Thursday, May 8, 2014

A New Challenge: 24 Hours of LeMons!

My performance driving recipe for the past 12 years has been delicious: hit NHMS, Watkins Glen, and Tremblant every year, rotate between Calabogie and Lime Rock, sprinkle 10 autocross events throughout the season and crash in an occasional karting event.

Fun as it is, it’s easy to fall into a rut and drive the same tracks year after year. Driving Laguna Seca for the first time at the BMW CCA Oktoberfest event last year reminded me of how much I really enjoy new tracks. So when a friend asked me if I’d like to join his LeMons team for the NJMP event, I was giddy: I get to drive a new track AND race! Yes, I’ve never been more excited to drive a $500 POS Buick Regal. We are talking about the brand that endured a transition from a car for doctors to a car for doctors’ patients here!

I promptly signed up for the race and received the following welcome letter from the organizers:

C/D News: CT joins terrible race team

Ann Arbor MI -- Today Car and Driver reported that CT, against the advice of mental-health professionals, will compete in the 24 Hours of LeMons -- a wheel-to-wheel car race for heaps that cost $500 or less. CT's team -- the unpromisingly named "Park Bench RacingTeam (PBRT)" -- hits your local track on 05/10/2014 to 05/11/2014, where therapists and junkyard operators are already standing by. 

One relative, on condition of anonymity, described CT's family as "...saddened but unsurprised" by the news. "Unfortunately, we've come to expect such lapses in judgment," the source told C/D.
Friends, coworkers, and relatives interested in staging an intervention and/or watching CT do something incredibly embarrassing can find more information at Car and Driver's LeMons minisite or LeMons' race info page. 

Based on LeMons rules, the car must cost no more than $500, excluding safety equipment. Now you begin to understand why ours does not have even two matching body panels and it uses coffee cans for exhaust tips. I've always been a BMW guy and I love my cars' 50:50 weight distribution. The FWD Buick has two fundamental problems: it packs a lot of weight in the front and it has poor aerodynamics. Our team had the ingenuity to tackle both issues with one bold solution: weld a real park bench to the trunk! Now the weight is much more evenly distributed and the airflow is optimized.

Simple solution to complex problems: an authentic park bench!

But wait… this is a real race. Just look at the list of required safety items:
1. Fire-retardant FIA- or SFI-rated racing gloves
2. Snell 2005 helmet with visor on
3. Neck brace or HANS device
4. SFI 3.2/A- or FIA 8856-2000-certified fire-retardant driving suit
5. SFI- or FIA-certified long underwear (if single layer suit)
6. Fire-retardant FIA- or SFI-rated racing shoes
7. Fire-retardant (Nomex, Carbon-X, or equivalent) racing socks

The rules don’t mention anything about shaving your head and chest hair in order to reduce the possibility of catching fire but I bet you’d be stupid not to want to do that. A HANS device is technically optional but you probably won’t pass Darwin’s test if you don’t get one. Consider these LeMons rules:

2.1: Vehicle Eligibility: Entry limited to mass-produced, four-wheeled vehicles legal for US highway use at the time of their manufacture. Vehicles must be acquired and prepared for a maximum of $500 as described in Section 4. Vehicles must meet all safety standards laid out in Section 3. The vehicle's original, manufacturer-stated curb weight may not exceed 4200 pounds. Individual waivers may be granted; just don't ask about Peterbilts, Zambonis, sidecars, or golf carts again. We already said no.

2.2: Driver Eligibility: All drivers must have a valid US or International driver's license and a valid LeMons Competition Membership. LeMons Competition Memberships are good for one year from the date of purchase. No other competition licenses are recognized or reciprocated.
2.2.1: Drivers Under 18: Drivers under 18 years of age must get a notarized letter of permission from their parents or legal guardians. You might also want to ask said parents or legal guardians why they'd ever allow you to do this; it probably means they've been poaching your college fund.

Genuine Maxwell House exhaust tips

Now imagine yourself on track with 138 (one-hundred-thirty-eight!!) 500-dollar cars driven by racers with no required prior racing experience on a relatively short track. My teammates have completed one LeMons race already and assure me that the Buick’s size and weight are a big advantage when it comes to trading paint with other cars. It made me wonder if this is a demolition derby I signed up for.

Either way, I’ve never been more excited to drive a $500 POS. I sincerely hope to survive this weekend's race and live to tell you everything there is to know about trading paint!