The Lamest Day

Jay Lamm’s 24 Hours of LeMons races have been covered in great detail since the inaugural race in 2006. The formula is quite simple — take a $500 car, install several thousand dollars worth of safety gear, buy several hundred dollars worth of personal safety gear, and then attempt to keep the pile running for 24 hours. Actually, most of the races take the night off because there are noise restrictions at the tracks. Nelson Ledges road course in Ohio doesn’t have those pesky noise restrictions and the racing went all night.

Our team attempted to keep a 1985 Pontiac Fiero running for the entire 24 hours and we mostly succeeded. A series of problems with our alternator, clutch, timing, steering,; and a few penalties kept us off the track for about six hours, but we still managed to finish the race and we worked our way up to 70th place after being down to 108th in the wake of early clutch problems. The team, led by Car and Driver tech editor Mike Austin, Ford PR man Patrick Hespen, KYB marketing manager Aaron Shaffer, 2007 Dunlop Driver’s Cup winner David Furchak, and myself, was just happy to see the car pass the checkered flag under its own power, though a poor refueling strategy almost made that impossible.

The race itself is much, much more difficult than it initially sounds. We all agreed Furchak summed up the experience best with this update on Twitter: “Lemons is a lot like deer camp, time has no meaning, yet it runs everything. We are in the pit with steering and throttle issues.” Throughout the race we all tended to be working on the car at once, or trying to stay awake to help refuel on the next pit stop. Perhaps a LeMons race where there can’t be a running car after dark are more of a joke, but running an unlighted track for a full 24 hours certainly took its toll on our team. The cars in LeMons may not be as legitimate as what the pros use, but everything else about the race is pretty serious.

When it came to the car, our favorite quote from the weekend was, “Well, it’s not running any worse now.”; That quote was attributed to everyone at one point or another, though there were a few notable exceptions. Here’s a great exchange from a pit stop where we determined the car wasn’t running so well:

Hespen: “The power steering broke”
Everyone: “It doesn’t have power steering”
Hespen: “No, I can feel it going and I can hear that pump”
Everyone: “It doesn’t have power steering.”

That stop was the precursor to our alternator problems, which explained the pump noises Hespen was hearing. All four tires had dropped to about 20 psi, which may explain some of the steering problems Hespen noticed, and there was a mystery fluid all over the front end of the car. That mystery fluid could have passed for power steering fluid, you know, had the car been equipped with power steering equipment. We will never know for sure what it was.

Apparently our team learned nothing from the weekend. Last night the 2010 LeMons schedule came out and Austin boldly stated that he sees no reason why we can’t make every race. It goes without saying we’re looking for a new car. Is anyone out there interested in a race-ready Pontiac Fiero?