This is the second Lemons race this year at High Plains Raceway. This one is different than the one in June. This one is not only 24 hours of racing (the other was 14), this one is 24 hours straight. Like, as in, the 24 Hours of LeMans. Only with shitty homemade race cars instead of that state-of-the-art stuff the pros race.
This race starts at noon on Saturday and ends at noon on Sunday. Being the least important member of this team, my only responsibility is to drive the car. So I wasn’t involved in getting the car past its technical inspections – two this time, one of which is for the lights that are required for overnight racing, as the track has no illumination. The only inspection I had to worry about was for my protective clothing. Regular readers may recall that I had difficulty with this last time.
Most of the rest of the team were at the track on Friday, to “test and tune”. I let everybody know I’d be rolling into the paddock at a leisurely 9 am on Saturday. That should leave me plenty of time to pass tech and get up to speed on whatever drama was going on.
Kevin greeted me on my arrival, then promptly ran off. Next, Mike said “Good morning” and asked if Kevin had filled me in on what happened last night.
The guys made some considerable upgrades to the car. We had a new homemade dashboard and upgraded instruments. Last time, I couldn’t read any of the instruments due to the way they were mounted. All I could see was glare. The new dash and gauges looked like a big improvement. Anyway, Kevin put in some laps yesterday. I don’t know how many, but not as many as anyone had hoped. Kevin encountered a clutch problem.
Long story short: in order to change the clutch, they had to take the engine out of the car. All this work was done in the paddock, which is a giant unlit parking lot that is half paved, half stone. The guys worked until 2am, pulling the engine and transmission, replacing the clutch, and reinstalling the engine and transmission. They managed this in about seven hours. A Herculean effort.
At some point while the engine and transmission were not in the car, we had to get our lights inspected. They wanted us to drive the car to the inspection station. This was problematic, as the car was up on blocks, wheels off. Not entirely as a joke (this is Lemons, after all), they put the front bumper, with all the lights, onto our little wagon and wheeled it to inspection. Where the team was promptly informed that our lights were so weak there was no problem. We have the normal headlights and a couple of smaller ones mounted low in the fascia. Some other teams have the sorts of giant light bars you see on rally cars.
Everyone was pretty excited about our chances this time. Last time, we ran about 200 laps. The engine never worked properly, as we had no high cam (where all our power is generated). With a properly working engine and a dry track, we should be able to knock 15 or 20 seconds a lap off our previous times. If we managed to keep the car working, we’d have a real shot at victory. Last time, the judges put us in class A. This time, we would be in class B and have no penalty laps. We were psyched!
I put my driving suit on and borrowed a HANS device and headed to the pavilion. Since last time, I bought some Nomex fabric and Nomex thread and had a local seamstress make the repair. My only concern was my socks. The labels had been laundered off ages ago.
This time, the inspection was not nearly as rigorous as last time. I suspect I’d have passed inspection even without the repairs to my suit. The inspector verified that my helmet was not aged out, and noted the labels on my suit, underwear, and shoes. She asked about my socks. I said, “They’re Nomex, but the labels are long gone.” She said I was good to go and applied the sticker to my helmet indicating I was good to race.
Next, I was introduced to our guest crew member for the race. Chris is a Toyota engineer who flew out from Kentucky for this race. Kevin, Mike, and Dan had met him last year on the One Lap of America race. He told me he’s participated in about 25 Lemons races. The idea would be to pick his brain to the greatest extent we could, looking for tips, tricks, and best practices.
Also in attendance were Kevin’s parents, who flew in from Texas for the event.
I wasn’t too concerned when I’d get to drive. I probably have driven many more laps at HPR than the rest of the drivers combined. Chris has never been here before but did watch a couple of my videos and put in about 30 laps on his simulator. It would be good for him and Mike and Dan to get some laps in while it was still light. That works for me.
Kevin was first behind the wheel. After about half an hour, he radioed in complaining of issues. At first, I thought he said he was having a problem with the shifter. This was nothing I bothered worrying about. Being the least mechanically inclined crew member, the best way I could help would be to stay out of everyone’s way.
A few minutes later, our car was delivered to us on a tow line behind the tow truck. The guys jumped right in and diagnosed the problem. It didn’t have anything to do with the shifter. Instead, we had overheated the engine. (I didn’t make any recordings or notes of any of these technical discussions, so if I say something that is wrong or stupid, it’s entirely my fault.)
We were running with a tachometer, speedometer, fuel gauge, and a bunch of idiot lights. In this instance, for some reason, the coolant temperature idiot light never came on. Kevin had no idea the car was overheating until it was too late.
My first thought was, “Well, that’s it. We’re done after 17 laps.”
Then Mike had me help him pull a little trailer to the front of the car. We had a spare engine on the trailer! This engine came from our parts car (which I didn’t know we had). The engine had well over 200,000 miles on it, but it was a working engine. We’ll “just” swap the engine. (Again, to be clear in this context, “we” means “everybody but Dave”.)
From underneath the car, Mike yelled out “Start the clock!” It was 1:59 pm. Almost exactly five hours later, the car started. After another fifteen minutes of final preparation, we sent Chris out for some laps. I’d call it another super-human effort, but, as I often say, “It’s always easier the second time.” With a bit more practice, maybe they can get an engine swap down to three hours. (I kid. Hopefully, we won’t blow another engine very soon.)
