and I know a 924 expert here in Massachusetts. Once it’s in good enough shape to drive, it would take a day to drive it home. There are plenty of b&b here in New England, so might be able to provide support.

      • 0 avatar
        burgersandbeer

        I would be surprised if it cost more than $600 on an open carrier. I’ve shipped a car cross country for about $1200, and at least gas prices were basically the same as they are now when I did that.

        How cheap does a lemons car need to be to make sense? $600 might be a lot, I have no idea.

        • 0 avatar
          krhodes1

          Bear in mind – it doesn’t move under its own power at the moment, because the radiator and hoses are removed. That ups the shipping cost significantly, as it can’t go on a regular auto carrier.

          The best way to come and get it is with a truck/SUV and trailer. OH is ~10-12hr drive depending on where you are coming from (Luckily I am but 45 minutes from the border – there is a LOT of Maine past me), and I will happily put you up for the night and take you out for lobster.

          The practical method of addressing what it needs is to take the motor out. You CAN do the oil cooler in situ, along with all the seals, but you will wish you had just taken the motor out when you are done. And I would replace the clutch before even thinking about taking it on a track. It still has the original rubber center clutch AFAIK. It’s working just fine, at the moment, but I give it about 10 laps in a race. Ultimately there is nothing terribly wrong with the car, it just needs a bunch of time spent on it that I don’t have. 120+ nights a year in hotels will do that to a fella.

          But as previously mentioned – free to anyone who wants to race it. If you are going to put it on the road, I would like some insultingly small amount of cash for it. Basically, buy the brand new radiator from me and I will throw in the car for free. :-)

      • 0 avatar
        Phillip Thomas

        I’ve just finished helping prep a 944 Lemons car.

        All my nopes on those cars. But that’s just me.

    • 0 avatar

      924S? NO SUNROOF?! Shooooooot. I’m jealous already. Lighter chassis and NO STUPID SUNROOF FTW!

      Bonus: y’all know at least one other eejit running a 944. It finished. It was fun to drive. It has ample space for flying bunny decals.

      Doooooo it!

  • avatar
    Crabspirits

    Lemons draws all types: The serious racers, the posh wheelers with their huge RV’s, journalists, whole families, casual car people, non-car people, crazy fabricators, greasy masochistic wrenchers…

    …but probably the most confusing to me are the odd people that are content to pay all this money in fees and logistics, and do nothing but sit next to a car and eat omelets.

    I would say there’s at least 2 of these teams at every race. It’s a shame you guys happened to become associated with them for this venture.

  • avatar
    RetroGrouch

    You agreed to pay $150 a head for arrive and drive seats at LeMons? A seat should run $600 to $1000 if you want a real chance at banging out 4 hours of laps across 2 days of LeMons. Let the buyer beware. You got what you paid for.

  • avatar
    thelaine

    Grouch

  • avatar
    Stumpaster

    When I pull my dirty laundry out of the bin, I bring it to an anonymous cleaner and then get clean laundry back. I certainly don’t hang it out for all to see. Weak sauce, yo.

  • avatar
    -Nate

    I applaud the telling of the truth of the matter .

    I wonder what the whiners and complainers have to hide .

    -Nate

    • 0 avatar
      Stumpaster

      How do you know it’s the truth?

      • 0 avatar

        Because Phillip says it is. Because I say it is. Because we’ve published it here with our names on it.

        • 0 avatar
          sirbunz

          Truth … we arrive, get constant lies on the car’s location, wait around, leave, come back to the track for race day, race starts, eat lunch, spectate, eat dinner, spectate, make travel arrangements home, car arrives, go back to track, both cars don’t run and one needs to be fully assembled, fix one of the cars from a hack job prep, drive car for about 15 minutes each, get booted from the car because the race team is done with another meal, leave for home. I have never seen a crew eat so much in my life. I kept my opinions to myself. Our main job was to promote this team (hence the “good deal”). No worries, people like this will receive a great deal of misery in life. Our team has great intentions in mind for the race community!

          -M

          • 0 avatar

            Yeah–our crew dude was the one helping out in the middle of the night since I’d gotten über-screwed on my own car before the race could even begin. Eh, we paid and it’s not refundable now anyway (not amusing in my case at all, FTR), so we figured we might as well show up, hang out and get out of Austin.

            I don’t think I’ve ever seen him as frustrated as he was when he left y’all’s paddock space at Omelet O’Clock. Blew all of our minds.

  • avatar

    Ya know…I had a running veteran LeMons Miata for you guys and Jack had to go and get all life threatening injuries with a car wreck and stuff.

    Of course mine blew up Saturday, but it always does that.


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