Team TTAC: Unfinished Syndicate Cars Need Not Apply

Phillip Thomas
by Phillip Thomas

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.

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.

So much for tact.

Here’s the deal. Our car, the 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

Phillip Thomas
Phillip Thomas

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  • -Nate -Nate on Mar 11, 2014

    I applaud the telling of the truth of the matter . I wonder what the whiners and complainers have to hide . -Nate

    • See 3 previous
    • Stef Schrader Stef Schrader on Mar 11, 2014

      @sirbunz 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.

  • W Christian Mental Ward W Christian Mental Ward on Mar 12, 2014

    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.

  • Bob65688581 We bought zillions of German cars, despite knowing about WWII slave labor. Refusing to buy something for ideological reasons is foolish.Both the US and the EU have imposed tariffs, so the playing field is level. I'll buy the best price/quality, regardless of nationality.Another interesting question would be "Would you buy one of the many new European moderate-price EVs?" but of course they aren't sold here.Third interesting question: "Why won't Stellantis sell its best products in America?"
  • Freshblather No. Worried there will be malicious executable code built into the cars motherboard that could disable the Chinese cars in the event of hostilities between the west and China.
  • Bd2 Absolutely not - do not want to support a fascist, totalitarian regime.
  • SCE to AUX The original Capri was beautiful. The abomination from the 90s was no Capri, and neither is this.It looks good, but too similar to a Polestar. And what's with the whacked price?
  • Rover Sig Absolutely not. Ever.
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