Kevin ran through a bit more than half the fuel, so we had Chris do half a dozen laps and come into the pits for refueling. Before he came into the pits, he complained that our car number on the hood produced extreme glare on the windshield, so we should unplug it. The glare made right turns far too exciting. This was our first pit stop using refueling jugs that should make things faster, but it turns out the neck of the jug doesn’t fit. And the other jug we had was leaking. So we got perhaps a gallon of fuel into the car. Still, Chris should be able to run for an hour.
It was now dusk, more or less. Thirteen laps later, Chris called in: “The engine is blown.”
He said the car was smoking quite badly when it failed and he was concerned about fire. He had unbuckled himself and was a second or two away from flipping the switch for the fire suppression system when he decided it wasn’t a car-b-que, so he buckled himself back in and waited for the wrecker.
A quick look around the car gave us a good idea of the damage. There was a fair amount of oil in the engine compartment, and the exhaust pipe had a little puddle of oil and water in it.
Eight hours into our 24-hour event, we had managed to log a bit over an hour of racing, or about thirty laps. Mike, Dan, Eric, and I didn’t get to drive.
The team has built three cars in the last six months. The other two cars were used a few weeks ago in the One Lap of America. At that event, they met some Toyota engineers. Naturally, the Yaris build was discussed, and contact information was exchanged. We’re calling it a Lotus Yaris.
As I mentioned earlier, there was a problem with the car. We could drive it, could race it, even. But it wouldn’t go over about 5500rpm. There’s no power at all under about 3500, so we had a very narrow band to drive. I typically spend 90% of the lap above 5700.
The issue was that we couldn’t get the high cam to work. When the engine is cold, the ECU limits the rpms to the crossover point. With the stock Lotus tune, the crossover is at 6200rpm. On my car, it’s 5700. We have two ECUs for the race car, one with a Toyota tune (where the crossover is more like 6500) and one with a Lotus tune. This tune wasn’t the stock Lotus tune and was more like mine, but may have been more aggressive. So it’s not clear to me exactly where we’re getting limited. Something like 5500 or 5700.
We’d send a driver out for a session, Mike and Dan would brainstorm a solution, we’d bring the car in, make some changes, and send it back out. Nothing was working. This is probably the first time a Lotus was used as a parts car for a Lemons racer. At one point, they’d swapped the coil packs from my car into the race car. I said they could swap whatever parts they could easily swap, as long as my car was all put back together in time for me to go home. They had a few ideas. Mike even reached out to the Toyota engineers he met on One Lap.
Late in the afternoon, Mike came up with an idea that I was sure was the fix. He had put a different thermostat in the car, a 160-degree thermostat. The ECU wants more like 173 to work the cam. If the thermostat is opening early, the car might never warm up in this weather. Mike put it in the car early Sunday morning, in the pouring rain. Sadly, the thermostat wasn’t the answer. We never did get it fixed. So it goes.
Typical weather for this area in early June would be a high of around 80 with the sun pleasantly embracing you in its warmth. It might be the kind of day where the sun is so pleasant, warm not hot, that you might forget to apply sunscreen. Not that that would be a good thing to do. In the late afternoon, perhaps a thundershower would roll through.
A week ago, Kevin was concerned about it being hot enough to warrant wearing a cool suit. For track days, I don’t wear my Nomex long johns, but I do for the races. It’s a lot of clothing. I managed just fine in August when you can expect temps in the 90s. I wasn’t concerned. With rain in the forecast, I wasn’t worried about overheating. Turns out, even wearing all that, even with the Nomex underwear, I was sometimes chilly enough to put my hoodie on.
This was not a typical June weekend on the high plains of eastern Colorado. This weekend, as far as the weather goes, we may as well be in Seattle. We’re having one of the wettest springs I can remember. In Denver, we’ve already received the amount of rain it usually takes until the middle of August to get. My lawn looks as good as it’s ever been.
There’s a lot of standing water in the fields alongside US 36 between Byers and the track. The herd of buffalo stood ankle-deep in mud.
It didn’t start raining on us right away. But it rained. Boy, did it rain. It came over the track in bands, never very heavy, but modulating between light and moderate, with occasional short stretches of no rain.
We were parked just west of the fuel pumps. There’s an access lane next to the wall, the access lane bordered by concrete barriers. A few feet farther there’s a drain surrounded by sandbags that are there to keep sediment out of the drain. This is marked with a traffic cone. Naturally, this is the low spot in the immediate vicinity. I never bothered to pay attention to any drains in the paddock before, but off the top of my head, this is the only one.
Saturday afternoon there were rivers running to the drain in this low spot. And the drain couldn’t keep up. The sandbags formed a dam that guaranteed the water would get at least six inches deep. For starters.
Our next-door neighbors were set up a few feet from the drain. They were campaigning a brown BMW 3-Series cut up and rebadged to look like an old Subaru Brat. Their livery was a knockoff of a UPS theme: “URS. What Can Brown Do For You?”
They had two canopies set up, tables and chairs huddled towards the center in an attempt to stay dry. What wasn’t on the tables was in plastic tubs. Before long, there was a small stream flowing from the blacktop to the drain. It got bigger.
Once the HPR River was flowing strongly, they had to move some of their stuff. It was bad, but not that bad when I left on Saturday evening. Overnight, though, the water got so deep a couple of their tubs floated off and capsized, spoiling some supplies.
By Sunday morning most of the water had drained. That was temporary. It rained harder on Sunday.
I arrived on Sunday at 7:30. We had three canopies deployed, plus the awning of the RV. One canopy was for the car. When I got to our camp, one of the canopies had collapsed. It was partly under the awning, and the weight of the water coming off it was too much, breaking a couple of struts. Both the others were still standing, one holding about four or five gallons of water.
