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.
If you want to contend for 24 Hours of LeMons racing’s top prize, the Index of Effluency, choosing a terrible Malaise Era subcompact gives you a big edge. Choosing a General Motors product also helps. Going with a diesel or, even worse, a Chevette Diesel, means that you pretty much have the Index of Effluency nailed down if you can manage to keep the thing on the track for most of the weekend. Easier said than done, of course, but Zero Budget Racing managed to do just that with their ’82 Chevette Diesel.
By the end of the day’s session at Gingerman Raceway, fewer than half the entrants’ cars were still moving under their own power. Hot weather and a punishing race course spelled doom for head gaskets, transmissions, brake calipers, and other critical components, while dehydration and fatigue led many drivers to make errors in judgment that sent them straight to the LeMons Supreme Court Penalty Box. A few teams are now poised to take advantage of the harsh attrition rate, both for the win on laps and the Index of Effluency trophy.
Two months after our last visit to Gingerman Raceway, the weather is hot and muggy instead of a howling blizzard. Even without the character-building weather, however, the current crop of entries have managed to raise the bar. How about a Porsche 924 with Thunderbird Turbo Coupe drivetrain? Or Unununium Legend of LeMons Speedycop renting a rustbucket ’65 Impala wagon to turn into a race car… starting tonight?
A couple months back, Cadillac gave me a bright red, three-ton, rollin’-on-22s, chrome-drenched, hybrid-electric, $88,140 luxury truck to drive while in Michigan for the Campaign To Prevent Gingervitis 24 Hours of LeMons. Since that time, the effort of attempting to write a meaningful review for this ridiculous-yet-amazing machine has caused my brain to develop a severe rod knock. Who is supposed to buy this thing? I asked myself. What can you do with it?
We’ve seen a fair number of outstanding engine swaps in 24 Hours of LeMons racing— the Saab B Turbo-powered 300ZX comes to mind— but most such projects tend to have reliability and/or performance issues in the car-slaughtering arena that is LeMons. At the frozen Campaign To Prevent Gingervitis race a couple weeks back, the much-anticipated radial-engined MR2 ate its drivetrain after a single lap, but there was one outlandishly butchered machine that actually contended for the overall win: the Alfa Romeo quad-cam V6-powered Bertone X1/9 of Team Launcha Splatos.
Because most of the Saturday race session at the Campaign To Prevent Gingervitis took place in rainy and/or snowy conditions, drivers couldn’t flog their engines as mercilessly as they had at the rod-throw-a-palooza Real Hoopties of New Jersey the week before. The sun came out on Sunday, however, and that’s when the casualties started to mount.
You get the Index of Effluency, 24 Hours of LeMons’ top prize, by accomplishing the most with the worst car. You can win it by getting a horrifyingly terrible car just into the top half of the standings, or you can get it by getting your very terrible truck a hair from the top ten. The Pickup Trash S10 team opted for the latter route, clawing their way to 12th place under un-pickup-friendly weather conditions against an extremely tough field.
On paper, the Toyota MR2 should be an excellent choice for a low-buck endurance racer… but 24 Hours of LeMons racing has a way of shattering such preconceptions like a connecting rod hurtling through the side of a 4AGE block. In fact, the MR2 has been one of the least reliable LeMons cars, even worse than such good-on-paper-but-terrible-in-practice endurance machines as the Nissan Z and Porsche 944; we’ve seen dozens of them race in LeMons over the years, and nearly all have failed miserably… until today. Today, the Dai Mondai II car was the first MR2 to take the win on laps in the 24 Hours of LeMons.
The temperature dropped to freezing, the wind hit 50 MPH, and the rain turned to snow at the Campaign To Prevent Gingervitis 24 Hours of LeMons. Cars spun out in record numbers, and broken cars had to be repaired in frostbitten conditions that would have appalled the harshest Gulag commandant. The battle for the overall lead stayed close all day, with the lead changing hands at least a dozen times.
The thing that got me hooked on LeMons racing was the mentality that makes a statement such as “Hey, I’d like to install a 540-cubic-inch, five-cylinder radial aircraft engine in the back of a Toyota MR2, then try to make it run all weekend in a grueling endurance race” seem totally sensible. The [s]craziest[/s] most devoted racers find themselves locked into an arms race for the Unununium, and this is the result.