Blimp or Rented Rustwagon? The Toughest Organizer's Choice Decision in LeMons History
The Organizer’s Choice, which goes to the team that most epitomizes what LeMons racing is all about, is one of the trophies that many teams chase for years. You can take the Org Choice home by racing a monstrous piece of rolling sculpture, dressing the team up in ridiculous costumes and having them stay in their bewildering roles all weekend, slogging through an all-weekend death march to keep a never-belonged-on-a-race-track car in semi-trackworthy condition, or some combination of all of the above. The LeMons HQ staff chooses the Org Choice recipient via a highly scientific procedure involving a lot of shouting and hand-waving during the panic-stricken, million-things-to-get-done 20 minutes before we drop the checkered flag on Sunday; sometimes the decision is an easy no-doubter, but other times we’re ready to tear out our spleens using rusty bottle openers, so agonizing is the choice. The Organizer’s Choice decision at the Detroit Irony 24 Hours of LeMons, a few weeks back, was definitely of the latter type.
Here we see Ununquadium Legend of LeMons honoree Christ Overzet grabbing a well-deserved Organizer’s Choice trophy for his stretch limo entry at Buttonwillow ’10; clearly, this is a serious prize! There are two real Org Choice powerhouses in LeMons racing: The Cannonball Bandits in California and (The Team Currently Known As) Bust-A-Nut Racing in Michigan. Each team had three Org Choice trophies on the mantel, going into the Detroit Irony race; the Cannonball Bandits (a couple of members of which have day jobs making parade floats) achieved Legend of LeMons status with their totally credible Wienermobile, Tiger Woods And His Girlfriends entry, and their Canadian Illegals entry. Team Bust-a-Nut knew they’d need to step it up for Detroit Irony ’11 if they wanted to be the first team to nail down four Organizer’s Choice trophies, and they weren’t messing around this time.
Bust-a-Nut scored their first Organizer’s Choice trophy way back in 2007, at the third-ever LeMons race, which was a crash-and-bash-fest held at Flat Rock Speedway (trivia question: which TTAC writer was a driver on the team that took the overall win? Hint: his first name starts with a J). Back then, the award was called the People’s Choice, and the team was known as It’s The Libyans. They converted their Toyota Celica into a totally plausible Back To The Future-ized DeLorean DMC-12 and pretty much owned the award from the moment they showed up at the track.
For the following year’s “Detroit” race, this time held at Toledo Motor Speedway, Team Bust-A-Nut changed their name to Team First Blood, and they ditched the Toyota in favor of a six-wheeled, Rambo-ized GMC Sonoma.
The First Blood GMC was a horribly slow, parts-dropping pig on the race track, and the team scored a LeMons first by winning both the People’s Curse and the People’s Choice at the same event. LeMons Chief Perp Lamm is still shocked that nobody got mangled during the “mob violence” Curse destruction method that he thought was such a good idea at the time.
It is not possible to deny the Organizer’s Choice trophy to a car that looks like this, especially when it turns out that it still has license plates and gets plenty of street time in Detroit. But with that award, Bust-A-Nut Racing put themselves up in the big leagues with the Cannonball Bandits, and they knew that the Bandits had something big planned for (this weekend’s) Arse Sweat-a-Palooza race.
So, the genius artists and fabricators on Bust-A-Nut started brainstorming for their Cannonball Bandit-stomping entry for Detroit Irony. They’ve got at least one pro-quality illustrator on the team, and he put their ideas on paper. How about turning the Mazda into this “Twisted Carnival” machine, complete with disturbing Insane Clown Posse overtones?
Or the super-heavy Mazdallica, complete with mullet and devil’s-horns salute?
Perhaps the “Neverglades” swamp-boat would be just the ticket to Org Choice glory! This is just a small sampling of the ideas in the brochure that Bust-A-Nut showed me during the Detroit Irony BS Inspection; be sure to check out the rest of their illustrations in the gallery, below.
The Bust-A-Nut brainstormers knew they were onto something with the Pimp Blimp. The pimp theme has been somewhat overdone in LeMons (and really nailed down perfectly by LeMons Legends Eyesore Racing, back in ’08 when they were Eyesore Pimping), but the big blimp on the roof gave them some ideas.
How about a Good Beer Blimp, complete with beer-bong “hat” for the car?
One thing led to another, and that led to plans for cutting a blimp skeleton out of plywood…
…and to plans to actually build a 20-foot-long, four-foot-diameter blimp on the roof of their car.
Which they went ahead and did!
At this point, early in the BS Inspection process on Friday morning, we had what appeared to be a slam-dunk Organizer’s Choice winner right in front of us.
Of course, the team had the costumes to go with the car, and they stayed in them all weekend.
And, it should go without saying, we knew the Blimp would look great on the track… which it did.
But then… what the hell just rolled into the paddock?