The rain started almost simultaneously with the start of the race. I was lucky to get some track time during one of the dry spells, but the bands of rain that blew over were a bit more intense. HPR River flowed fiercely once again. The puddle turned into a pool.
This drain is quite far from any lower ground. I began to wonder if it was really a drain. It would have to run quite a distance to drain to the ravine that forms the lowest part of the track. In Gilbert, we had retention basins all over the property. The idea was that no rainwater would leave the development. All these basins, big or small, had something that looked like a drain. I forget the term, but this drain is only six or eight feet deep and filled with rock aggregate. These wells help the ground absorb the water. In a heavy rain, they’re designed to back up. I think that’s what this drain is.
Sunday afternoon, the flood forced the URS folks to flee to higher ground.
At about 1:30, some wag sauntered up to the pool in shorts and flip-flops and took a “swim”. A brave soul. As you can guess, most of the puddles upstream had the rainbow sheen of various and sundry automotive fluids. I couldn’t help but think of all the horror stories about floodwaters in Louisiana with all the petroleum infrastructure there. But he had a small crowd of onlookers who laughed and joked.
This is now the third time I’ve jumped into and raced a car I’ve never driven before. There are so many cars on the track in these sorts of races that you’re in traffic pretty much all the time. To try to drive a car fast that you’ve never driven before, wheel-to-wheel through a turn, not knowing how the car behaves is a bit intimidating.
The stick shift was a bit sloppy. There’s no reverse gear lockout, and second is a bit hard to find, so you have to be careful. The suspension is quite stiff; the big bumps on the highway straight are sharper shocks to my backbone than in the Elise. It understeers a fair amount. The cure for understeer is to slow down. The weight is mostly in the front, so heavy breaking makes the tail light and prone to rotation.
With no high cam, it’s tough. Bouncing off the rev limiter slows you down. You have to shift as high as you can without hitting the limiter. It took me seven or eight laps to figure out which gear I needed to be in for each turn
Entering the track for the first time, I got passed by three cars before I got to turn three. Coming out of the pits, you join the track after turn two so that’s the first turn. I managed to collect myself by the end of the lap, and within a few laps, I was getting comfortable.
On Saturday, we had the Garmin running so we could see our lap times. The device supports multiple drivers, but we didn’t make a profile for me. Kevin drove before me, and we just kept his session running. It rained pretty much the whole time Kevin was driving, and his best lap was a 2:53 or 2:54.
For the first several laps, I’d exit turn two a second or second and a half ahead of Kevin’s best lap, but a third of the way through the lap I’d be behind his time. I couldn’t imagine I could lose that much time that quickly. He just must have been slow through the first couple of turns.
I ran for a bit over an hour. The radio was working, and the guys would periodically ask how things were going. I really wanted to use Kimi Raikonnen’s line, “Leave me alone! I know what I’m doing!” but I wasn’t sure they’d recognize it as a joke.
Finally, they told me to do a couple more laps and come in for fuel. The track was starting to dry and I was finally putting in some good times. I was improving by two or three seconds each lap. So I stayed out longer than they wanted. I got a few stutters on the sweeping right-hand turns, so I finally pitted. Kevin said, “I knew you didn’t want to come in, getting faster like you were!”
On Sunday, I got another hour of seat time. Again, I was lucky with the weather. Neither the Garmin nor the radio was working, so I had no idea what sorts of times I ran. Kevin told me later that I was turning in some consistent 2:28s. Eric had the team’s fast lap, a 2:24.127.
Viewing the official results, I think I managed to figure out which laps were mine and which were Eric’s. If I did this correctly, Eric had the 3 fastest laps. Of the ten best, 6 are mine and 4 are Eric’s. Of our 50 fastest, 24 are mine, 22 are Eric’s. Conditions, though, were extremely hard to compare. Eric has said he thinks he had a drier track than I did, but I’m skeptical. In any event, over 50 laps it looks like we compare pretty well.
We ran almost the same number of laps – I had 2 more. We ran our sessions back-to-back, me first on Saturday and he on Sunday. He ended both his sessions by causing full-course cautions with spins: one stalling the car when the starter wasn’t working and the other stuck in the mud. I had to stop my first session due to fuel but ended my second by getting a black flag (more on that later).
Kevin is quick to remind me that fast laps don’t matter. What matters is running laps.
There were 73 cars entered. We managed to come in 50th. Being an endurance race, the idea is to run the car as long as possible. The event is 8½ hours on Saturday and 6 on Sunday. We completed 201 laps. Given our lap times, accounting for yellow flags and red flags, that would be about 10 hours of driving. The winner completed 297 laps. If we’d have been able to run the whole race, we’d have done nearly that many. If we can get the high cam to work, we could be a contender.
Seventy-three cars on the track is quite a lot. Almost certainly, all 73 were not all out at the same time. Even so, there are more cars on the track than at my most crowded track day. And the difference in driver skill is pretty great. About 40% of the folks at the drivers’ meeting raised their hands to the question, “Who has never raced at HPR before?” That would include first-time racers and experienced racers from out of the area.
I saw license plates from quite a few states. Because my car always attracts attention, I talk to quite a few people. One fellow told me he has an ‘05 Elise. Not thinking, I said, “You’re not in the club.” Of course he’s not in the club: Jaap lives in Boston but is originally from the Netherlands. Another guy I chatted with was from Oregon and suggested he might have seen me on my Pacific Northwest trip. That would be a long shot.
