Saturday, October 14, 2023

Bunch of Idiots Do Road America

 This past weekend, the Bunch of Idiots loaded up our 1990 Miata and headed almost 1000 miles north to Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin. The 24 Hours of Lemons was returning to the 4 mile track for the first time in about 10 years and we all had it on our list of tracks to drive once, so we decided to make it our one race this year. 

NMS rig rolls through a diesel pump on the way north. 

We spent the night Wednesday night in Greenville at Kyle's house to get a 90 minute head start from Columbia. Thursday morning we rolled out about 4 am. Kyle, Phillip and myself rotated driving duties on the way up. Just past Indianapolis we got stuck for almost 2 hours behind a pair of trucks that crashed and completely blocked I-65. That delay got us deeper into Chicago rush-hour traffic than we planned on. 

Hanging out on I-65....waiting.

Interestingly, we took a detour to avoid some of the traffic and ended up driving right past a Ford assembly plant and got to see some of the UAW protests in action. Beyond the protest we merged back into some very slow moving traffic before getting through the city and into Wisconsin. We rolled into the track at 9:59pm, one minute before the gates were scheduled to close for the night. Whew. 

Test day sticker. Road America!

Friday we all rotated through the car, spending 20-30 minutes each getting familiar with the track. Phillip has been crewing for us since the first day we got the Coronet and we made sure he got some seat time during practice day since we didn't know how soon any of us would be back and it just made sense for everyone to get a chance to drive. 

Shot of turn 5, up to the Corvette bridge as seen from the concession stand.

Going into the weekend we knew we'd be at a disadvantage with our little 1.6l engine against the huge 4 mile track with long straights. In Lemons, they class you into three classes, A, B, and C with A being the fastest. Typically we're in A class and are shooting it out with the pointy end of the field and a lot of 6 and 8 cylinder cars. We decided to put more effort into a theme and try to get into B class and have some shot at winning something. 

Bees. Worker Bees.
Thanks to a friend of the team, Justin, we decided to go with dressing the car up like a bee. After all, who wouldn't put a bee into B class? We decided we needed to dress up like worker bees and stage a Bees for B Class protest to campaign the Lemons judges for a bump down to B class. To our surprise, it worked! We were granted B class with 2 penalty laps. This meant we would start the race Saturday with two laps in the hole we'd have to make up. 

Bees for B Class!
Friday night they hosted a block party in downtown Elkhart Lake and rolled in all 140+ cars and teams to show off their themes and have a good time. It was all going well until the rain showed up and most people disbursed and hid out in the local restaurants. 

Shot of the block party before the rain.

Shot of the block party during the rain.

Saturday the racing kicked off at 10am with me taking the first stint. There were a tremendous amount of break-downs and car issues that kept the track under full course yellow and even went black flag for a while to pull all the cars into the pit road while the track crews cleaned up an oil spill. All those delays kept me in the car for 2.5 hours until I handed it over to Luke. Luke ran strong and handed over to Kyle after about an hour and forty minutes. Kyle got about half-way into his stint and realized there was an oil pressure issue. I topped it off with a quart of oil and sent him back out. 

Kyle getting set in the car for some hot laps.

I resumed driving duty for the last hour of the day and immediately we topped off half a quart of oil and sent me out with instructions to keep an eye on oil pressure under braking. I didn't notice any drop in pressure and took the checker flag at 5pm. 

Phillip, Kyle, Luke, all assessing the oil leak situation.

Once in the paddock, we realized the adapter that was threaded into the engine block for the oil pressure gauge had failed. Luckily our paddock neighbors had an extractor bit and we were able to remove the adapter. Somehow this thing stayed attached to the engine with about one thread left while the rest was broken off. With that issue identified and fixed, we moved on to put fresh brake pads and rotors on the car for Sunday. 

Offending part. Big points to Luke for the extraction. 

Sunday, Luke led off at 9am. He made a great move to out-brake another car into turn 5, when that car decided it didn't like the little Miata out-driving him and came through the corner too fast and pushed out into our car. Wheels bumped, but both cars continued. In Lemons, contact is not allowed and both cars must come in for the officials to talk to you if there is an incident. While he was in, we decided to replace the wheel out of caution and sent him back out. We were told the other car had broken their wheel and when I saw it later on track it looked like their suspension was bent. 

Getting Luke in line early to jump a few positions on the start Sunday morning.

Kyle took over for an hour and forty five minutes, then I took over for the same duration before handing back to Kyle for the final stint to take the checker at 4pm. As we do with other races, we slowly climbed the field and finished 18th overall out of over 140 cars. Looking at the results, Kyle realized he was right on the bumper of the 17th place car at the finish, so we were very close to jumping one more spot. 

Over 140 teams at the awards ceremony and wrap-up of the race.

18th doesn't sound like much, but with a few laps lost to our 2 penalty laps for taking B class, then a few laps lost for topping off oil, and also a few lost to the contact incident, we were driving our little under-powered car at a pace much closer into the top 10. We all think that's a pretty great result and enjoyed an awesome track with beautiful weather. We'll see what 2024 brings, but whatever it is, we'll keep punching above our weight. 

Here's most of my stint on Sunday...

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