Yes, driving all the way from Maryland to Michigan, there to join up with arch-accomplices DC Doug (of Parnelli Jones Galaxie LeMons car fame) and Texas IOE winner Brandon (of B League Film Society ’67 Mercedes-Benz 190 fame) to accomplish what had never been done before: drive 1,000 miles, then obtain, cage, and fully race-prep a LeMons car after arriving at the track on the day before the race.
The original plan, as discussed at great length on the 24 Hours of LeMons Forums, was for Speedycop and henchmen to show up in Michigan, buy this nightmarish, six-wheeled El HexaMaroMino, get it ready to race, and raise the bar for, in his words, “batshit crazy LeMons action.”
Unfortunately, the El HexaMaroMino’s owner must have been A) hitting the hubba-rock pretty hard when it came to accepting reality about the true worth of his car and B) able to sense Speedy’s need for the car. No deal! A deal for a ’70 Cadillac Eldorado near the track fell through when the owner couldn’t be reached. What to do? Why, load up the ’89 Maserati Biturbo 425i— the extremely rare sedan Biturbo that Speedycop had scored cheap with the idea of making it into a LeMons racer at some indeterminate future date— and bring it to Michigan. We’ll cage it! We’ll race it! It will be great! The Maserati suffered from multiple scary electrical-system problems, but it could be coaxed into starting and, by Speedycop standards, was thus ready for a full weekend of all-out racetrack thrashing.
That’s all pretty normal stuff out of the Speedycop and the Gang of Outlaws playbook, but something interesting happened when the Maserati-towing trailer got in the vicinity of South Haven, Michigan: Speedycop spotted a very rusty, but intact, 1965 Chevrolet Impala wagon sitting in a driveway off a two-lane blacktop highway. He’d been following my 1965 Impala Hell Project series on TTAC, he loves old Detroit wagons, and the gears started turning even faster than usual in his boiling brain.
He knocked on the owner’s door and learned that the wagon was intended for use as a frame-donor car for an Impala SS coupe project and wasn’t for sale… but then the discussion took some no-doubt-weird turns and the owner ended up renting the wagon to Speedycop for 300 bucks, with the promise that the frame would still be intact at the end of the weekend. Otherwise, cut and paste as needed. Forget the Biturbo, full speed ahead with the Impala!
The plan was to gut the Impala, fix whatever rust damage might make the thing bust in half on the track, and install the roll cage torn from carcass of the team’s ’63 Cadillac Fleetwood LeMons racer. The process began late on Friday afternoon, with an all-nighter planned.
Hundreds of pounds of rust flakes and not-needed-for-racing parts began pouring from the 283/Powerglide-equipped wagon.
Sparks flew, metal clanged, and a crude tune-up progressed. The Impala had allegedly been driving as recently as “a couple” years before, which was good enough for Speedycop and the Gang.
The Malaise Era Radial TAs looked beautifully vintage, but would they hold together on a race track in 90-plus-degree weather? For that matter, would that ratchet strap hooked into the fuel-filler door keep the fuel tank from falling off?
So, the all-night/all-next-morning thrash began. Here’s a timelapse video showing a couple of segments of the madness.
Speedycop and his minions had the idea that they would make the green flag on Saturday and roll to Index of Effluency glory. That didn’t exactly pan out, because A) their overnight-camping pit neighbors started pleading for relief from the sound of screaming Sawzalls at 2:00 AM Friday and B) unforeseen pitfalls always crop up with a project like this.
The Bust-A-Nut Güte Bier Blimp, however, hit the track at 10:30 AM on the dot, proceeding to knock out surprisingly quick laps.
The Mazda sounded good, and you could see that blimp from any location in the paddock.
Meanwhile, Speedycop wasn’t giving up. The Impala inched ever closer to its racing debut.
The cage was more or less completed by midday Saturday, but so many nickel-and-dime projects remained. The driver’s seat and harnesses would need to be mounted, the kill switch would need wiring, and so on, before the official inspection could proceed and slap the “Good Enough” inspection sticker on the windshield.
Then the Güte Bier Blimp came clattering off the track in a cloud of smoke. Blown head gasket, at a minimum.
Then shit got worse. The Blimp’s V6 had a broken camshaft, and no replacement seemed forthcoming in rural Michigan on a Saturday afternoon.
But Team Bust-a-Nut is made of stern stuff, and they weren’t giving up. We’ll take apart the engine and think of something! they decided, knowing that they’d need to rack up more laps in order to make an unassailable Organizer’s Choice case.
At about this time, the Impala finally rolled up for its prerace safety inspection. Looks good— go race!
With Speedycop behind the wheel, two forward gears behind the engine, and 35-year-old rubber underneath, the Impala hit the Gingerman Raceway course. It wasn’t very fast, but it looked incredible out there, particularly with Speedycop getting the rear end way wiggly in the corners.