Anyway, that 40% of drivers who have never raced at HPR before include some guys (and almost all the drivers were guys) who may be quite experienced at other tracks. But there will certainly be some drivers who have never raced anywhere before, like my teammates from my earlier Lemons race.
Given that there is a wide range in the speeds of the cars and the wide range of driver skills, it’s almost guaranteed that you’ll eventually come across a car that you’re evenly matched with. It’s more fun to pass than to be passed, and it’s much more fun to race somebody that’s evenly matched with you.
I was able to pass in nearly every turn on the track and in a few braking zones. I also got passed in all those areas, plus a few. On the uphill sweepers, I could pass on either the inside or outside, depending on where the slower car wanted to go. Once I was passing on somebody’s inside and was a bit hard on the brakes. The rear of the car started to swing out; I was afraid I was going to hit the guy. He was on my right, and with no mirror on that side, I don’t know if it was a close call or if he had to take evasive action.
My only driving error cost me a black flag. There was a local yellow flag. No passing is allowed under the yellow. I was behind a Datsun 260. He really slowed down and moved way over to the outside and pointed me by. I knew I couldn’t pass under yellow, point-by or no. I looked at the next bunker and didn’t see any yellow, so I passed him. The next time around I was shown the black flag. When I explained it to my teammates, they joked that it might be a good strategy: point somebody by under yellow to try to get them off the track for a couple of laps.
My penalty was to be held at the penalty box until I won a game of rock-paper-scissors. I told him I’d serve a longer penalty than that, as our starter had failed and I needed my team to push me. They weren’t there (they thought I came in for fuel and were heading to the hot pit). I won the game on the second play, and the officials kindly push started me.
I leave the event with my giant ego intact. Eric blistered my best lap by 4 seconds, but he spun twice, once getting stuck in the mud. He thinks he may have been pushing too hard. I’m guessing had more “dry” laps than he did, giving me an advantage.
I enjoyed the challenge of jumping headfirst into driving an unfamiliar car in a race. Although this is the third time I’ve done it, I’m thinking it’s unlikely I’ll get another chance.
When Eric said he’d have a motor home there, I thought it’d be nice. Given the weather, it wasn’t nice: it was indispensable. I didn’t spend all that much time inside this time, but it gave us quite a bit more room out of the rain. Thinking about the next race, a true 24-hour race, where we’ll have to nap between stints, it will be a big advantage.
Because of the weather, tire wear was minimal and we never use the tires Don and I mounted on my wheels. I guess I won’t be buying any tires for those wheels until after our September race. Not a big constraint.
Ryan raced in this event as well. He was driving a Dodge Caravan minivan. At least when they had brakes. He spent at least one night at the track camping in a tent. Not ideal. John, another LOCO, often drives one of the BMWs that’s always there. His teammates tell me he was on a trip to Watkins Glen.
I would have liked to have driven more laps. It’s my own fault. I’d have had maybe another half an hour if I didn’t get my black flag. Given the number of hours we were working on the car, though, I got my fair share.
I had a great time in spite of the weather. I’m already looking forward to the next race. If our engineers get the high cam sorted and we keep the car on the track, we could fight for the podium. The new challenge will be driving in the dark.
I only had the camera in the car on Saturday. All my best laps and best passes were Sunday. So it goes.
I raced Lemons back in 2018 I’m doing it again this year, twice. First is the Lemons BFE, two days of racing adding up to fourteen and a half hours. In September we’ll run a true 24-hour race.
I’m driving for a team called DadBod CarMod. The car is a Toyota Yaris. I get to drive these two races because has my old engine and transmission. It’s my kind of gig: very little is expected of me. I’ll admit to feeling a bit of pressure, though. I’ve run maybe 1300 laps at HPR. I think I’m pretty fast, but the only way to know is to see how I do against other drivers in the same car, on the same day, in the same conditions. Naturally, with my experience comes expectations.
Back in 2018, the team had five or six drivers. I was the only one with any experience, so it’s no surprise I was the best. In my ChumpCar race, two of the drivers had raced before, and the third had raced motorcycles and had just gotten some instruction in cars. None of us had driven on that track. I was second best by a small margin.
How will I stack up against the others this time?
The week before the race, Kevin asked if we could mount some race tires on my rims. Sure, we can do that.
On the LOCO trip a couple of weeks ago, I visited a few times with Don. During the course of one conversation, Don told me he has a shop in Broomfield with a lift and that I was welcome to use it if I wanted. Thinking I’m going to buy a set of tires later this year, I asked if he had a tire machine. He does and said I was free to use that, too.
Kevin dropped the new tires off at the house on Monday and Tuesday I was at Don’s shop. He didn’t tell me what sort of shop he has and I had no particular preconception. Nonetheless, I was a bit surprised to learn it’s a machine shop.
He gave me a quick tour. I met the geriatric French Bulldog at the door, and was shown a number of large, impressive CNC machines, then took me into the “measuring” room. It was quieter in there. A high shelf went around the room, holding examples of the shop’s work. Some items were quite small – a tiny titanium cylinder with holes and flanges – and one nearly as large as a basketball. Some are used in satellites, some at the CERN accelerator, and others in some sort of quantum mechanics application. I found it all fascinating. There may even be another LOCO connection: it’s possible one of the parts is used by some project that Greg works on.
As for mounting the tires, the deal was that Don would show me how to use the machine and I’d do the work. I was looking forward to it. In the end, Don did all the work. He bought the tire machine to do motorcycle tires, so it’s a bit different in how it grips the wheel than the machines I watched online. Most interesting was his little balancing machine. It’s not a spin balancer: it just uses gravity. The heavy side of the wheel naturally goes to the bottom.
