24HoL - Doin' Time In Joliet - Day 2

by Toni 7/27/2014 02:39

Today's going to be a loooong day! I was woken up by car engines around 7am, abandoned the sleeping bag in favour of the fire suit, and wandered over to the track's café to get coffee for everyone. I'm definitely excited about racing today - it's going to be fun! Hit Back after viewing an image.

Over coffee, Chris (left), Dave (right), and I talk engines, and we make the decision to remove the two air baffles from the sides of the engine to increase air flow, as there aren't any filters in there. Having bled the brakes last night, there's nothing to do this morning except get hydrated, and psych up for the race. The green flag will drop at 10am, and the checker will drop at midnight - that's a straight fourteen hour race session!

Our little camp site - all that was missing was the campfire in the middle, but that probably wouldn't have gone down very well with the Autobahn folks. Still, it was a pretty comfortable night - apparently there was some rain around 3am, but I definitely didn't hear it!

As 10am rolls around, we're arguing who will go out first, but not in the way you might expect: Chris doesn't want to go first because as Arrive&Drives he wants to ensure Dave and I get seat time; Dave doesn't want to go first, because this is his first ever race, and wants the two of us to get seat time before he potentially wrecks the car; I don't want to go first because I think Chris should go first and figure out whether the car is running right. In the end, the Team Captain makes the call, and so I got into the car. Unfortunately the rented HANS neck restraint didn't fit under the seat harness, so I had to ditch it and use a foam ring. At 10:20am #200 rolled out of the pit and onto the track ...

... And off the track and right back into the pits - I have no brakes! Coming out of the first turn, I started braking early, to get an idea of how forcefully I needed to brake at speed, and thankfully I hadn't gathered much speed, because there was no response to the brake pedal! Fortunately I was able to run the lap slowly yet not see any traffic in my rearview mirror, and pulled off to let Chris take a look. I explained what happened, and told him it could very well have been me having too high of an expectation. I convinced him to take the car out and test it out, so he suited up, climbed in, and drove off to the track entrance, while Dave and I walked over to the track to watch him head out.

Er - not so much. Chris experienced the lack of brakes just heading up to the track entrance, and so elected to turn around and come back to troubleshoot. I didn't have a lot to offer, while Chris and Dave discussed what could be causing the intermittent outages, and started inspecting different parts of the car. At this point the race had been running about an hour, and there were roughly ninety cars sharing the 2-mile long South Track, while Autobahn members were running a different event on the North Track.

I'm not sure what the event was that the club had going, but they certainly had some fun toys to play with. Things like Radicals, GT cars, Formula something, and other 'proper' race cars kept running through the pits to the North Track.

According to Chris and Dave, the most logical place for there to be an issue is the brake master cylinder, so without too much ado, that gets removed and inspected. In poking it, there seems to be something not right about the direction of flow of the brake fluid, and so ...

... It is disassembled. Sure enough - one of the rubber gaskets inside the cylinder has a defect, so when the cylinder is actuated, the brake fluid is not directed to the rear brakes and simply flows back to the reservoir - not good! Also not good is the fact Chris doesn't have a spare bushing or complete master cylinder, and as you might imagine, there's a pretty low likelihood that the local auto parts stores will have anything for a 1987 Jaguar.

With low hopes, Chris and Dave drive into Joliet in search of a replacement gasket. I watch some of the racing, and go wadering around the pits. I find the pit of Team Racing 4 Nickels, and chat with Bob, who runs an Oldsmobile Cutlass Ciera, which is essentially the same thing as the racecar I bought, so we chat a little about racing them, and he offers some tips.

After a couple of hours, Chris and Dave are back! Do they have a replacement master cylinder? Nope. Do they have a replacement gasket? Nope. They have a pair of O-rings :-) The cunning plan is to put the O-ring inside the gasket to stop it from folding back on itself. Genius! Except, not so much - the O-ring/gasket combo doesn't work when fitted into the car and tested - still no back brakes, and most likely because the O-ring is a little too big.

And so begins a couple of hours of trying different O-ring/gasket combinations to try and find one that works. There is even talk about finding a completely different master cylinder, and using any one that has the same mounting bolt spacing, which might mean cutting holes in the bonnet. After five hours and one lap, we're running out of options.

And then Chris and Dave notice something - the rear brakes weren't even connected to the master cylinder during the last few tests! Which then leads to some subversive suggestions, the most scary one being "What if we just plain disconnect the rear brakes?". I'm no mechanic, or real racecar driver, but I do know that a larger percentage of a car's braking force comes from the front breaks in a front-engine front-wheel drive car, especially one with the vast majority of the middle and the rear interior stripped out. There's a manic glint in Dave's eyes as he seconds the idea, and so it came to pass:

After six hours, #200 is heading back out onto the track. Dave has been strapped in behind the wheel, and for some reason is completely psyched to be taking his first race lap in a LeMons car sans rear brakes. We've extensively discussed things like taking it slowly, staying off the racing line, paying attention to flags, and so he's off!

