Wednesday, November 7, 2018

24 Hours of ...Lemons?


I can now say that I've driven a race car (OK, a cheap old Nissan Altima painted like a BMW) on a race track in a real race! Bottom line up front: had a ton of fun, the car ran over 10 hours of the 14 hour race, and I learned a lot! While I'm not sure how to explain how much fun it was, or where to begin, or where to stop talking about all the things involved in getting 80 teams on track at the same time and spending 3 days at the track, but it was a blast! NMS-South will surely be writing up his experiences with Team Coronautski, so I'll leave it up to him to brag about what they did, and I'll just tell my side of the story!
Don't be Fooled, it's a Nissan Altima

Months ago Brian told me about some South Carolina autocross friends that were putting together a Lemons team and that they might need another driver. To do this Lemons endurance racing right you have to have at least 4 people crazy enough to want to race crappy cars around a track all weekend, so I immediately thought it would be a good idea! And anyway, who doesn't want to driver a race car? It ranks up there with being a rock star and major league baseball player in my book, so at least I could check off ONE of those things!
Cowbells = Functional Air Intakes!

Anyway, after the team bought a Lemons worthy car (cost under $500, includes a roll cage and other safety gear, racing seat, etc.) all I had to do was go buying all the safety gear such as fire resistant clothing of boots, socks, suit, gloves, helmet, head-and-neck restraint, radio headset, and then paying the fees to enter the race, and contribute to the team's expenses for brakes, tires, fuel, gas, then I only had to pay to travel from New York to South Carolina, rent a car, throw in a hotel or camping costs, food and beverages for a long weekend, and then I was all set! Oh, other than make sure the timing would work that I could get off from work! Oh, and the re-scheduled race date from the giant hurricane that forced the race organizers to move the date from September to November, and then check that I could get THAT weekend off from work too! Easy!
Lemons Poster

So the weekend finally approached and my wife and I flew to Charlotte and rented an awesome Toyota Corolla for the rest of the weekend. We took it easy that night and visited with Brian, and of course talked trash about whether his team or my team would win. That led to Friday, so while we each ran some errands ranging from getting the Coronet a wheel alignment to buying t-shirts for my team at the local BMW dealer, we ended up at Carolina Motorsports Park, where both teams had assembled and set up their paddock areas, complete with cars, trucks, campers, trailers, tools, food, canopies, and one other thing...the race cars!

Luke and Brian do the Driver Gear Inspection

Friday required each car to be inspected for safety, and even though this is non-serious racing for little prizes, the safety requirements are 100% serious, so our cars passed inspection. Like any track race, each auto has to have full cage, cut-off switches, fire extinguishers, tow straps, etc. Then each driver had their personal safety gear inspected to make sure it met the current requirements, so all my clothing passed easily enough. It sounds simple, but multiply 80 teams by 4-6 members each, and that's a lot of helmets and stuff to check!
50s Plymouth body on a 70s Ford Chassis = LEMONS APPROVED!

One big feature of the Lemons races in Camden SC is the Friday night block party, so we all paraded into town and set up the cars where spectators could check them out. There was live music, food, beverages, and a fun evening, mostly because by this time of the day the rain had finally stopped! Oh yes, Lemons racing is rain or shine, so we were glad to have the rest of the weekend dry and much cooler than it would have been in September.
Judge Phil does the BS Judging

Also at the block party is the BS Judging, where the Lemons organizers kind of double check that your car really is a 500 dollar piece of trouble, and then they assign your car to one of three classes. Class A makes up the likely fastest cars that just might actually finish the 14 hours of driving! None of our cars were anywhere near that class! Class B are the next level of cars, and most of them kind of resembled actual functioning vehicles, so that's where my team ended up with our Team Altimate Driving Experience Nissan (painted like a BMW in case you forgot!). Team Coronautski was put into the lowest class of cars, the preferred Class C. Given their history of blowing up in their previous two Lemons attempts, and having gone through 3 or 4 engines (hard to keep track), they would be lucky to finish this time around.
NMS Ready to hit the Track

Saturday was finally race day (#1 of 2 days), and with great weather (no rain!) the rookie driver's meeting and then the all driver's meeting were the final reminders that we had to follow all the safety rules, watch the corner workers flags, be safe while entering the track, and of course to ALWAYS check your mirrors a LOT, especially before braking into a corner. The biggest impression of the on-track experience for me was the huge amount of traffic out there, and how there were many different speeds of cars running close most of the time! I'm going to guess that it's about 5 times more stuff to think about and pay attention to than just driving down your average road.

Carolina Motorsports Track = 2.2 Miles of Fun!
Our team's stints ran pretty well, although we weren't quite getting the 2 hours out of each tank of gas that we hoped for, so our driver swaps were speeding up, and I got into the car around 4pm with ideally 2 hours worth of gas. However, after an hour plus, I was having fun driving but my gas gauge was low, and the smell of fuel kept getting worse. For a while I was thinking of pitting, but kept lapping and thinking that the smell would get better. Eventually, I spotted the pit board sign with our car number 77 on it, and came into the pits. Sure enough, we were low on fuel anyway, so I got out of the car and figured we'd put someone else in to finish us up to the 6pm stop time. I should probably mention that yes, we did have radio communications in the car, but since this was the end of the day our radio battery had been  used up, so I drove the entire time without any radio. Oh well, that  just gave me the chance to figure things out on my own and keep an eye on the fuel gauge.

So, getting out for the pit stop (drivers must be out of the car for refueling, one of those safety rules), and then Zack said I'd be getting back in. To tell the truth the fuel smell was making me feel not so great, but I said I'd get back in and finish the time. So, off I went with enough fuel and man the smell kept up it's strength. Eventually I started feeling pretty bad, and after trying to put up with it, I recognized that feeling in the stomach and headache that told me that it would be better to get out of the car. So I pitted and headed back to the paddock, and told the team I had to get out of the car. I didn't want to slow down the team by making this extra stop, but I just felt that bad. Zack got in the car and finished the stint, and at this point our team finished up day 1, with the car still running, and all five drivers had taken their turn.
Standings after day 1 (8 hours): Up to 28th place out of 80 teams!
(Team Coronautski was up ahead in 18th place)
Back in the paddock, the team and everyone in the entire state of South Carolina did kind of notice the very strong gas smell, so further inspection revealed a leaking fuel line from the top of our fuel tank. This explained why I felt so bad at the end of the day, and why we weren't getting the mileage out of our gas! Thanks to Adam and Zack, a heroic fuel line repair late into the night had the mighty fake BMW ready to race on Sunday. And with us holding 28th place out of 80 cars on track, we felt pretty good, and had accomplished a lot for our first Lemons race on the first day!


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