I still expect to buy tires later in the year. When that happens, I’m looking forward to doing the work myself and only seeking him out if I have any questions.
I took the wheels over to Mike’s on Thursday and sat in the car for the first time. I didn’t get strapped in but did get in and out a couple of times. Ingress and egress are easier than on either of the other two race cars I’ve driven.
It looked like there was still a fair amount of work to be done, and the car has to pass inspection in less than 20 hours.
Before any car can compete, it has to pass a technical inspection. Before any driver can compete, they have to go through an inspection, too. At least, their helmet and clothing do.
Our time to take the car through tech was 1 pm. I got there just a few minutes before 1.
We got in line a bit after 1. While we were in line, the Lemons photographer/reporter quizzed us about the car. We told him it’s the first race for the car. It has big unicorn stickers on it. We gave him the story of the drivetrain. We’re calling it a Lotus Yaris. Kevin’s Elise wheels are on it, with the Lotus center caps. We had a baby seat strapped to the roof. Every Lemons car has a theme.
We had an issue with the roll cage. We failed, but they’ll let us participate if we address three welds, with reinspection at 7 tomorrow. They put us in the A group. We were expecting to be in B. When we were done with tech, we took the baby seat off the top. Being in the fastest group, we couldn’t afford the aerodynamic drag.
As to clothing, they are doing things a bit differently than the other races I’ve been in. Before now, you took your suit, shoes, gloves, and helmet and they looked at the labels to make sure all is up to spec. This time, drivers were to arrive fully dressed, helmet in hand. After checking the labels, we raised our arms and turned 360 so they could see everything.
I was failed for my helmet and gloves. The helmet was okay, but the HANS device connectors were installed incorrectly. I did this installation before my first race, a bit more than eight years ago. He asked me how long it had been that way. I told him, “One Chumpcar and one Lemons”. He showed it to the other inspectors. It was easily remedied. The gloves failed because the certification labels are gone. I probably should have replaced them a couple of years ago.
With the helmet fixed and a borrowed pair of gloves, I went back to complete the inspection. When I did my little rotation, he spotted that I have a tear on my suit, on my left shoulder. It’s been there for years, passing the previous Lemons inspection. Because I’m also wearing a layer of Nomex long johns, they passed me if I put tape on both the inside and outside of the suit over the tear. They said I could have a seamstress fix it for about fifty bucks, or do it myself with some Nomex thread.
The day was an open-lapping day, but I didn’t pay to drive. Eric took the car out for a few laps. He reported that the car understeers a fair amount, and he was having a misfire above about 6000rpm. I think Mike and Dan got it squared away before I left. We need to spend about 90% of the race above 6000rpm.
I arrive at the track a few minutes before 8. The weather forecast for today calls for high temperatures a few degrees warmer than yesterday. One of Brett’s great decisions was to rent one of the carports to keep us all out of the sun. Instead of brilliant clear blue skies, we have some smoke that has blown in from the wildfires near Durango. I don’t think it will help with the heat, though.
When I left the track last night I was under the impression that the brakes had been completed but Brett told me he’d worked on the car until nearly 3am again. When they installed new pads there was an issue. They kept an old pad on one side of the rotor and put a new pad on the other and things were still a bit tight. I’m not sure what the implications of that might be, but I don’t think pad wear was the critical issue. When they bled the brakes, the fluid that came out was quite dark. I think the controlling factor is that the discs are so small. They’re not vented and can’t shed the heat, so the fluid cooks.
I don’t know that “all is forgiven”, but when I got to our carport, Jan was applying my name to the car. The guys continued to make tweaks to the car, and continued to struggle with fuel filter issues. By now we had a number of little water bottles filled with the backwash from the filter, each with a thick layer of sediment on the bottom.
Jan is out first in the car. She’s out about an hour. James is next, also about an hour. I’m up third, Brett wants me to go an hour and a half. While Jan is out, James and I spend some time shooting the breeze. We talk about lap timers and he downloads RaceChrono. He had been playing around with a different one, one that also does video. They made an attempt to mount his phone onto the dashboard of the car with zip ties, but that really had no chance. I told him it would work with the phone in his pocket, so that’s the route he went. I saw a tablet in one of the cars nearby; that looks like a good way to go. You can mount it securely and the display is plenty big.
Jan in the car
I help refuel the car twice. For LeMons, it only takes two people. Each must be in full gear – driving suit, helmet (with visor closed), gloves, fire proof shoes. One pours the fuel and the other stands ready with a fire extinguisher. The driver can’t be in the car. Yesterday, I poured gas during the one refueling exercise I participated in. Today I did both roles once each. During the second refueling of the day, I had to help Hank get back into the car. When I was buckling him up, I made the mistake of taking off my gloves. This is a big no-no and could have gotten us penalized.
In my stint in the car, I again try to count laps. Yesterday my 22 laps took an hour and nineteen minutes. That’s from the time I started the lap timer to when I stopped it. To get an hour and a half, I should count laps again and go an extra lap or two. So I get to 22 and go one more before exiting the track. When I get to our garage, nobody is expecting me. Hank isn’t suited up and nobody else is there. Brett arrives and asks how I’m doing. I say I’m doing fine and that I figured my time was up. He tells me I should do 3 more laps to give Hank time to get suited up. When I’m out of the car I find the lap timer has logged 23 laps. So clearly I’m unable to count.