The Impala managed to pass the Zero Budget Racing Chevette Diesel (which ultimately won the Detroit Irony Index of Effluency trophy) a few times on the straights, though the Zero Budget guys were quick to point out that they got it back on the turns. The ol’ wagon turned out to be fairly reliable out there, with occasional pit stops for minor repairs.
When the race session ended that evening, the Impala had racked up a fair number of laps, while Team Bust-A-Nut was still wrenching away in their now-very-cluttered pit space. The Blimp pilots were determined to get back into the race on Sunday morning, in spite of striking out on every possible engine-parts source, and so they decided they’d convert their V6 to an I3. First, they’d block off the intake ports on the bad bank by using a manifold gasket as a template for this galvanized-steel blockoff plate.
Block-off plate in place, they’d put the intake manifold back on and let the pistons suck and blow through the empty spark plug holes (they considered removing all the bad pistons and rods, as they’d seen the One Cylinder Fiero team do the year before, but the horrors of a crazily unbalanced V6 scared them away from that approach).
They grounded the orphaned spark plugs and tied them off to the side, so as not to confuse the engine computer too much. When I asked them how the ECM would feel about the O2 sensor on the disabled bank reporting ambient, i.e. 20%, oxygen in the “exhaust,” they replied “We don’t know! It’ll work fine!” In other words, exactly the attitude we like to see in a LeMons team!
By this time, the start of the Sunday race session had come and gone, and Bust-A-Nut was finally buttoning things up.
The Speedycop and the Gang of Outlaws Impala had hit its full stride by this time, screeching and groaning its way around the track and trailing rust flakes and burning-brake smoke all the while.
LeMons Supreme Court Judge Sam took a stint behind the wheel of the Impala and pronounced it “a fine racin’ automobile.”
But what’s this now? Team Bust-A-Nut’s ridiculously hooptified repair actually worked! The Güte Bier Blimp, now running on three cylinders, clanked back onto the race track. It sounded terrible, and there was this ominous trail of smoke behind it, but the Blimp was racing again!
In the Hollywood feel-good version of this story, the Güte Bier Blimp would then go on to pass everything on the track, climbing the standings for the rest of the afternoon and claiming not only the Organizer’s Choice but the Index of Effluency at the same time. Sadly, South Haven isn’t Hollywood, and the Blimp’s three-banger crapped out for good within a handful of laps.
Right about this time, here comes this beautiful two-tone ’65 Impala rolling into the Speedycop pit space. Its engine sounds like it should be good for 12-second dragstrip passes, it’s got Moon discs on the wheels, and all jaws drop in its path.
Of course it’s got a four-speed and Hurst shifter! Yes, the wagon’s owner decided to show up in one of his nice Impalas and see just what the hell all this craziness was about.
Just in time, too, because the wagon had torn one of its suspension strut rods free from its rusty moorings and its big-Chevy-expert owner knew just how to fix it in a hurry.
Speedycop got right to work… building a trophy for the car’s owner out of parts scavenged off the car.
Back on the track and now equipped with new brake shoes to replace the completely fried originals, the Impala got back into its grind-out-laps groove. At HQ, with the checkered flag looming, Assistant Perp Nick Pon and I started to figure out who would get what award, a process officially referred to in LeMons procedural manuals as “Getting In The Fucking Place And Doing The Thing With The Shit.” The Index of Effluency would be going to the 40th-place Zero Budget Chevette Diesel, no question there (the Impala came in 52nd), but what about the Organizer’s Choice?
We went back and forth, with the clock ticking on the checkered flag. Finally, with maybe 20 seconds for me to hop on the scooter and make a frenzied dash to the track exit to congratulate the racers (a standard LeMons Supreme Court ritual dating back to the earliest races), we decided that a thousand-mile drive to race a rented 46-year-old wagon just barely beat out a Mazda with giant roof-mounted blimp that managed only 67 laps. But it just about killed us, this choice, and I knew it would be giving me guilty nightmares for weeks to come.
For their crazed engine repair, Team Bust-A-Nut beat out all the competition for the Heroic Fix trophy. This included the Dodge Shadow Turbo team that spent most of the weekend playing mix-and-match with various busted engine components. The Heroic Fix is a major award, of course, worthy of great bragging rights in the LeMons world, but it’s no Organizer’s Choice. Had we done the right thing?
Of course, I’d have been feeling just as torn up had we decided to hand the Org Choice to Bust-A-Nut, because what exemplifies the spirit of LeMons better than what Speedycop and the Gang of Outlaws had just done? Fortunately, Speedycop himself came to the rescue by handing over half the award (and half of the $500 in prize money) to Team Bust-A-Nut. That means that, as of right now, Team Bust-A-Nut leads the Free World in Organizer’s Choice awards, with 3-1/2 total trophies. Can the Cannonball Bandits get Number Four this weekend? Check in later to find out!
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