Monday, March 5, 2012

2012 Lemons Race

The car ran....which is a great result considering!


Previous races that required an engine removal (i.e. two of the four races we have competed in) have always caused our team of nitwits issues, and this race was no different. Our engine imploded 12 months ago in our last race, and we needed to rebuild a bullet proof motor (yeah right), and we struggled to find the necessary parts for a 15 year old engine.

We wasted 2 months looking for parts, and ultimately left ourselves little time to install the motor. When you consider that on Wednesday before the race (i.e. 2 days to go), we found a missing gasket (is water in the oil bad?) in the motor that required a complete removal and disassembly of the car, that timeframe got even shorter. Wednesday night, we were actually considering not running the race due to the massive effort that was about to be required to remove, rebuild, and reinstall the motor….but being the nitwits we are, we decided to go for it. Thankfully, Dad was already here and we had 36 hours of wrenching hell to get it done.

The result? The motor was installed by Friday at 4am (we were supposed to pack and leave that morning), and it never moved under its own power before putting it in the trailer to leave for the race thanks to a faulty clutch (who needs one?). If there was ever a perfect lead-up to a Lemons race this was it. As Nick Pon from the Lemons organizers told us (when we asked if we could defer our entry fees to a later race) – “half of the fun of doing a Lemons race is in figuring out how to get your jalopy running.” Half of the fun indeed. More like none of the fun.

Its also worth mentioning that we installed a new gauge package, significantly upgraded the suspension, and fixed numerous “oh crap” issues with the car. We also had a case of brake cleaner to make the car look better than it was.

One final note - the theme this year was Chinese, since at the time the Chinese were considering buying Saab out of bankruptcy. They clearly got smart and did not act upon this, but our theme was set.


What test session? We barely moved the car on Friday at the track, and Nick took a few practice laps in his trusted Audi S4 Avant. We did manage to get the car running reliably that evening, and drove some around the pit area to prove it ran good and strong. Always a bad sign for us. We left the track with an always sense of false confidence.


We were very confident (well, as confident as you can get starting a race with a car that hadn’t hardly turned a wheel in 12 months with a new unproven motor wrenched on by 3 orangutans), and starting a race with 60 of the crappiest cars on the planet on a track that we had no idea about. We were in the garage next to an orange Acura Integra whose team told us that between races they do oil changes and that’s about it. Us? Exactly the opposite.

With Dad in the car ready to almost start, we realized our fuel system had a major leak in the engine bay (fire risk? What fire risk?!?) that would necessitate a fix. Hence, we missed the start of the race while we attempted to JB Weld the fuel rail, while simultaneously sending Nick on a bonsai run to Houston to pick up a spare fuel rail from Tony (Nick claims he kept it under 100mph but we have serious doubts about this). When we asked out loud in the garage if we could JB Weld a fuel rail, we had 2 other teams in the area loudly proclaim you could JB Weld anything. These are our people.

Needless to say, the JB Weld didn’t hold, but Nick found a great replacement. The race started at 10am, and we hit the track officially around 12:30pm. We had sent Dad out with a questionable fuel rail until Nick returned from Houston, said our goodbyes to Dad if he burned up on the track (we also discovered a loose hub on the car, woops)….and saw him back in the pits about 10 laps later due to fuel leaks. It’s worth mentioning he spun too, but that was the least of our problems.

Once we got the fuel rail replaced, and Dad got an hour or so of driving in, we changed drivers to Nick (who already raced to Houston and back…does that count as track time?). Nick drove for a while, but started having electrical issues. We ended up buying a new battery (O’Reilly knew us by name by the end of the weekend), and kept the car somewhat running sporadically all day despite a myriad of battery and electrical issues. It was more or less as expected since Saturday ended up being a test session for us in running the car for the first time.


We thought we had the car sorted and ready to run a full day on Sunday, but immediately started having battery issues on Sunday. Enter the expert…Bruce. Anytime Bruce enters the picture, he immediately finds 37 things wrong with the car and in a matter of minutes discovered what was terminally wrong with the car. We had forgot to reinstall the alternator ground wire. Problem resolved and we reaffirmed our position in the mechanic food chain (i.e. the very bottom).

Dave and I proceeded to drive almost the entire day, and the car was about as good as it was going to get. Highlights of Sunday:

- I spun the car (in front of family and friends) on the back part of the track after attempting to wave at the kids while navigating one of the tougher corners on the track. Lesson learned – wave with only one hand while steering with the other.

- We turned up the boost a touch on Sunday to 12psi, and were hitting 130-135mph on the front straight, making our car one of the fastest cars (in a straight line). A typical lap would entail passing 3 cars on the front straight and getting repassed in the corners as our front wheel drive struggled for grip. Its also worth noting that 130mph in these cars is probably a touch too fast, given the stock 15 year old brakes that we hadn’t worked on. What could possibly go wrong?

- Dave suffered through driving a car that developed a really bad alignment issue (probably due to me abusing the car on the rumble strips), as well as loose tie rods. It seems that Dave is forever cursed in never getting a properly running car.

- I inherited the misaligned car at the end of the day, and let me say, it was horrific to drive. It could turn right normally, but left turns made the car shudder and shake like it was a dancer at Carnival. I thought the car was going to shake itself to pieces (faster than normal that is).

- We achieved goal #1: have a car at the end of the day that we could cheaply (read: not rebuild a motor) in another race in 2012. Mission accomplished. We did not achieve any other of our goals, which is the norm for us.

Next up: another race! But this time we’re ready. Have you heard that before?

Pictures below (in reverse order).