I really thought I was doing a better job counting. How hard can it be to count to 22, you may wonder. Each time I crossed the start/finish line I’d announce to myself the count. I’d repeat it in turn four. I’m sure if I was the only one on the track it would be dead simple. But whenever I’d get stuck in a clump of traffic, with cars passing me and me passing other cars, it can get quite busy. It takes all my concentration.
Attrition has been working on the car count the whole race. There are a number of cars in the paddock when I start my session and traffic is noticeably lighter than yesterday. I am able to run several laps without having to pass or be passed. But I occasionally hit clumps of traffic. At one point, we’re going three wide up the hill on turn 11. Still, there are some really aggressive drivers who I must take action to avoid hitting when they’re passing me. One BMW steals my apex in turn 2, then gives me a wave. I take it as a “thanks for letting me by”, but when I relate the story to James he suggests that perhaps it was a “sorry” wave. Funny how there’s no doubt in my mind in the heat of the action but afterwards I can accept the possibility that it wasn’t exactly how I saw it at the time.
I shouldn’t be surprised that I’m seeing lots of “unique” racing lines. I’ve done in the neighborhood of a thousand laps at HPR and certainly a bunch of the drivers on track this weekend are here for their first visits. Many, undoubtedly, have never lapped anywhere before.
I don’t know if it’s because there’s less traffic or I’m just getting used to the car, but today I ran nine laps that were faster than my best lap yesterday. James says his best lap was a 2:41, which is a pretty good lap considering his lack of experience. He said he thought Jan was running more like 3:00 (but I’m not sure how he knows). When I later reviewed the video of the wheel coming off yesterday, I see that Hank’s times were in the mid to high 2:40’s. I would assume everybody’s times were better today than yesterday.
Hank came back in after only a few laps – fuel filter problems again. It worked fine for me, but seemed to crop up after we put more gas in the car. Not every time, but often enough. They back flushed the filter and sent him back out. Again, he was in after a lap. Turns out the filter wasn’t installed quite right. There was a tense moment between the mechanics but Brett reestablished the chain of command, the car was fixed, and Hank was back on track.
By the time Hank was in the car, the tenor of the race changed for us. I hadn’t been at all concerned with the results. I figured we had no chance at a win of any sort, so I wasn’t particularly interested in how we compared to anybody else. Brett now told us that we were in a race. One of the awards is the IOE. He explained it as the Index of Effort, or doing the most with the least. Turns out it’s the Index of Effluency. Our competition for this award was a Pinto station wagon. At that moment, we each had run the same number of laps. We needed to finish with more laps than them to win the IOE.
There’s an app available to keep on top of the results, but I didn’t bother installing it. Also, the post a hard copy of the standings in the classroom. The standings show our place, how many laps we’d run, and our fastest lap. That fast lap was a close match to my fastest lap according to RaceChrono. So I was fastest in the car. I expected this, as I have much more track experience than the other drivers.
Brett kept Hank in the car the rest of the day. We fueled him up one more time. James and I went looking for current standings with something like half an hour to go. By then we were up by 5 laps. As long as we didn’t have a wheel come off again things were looking pretty good. Nobody had run double the laps we’d completed, but half a dozen had run a hundred laps more. We had a couple of hours in the pits, so that would account for maybe 40 laps.
A big crowd gets all lined up where the cars come off the track when the checker flew to cheer all the cars. Standing at the fence, we met the crew of another car. They were in our class (C), and a lap ahead of us until their car broke down just before the checker. So we not only beat the Pinto but moved up from 6th to 5th in our class. There are three classes: A, B, and C. Aaron described them as “might win”, “might finish”, and “good luck”.
When Hank got out of the car, I asked him how the brakes were. “They’re gone. Double pump and get just a little braking in the rear.”
Turns out the IOE award is one of the top trophies, if not the top. I believe it has the largest cash prize. It also means Brett gets a free entry to the next LeMons race. The trophy is an overturned car with the driver running away. All the drivers get patches, too. We got the award because of the issues we had in getting the car running Friday, the fuel problems Saturday morning, and the wheel coming off Saturday afternoon. We had no gauges: no fuel gauge, no speedometer, no tach, no temperature gauges. By the end of each day we had no brakes.
We had 5 drivers in the car and turned 157 laps. (At least, that’s what I recall. I can’t find the official results.) If they were equally divided, that’s 31 or 32 laps each. I ran 45 laps according to RaceChrono. Hank undoubtedly ran more. Brett didn’t drive at all the second day, so he shortchanged himself. I certainly got more than my share of seat time, in spite of my lack of participation in getting the car built and keeping it running.
My instructions were to be kind to the car; not to rev too high, not to abuse the brakes. I think I did this, not only taking good care of the car but turning consistently fast laps. I’m sure there’s a fair amount of luck involved, but I was the only driver who didn’t have any problems with the car.
As to the car, nostalgia ain’t what it used to be. This LeMons car is not at all like my Arrow. About all that’s the same is the body and the steering wheel. It’s a different engine and transmission. Mine was a 1.6l 4-speed, this has the 2.6l and 5-speed from a Fire Arrow. The wheels and tires on the Lemons car are bigger than on mine, and the car rides maybe three or four inches higher. My young self thought the car handled well, but of course my young self had no real clue. This LeMons car has considerable body roll due to the high ride height. When I was in the car, everything worked, but all felt … imprecise. I occasionally had trouble finding 3rd gear (never missed a shift, but struggled a few times). In the uphill right hand turn 11, I often experienced a nasty hop in the rear end under acceleration. I was able to alter my line in that turn and by not getting on the throttle as early or as hard more or less eliminate it.
