May concludes with automobile racing’s holy week. Days of practice and qualifying followed by the Sunday tripleheader. A latte and the Monaco Grand Prix in the am. Lunch while watching the Indy 500. BBQ and beer for NASCAR’s Coca Cola 600 in the pm.
Serious stuff measured in thousandths of a second and mere inches at 200 mph. Put on your serious face.
Well, not quite yet. To ease into that history-making day, we took a shot at what might be the least-serious form of motorsports: the 24 Hours of LeMons. No, that is not a missprint.
Founded by John Lamm (not me, the smart one), it runs races around the country in which the cars are, well, different. As are the event names, ours at Thunderhill in northern California titled “Vodden the Hell Are We Doing?”
To begin, the cars have to be bought for $500 or less before their modifications. Then things get serious with the likes of roll cages, hot motors, serious suspensions, excellent brakes and, perhaps, a skunk tail or horsehead. Honest.
My tolerant teammates were old pals Tony Swan (well known motoring journalist), Jeremy Barnes (Mazda’s top PR guru and our hot shoe) and a new friend, Blair Weston (a very smart contract auto engineer from Detroit). Key to the team was Tony’s wife, Mary Seelhorst.
Our ride was Hell Kitty, a 1988 Honda Prelude with 263,000+ miles on the odo when Tony bought in 2010 for $436. The coupe body looks quite straight compared to many LeMons competitors, though when the transport driver picked it up in Michigan and started to fill out his “vehicle condition” (and dents, scratches, etc.) form he just said, “I don’t know where to start.” And gave up.
You’d be hard pressed to find a friendlier, better-humored paddock than at a LeMons race. There’s a tongue-in-cheek attitude about the cars. Where serious racers setups might involve millimeters and fractions of an ounce, here you hear quips like, “that’s close enough” or “what difference does it make?”
Humor ends when safety is involved. All the latest driver suits, helmets and gloves, solid roll cages and a full tech inspection. Screw up–wheels off the road, spin, etc.–and you’ll be blacked flagged for a chat with the safety team. All four of us made that visit. So it goes.
Driving Thunderhill is a hoot and a half. Five miles around with several fast turns, quick esses and two very tight, hard-on-the-brakes corners. Plus temperatures that ranged from the low 80s to the high 90s. Water, water, water, Gatorade.
Mind you, the racing is for real. Side-by-side through sweepers, Nose-to-tail heading into tight corners. But how are you meant to feel when you’ve been passed by a BMW M30 with angel’s wings? Really, angel’s wings?
So where did we finish? Something like 35th out of 129 starters. That’s close enough. This was despite losing almost an hour while Jeremy and Blair repaired the left front suspension…and were up late fixing another broken piece. Our heroes.
What mattered most, of course, was that we all had fun of a sort you normally don’t have at a race track. Like laughing at other race cars. Or chasing a pickup while a gaggle of Minions in the truck’s bed stare back at you.
For more info, check out http://www.24hoursoflemons.com with a list of their events here and Down Under. Learn more about such races as “Doing Time in Joliet,” “Arse-Sweat-Apalooza” and “Kentucky (Demo) Derby.”
Now, put your serious face back on and wait for Monaco, Indy and the Coca-Cola 600.
And now let us hop in the Hella Kitty Prelude for a lap.