Brett’s take on LeMons racing is that it’s more for and about the mechanics than the drivers. I have no aptitude for working on cars and it’s not particularly interesting to me. That is, it’s not something I want to learn, at least not in the context of running a LeMons race. For me, it’s all about driving the car. I’m more an “arrive and drive” guy. I’ll be surprised if Brett asks me back.
I have to thank Brett for letting me drive his car, and big thanks go to everyone on the team. They really put forth a great effort and they’re fully deserving of the IOE trophy. Aside from some tension early Saturday, I enjoyed the weekend.
24 Hrs of LeMons is an endurance racing series for cars costing less than $500. There’s an emphasis on absurdity. The title is a parody of the long running annual 24 Hours of Le Mans race, and lemon cars. Teams of four or more drivers compete for up to 24 hours.
These races set themselves apart from the typical road race by the unusual penalties and punishments dished out by judges, as well as a blatant disregard for traditional motorsport politicking. The series is similar to the ChumpCar World Series which developed out of it (and which I ran at Road America in 2015), but retains a more carnival-like atmosphere. The cars and teams tend to have themes and costumes. The series has been in operation since 2006.
Teams come from all over the country to enter these races. This weekend’s race has entrants from Oklahoma, Texas, Utah, Illinois, and Michigan, and who knows where else.
The first car I owned that was titled in my name was my 1978 Plymouth Arrow. I bought it new in May of 1979 for $4,604.19. I had been looking to buy one for several months. I’d made offers on them and been turned down. There were five Plymouth dealers in Denver at the time, and I visited all of them. In January of 1979 I made an offer of $4,600 for a car at Colorado Chrysler Plymouth. They turned me down. It was this car that I bought for $4.19 more five months later. I drove that car 192,000 miles before trading it in. It was nothing like a race car. Shortly before I replaced it, I timed it from 0-60 at 22 seconds.
My old car, photo circa 1982
I met Brett when I was arranging with Dennis to drive his Chump Car. Not long after I met him, Brett sent an email to the group telling us he had an Arrow he wanted to turn into a race car. I couldn’t believe it. I’m pretty sure I haven’t seen one since I got rid of mine back in 1987. I went to his house and he showed me that he had three of them. This was a few years ago and I had more or less forgotten about it. In December, for some unknown reason, I wondered if he had ever gotten around to building his Arrow race car and reached out to him. I told him if he built it I wanted to drive it.
I told him I had no mechanical aptitude and just wanted to drive it. He and his team worked frantically for about six months getting the car ready. I made a few token appearances but was fundamentally uninvolved in developing the car. But I had talked to Brett about costs and agreed to his fee. I bought my Lemons license and wrote Brett a check. As the race approached we were still in touch via Facebook, going over trivia such as what our uniforms were and whether I’d camp at the track or commute. They were working feverishly on the car, and I thought I’d made it clear that I had nothing to contribute mechanically speaking. And Brett never made any specific requests to me for help, so I thought we were good.
Saturday June 9
I arrived at the track about 7:30 and found the team. I greeted Brett and he asked if I was there to race. “Yes, I am.” But he’s upset with me because I wasn’t helping on the car. They’d had some long nights, staying up until 3am and I was absent. They all assumed I was going to be a no-show today and he’s not sure he wants me to drive. He wants to think about it; he’s ready to give me my money back and send me home. This is clearly not an empty threat. They have the drivers names on the car and my name isn’t there. While he’s thinking about it, he said I should take my gear and get checked in.
My clothing passes tech and I get my tech sticker placed on my helmet. They check my name off the drivers list.
In the mean time, the team is making the final adjustments in preparation for getting the car to pass tech inspection. One of the problems they’d been having included a fuel leak near the fuel filter. Also, the filter had clogged up, so they find a replacement (a giant filter that would work on a Ford F-150 truck) and install it. With the car running, there’s no leak and they call it done and drive it over for the inspection. It passes.
The car runs, but we had no gauges: no fuel gauge, no speedometer, no tach, no temperature gauges. Brett gathers us drivers around and goes over some final instructions. The object is to get the car to the end of the race tomorrow afternoon. Don’t stress it, don’t overtax it. Keep it under 5100 rpm (without a tach!). Go easy on the brakes. Then there’s a deal for charity. Do we want to contribute $100? That would be $20 each. We agree, but (as is usual for me) I’m carrying about $12 cash. I tell Brett I’ll pay him back tomorrow and he agrees, but gives me an exasperated look.
While they were getting Jan in the car I managed to mount the old GoPro. I have a spare battery for the old camera so between the two cameras and extra battery I should be able to get video for three drivers. Each camera should run about an hour and a half. I don’t get it turned on, though. (It looks like Jan spotted the camera and tried to get it running, but there are two clips totaling less than 30 seconds, so she didn’t get it figured out. I assume it was Jan; whoever it was had a helmet on and I can’t see their face.)
Jan is first in the car. While she’s driving, we need to get some supplies. Brett divides the list among us, sending me and Steve to get gas. We throw eight 5 gallon containers into the back of his truck and head off to the truck stop twenty miles away for fuel. I pump the gas and Steve grabs some Mountain Dew and snacks. I learn that, at this gas station at least, you can only pump $95 worth of gas on a single transaction. I do another transaction for $43 more. I pumped forty one and a half gallons into our eight 5 gallon jugs.
Along the way we chat. He’s an interesting guy, spent a number of years in the Navy on nuclear submarines. He’s had some rough times and faces some challenges. We’re gone about an hour and at one point in the conversation he mentions that they had a guy who just wanted to drive, which is frowned upon by the team. I’m not sure whether he’s talking about me or not.
When we get back we find that the car has been out for only one lap. Brett reimburses me for the gas, and I clear my $20 debt with him then.
Bad gas from filter
James goes out next, comes back in pretty quickly with a fuel filter problem again. I have all my gear on the ground near the rear of the driver’s side of the car. As part of their diagnosis/fix of the problem, somebody has taken the gas cap off the car and when they blow compressed air through the fuel system, gas fountains out of the tank, drenching all my gear. Only moments before I had picked up the SLR, so it didn’t get doused. But all that was in the bag – my drivers suit, Nomex underwear, Nomex socks, driving boots, both GoPro cameras and the bag of accessories – got drenched as did my helmet sitting next to the bag. I spread all my gear out to get it dry, wipe off the cameras, squeeze out the gas soaking the padding in my helmet. My undershirt wasn’t hit too badly, but my long johns got it pretty good across the front. It all dries fairly quickly but everything I have smells strongly of gas.
I’m next in the car. I managed to swap the camera so I know I have a fresh battery. We have no radios, no pit board. How long should I stay in the car? Brett says it’s hot and I won’t want to be out long. I tell him otherwise; that I will have no problem staying in the car as long as he wants. He wants me out for an hour. I figure 20 laps will be about an hour and attempt to count my laps. I miscount, come in after 22. Half way through my stint a piece of the roll cage padding comes off. It’s a piece of plastic about four inches long. It rolls around by my feet, never getting stuck behind any pedals but annoying me several times. By now my groin area is a bit uncomfortable because of the gasoline on my long johns. It’s not bad and goes away shortly thereafter. They were dry by the time I put them on, so perhaps it was just my imagination.
At the end of my session I am black flagged. We were told that we can race after we pass the incident that caused the yellow flag. I’m following two cars and after we pass the tow truck, I pass the other two cars. It looked like the first guy was holding up the second and I got a good run. But no, we’re still under yellow and I get black flagged immediately. When I report, I tell them I’d passed the tow truck and thought we could race. “Don’t you think it was odd you passed somebody in this car?” But most cars were slow in the corkscrew and turn 3. Many are on the brakes when I’m on the throttle, so I’m faster than a lot of cars in those spots. Two or three other cars are reporting for their black flags immediately behind me so I wasn’t alone.
Later, a driver for one of the other teams comes up to us for a chat. He was a car or two behind me when I got black flagged. He says, “You got robbed!” He agrees with me that we had passed the incident and were okay to race. The track had not yet gone full-course yellow until after I made the pass. Previous corners had one white flag and one yellow. It wasn’t until after the start/finish that I saw two yellow flags. He said the corner worker at the station that flagged me wasn’t paying full attention and had to look up from her phone to wave the black flag at me. While it’s nice to have somebody siding with me, and I find it odd that so many of cars got flagged at the same time, I have to take his report with a grain of salt.
Hank is next in the car. We want to call him in for fuel. Brett and I are waiting near the pits for him but he never shows. Finally we see him on the flatbed. He’d had a wheel fall off. A spacer failed and the front left wheel went its own way just before turn 7. The arrival of the flatbed and stricken car draws a crowd, everybody snapping cell phone pictures. Hank looks a bit forlorn sitting in the car.
Hank in the stricken car draws a crowd
One of the teams nearby loans us a wheel that fits. After an hour to effect repairs, the car is back on the track with Brett behind the wheel. He gets called in because of a report that we’re leaking fuel. The LeMons guys can’t smell gas, so it’s not us. Brett thinks it’s the multi-colored 5 series BMW (which turns out to be the car driven by John F, one of my Lotus friends). Brett goes back out. I hang around the LeMons guys, curious to see what they’re doing. One looks at me: “Are you with the 5 car?” Yes. “Go to race control and watch the video to see where your wheel went.” I do. Glen tells me we can retrieve it with a truck after the track goes cold.
Brett stays out for the rest of the day (about another hour). A few minutes before the checkered flag we see him coming back being pushed by Glen on his quad. Brett ran it out of gas and ran it out of brakes.
We go looking for Glen to get permission to take a truck out for the tire. Can’t find him. We ask the LeMons guys where Glen is so we can get his clearance to go retrieve our wheel. They say no motorized vehicles are allowed on the track without Glen’s permission and are a miffed that we’re even looking to bother Glen. So we have to walk out with a wagon to get it. I borrow a wagon from the team next to us in the garage and we go searching. Aaron and James ride bikes, I drag the wagon. On the track, rolling the wagon behind me, my inner six-year-old wants to jump in the wagon and go sailing down the hill. I resist the temptation.
Glen is out sweeping the track. He stops and we talk. “I thought you were going to take a truck out to find your wheel.” LeMons guys said we couldn’t, and didn’t seem to like us looking for you.
We spend 20 minutes searching before we find it. I’m wearing shorts, traipsing through waist-high weeds and thistle. I get a bunch of burrs in my socks and later learn I got about twenty mosquito bites. Aaron and James ride back to the paddock and I trudge along pulling the wagon, chatting with a group of guys out walking the track.
Retrieving the missing wheel
Back in the paddock, they’re replacing the brake pads and fluid. I worked the brake during the flush, which is about the limit of my technical expertise. Brakes flushed, I ask Brett “would you be upset if I asked to leave now?” I get permission. It’s 9pm.
When I get home and start copying the video files to the hard drive, I discover that the gasoline has damaged the plastic on the housing for the newer GoPro. I’ll need to get it replaced before I go to Road America.