Watching Dave pull out onto the track, and merge with the traffic, staying out of the way and taking it easy, both Chris and I are amazed and a little frightened that Dave volunteered so enthusiastically to take the car out, given the state it's in, but he was pretty insistent, and as we watch him for a few laps, he's staying out, and out of trouble, so maybe, just maybe, we've got ourselves a racecar and a race! Here's video of Dave's first (ever) LeMons stint:

And lo, it came to pass that Dave's first stint ended with a black flag, and trip to (almost) the penalty box. Chris and I walked over, and met with Judge Phil, who told us we were pulled in because for dumping fuel on the track - a sin so bad that if you do it twice your car is automatically ejected. Upon inspection, however, Chris disagreed with Phil that we had dumped fuel, but agreed to reinstall a baffle in the fueling filler neck that he had removed last year to allow him to refuel the can faster.

Back at the pits, we found out what had actually been dumped on the track - coolant. That's a two-inch tear in one of the cooling hoses, and there was no water left in the cooling system. Now, it should be noted we didn't have a spare hose, so it was time for trip number two into town, to purchase a replacement hose, and some dinner.

Another concern was that the host ruptured right in front of where we had removed the air vent covers this morning, so how much of the spilled coolant went into the engine? The answer was we didn't know, and decided not to worry about it, because out here in the pits there wasn't a whole lot we could do about it. After an hour Dave was back, and it took Chris about a minute to install the replacement hose. We also refueled the car, and it was ready to go back out. Right after we ate dinner, and had another argument about who's turn it was to go out.

At this point, the track had been reconfigured so the race was being run on the full 3.5 mile track, instead of just the South Track, as the Autobahn event had finished on the North Track. We finally managed to get Chris to agree to do a stint, and he suited up and headed out.

Chris was back in about ten minutes. He'd done two laps, and then came in and went to the penalty box because he thought he'd picked up a black flag, but the Judges had nothing, and he was dismissed. Back at the pit, Chris said Dave and I ought to get a couple of laps of the full track while there was still some light to see by. Fair point, and so I suited up to go do a couple of laps, even without rear brakes.

Unfortunately we hadn't noticed that the video camera's battery was dead, but what followed next was the two most nerve-wracking laps I think I've ever done - including the one this morning with zero brakes, and my first lap ever last month in the K Car. Not daring to go fast, the first lap was all about staying out of everyone's way, which I managed successfully. Consequently, when I was halfway around the second lap I had no traffic in the rearview mirror, and swung onto the long straight, easily getting up to max revs in second, so I decided to put the Jag into third. Bad move. Earlier in the day we had discussed running in second, versus third, or drive, because the course had so many corners keeping the Jag in second would mean it would pick up better out of the corners versus jumping into third and losing torque in the low end. What I managed to do, though, was go from second, past third/drive, and right into reverse! There was an almighty squeal from the tires and the engine cut out abruptly. I was able to keep the car in a straight line, and coming up to the end of the straight tried to restart the car, but it wouldn't fire up. Mashing the brakes as hard as I could, I ran out of the corner and onto the grass, finally, mercifully, coming to a stop before re-entering the track.

While sitting in the car, waiting for the tow truck, I was worried I'd done something terminal to either the engine or gearbox, and the Jag was out of the race due to my stupid move. The tow truck picked me up and dragged me back to the pits. At the entrance to the pits, it dropped me off, and a second, smaller, truck was preparing to hook me up and take the car back to our pit when Chris and Dave walked up. I told them what I'd done, and Chris told me to put the gearstick in park, then start the car - and of course it did! The Jag may be stripped down to a bare minimum of components, but there are still safety systems that prevent the car from being started in anything other than Park or Neutral - DOH!

When I'd driven the car back to the pit there looked to be only about fifteen minutes of daylight left, so we switched in Dave for a quick couple of laps of the full track, along with a fresh camera battery and sent him on his way. The plan was for him to do a couple of laps, then Chris would go back out for a stint ... Dave had other ideas though, and turned in quite a few laps!

Dave came back in, got out, and was literally grinning from ear to ear - apparently he'd had fun! :-) I, on the other hand, had decided I didn't want to take another turn - being a couple of inches shorter than Dave and about five inches shorter than Chris, with the fixed seat position in the Jag, I couldn't press the brake pedal all the way down, and so not only are there no rear brakes, but I can't get full front brakes either, and that just didn't seem safe - a pass from me. Likewise, Chris was beat, and didn't want another go either - he'd spent the last two weeks working on the car and was just glad to see it out on the track. Dave grabbed some hydration, and we sat and chatted.

Opposite our pit space were the team of Pabst Blue Racing, who had a Nissan Maxima, which they'd converted to rear wheel drive and stuffed a huge great big V8 Cadillac engine into ... which blew up on their second lap this morning. Since then they'd gone to a junkyard and found a replacement engine, and literally spent all day installing it, but with an hour and a half to go in the race they've just finished installation and fired up the car - and there was much rejoicing!

With half an hour to go, Dave decided he wanted to take the checkered flag, and loaded up for one final stint.

Dave was still out running laps when it was announced that the checkered flag had been dropped, and Chris and I wandered over to the track exit to watch the parade of cars coming back in. In a suspiciously short amount of time, the first car back in was Dave! But he made an immediate right and headed over to the penalty box, despite the fact that all the Judges had gone to the track exit to welcome the weary racers back in. On finding no-one at the penalty box, he came back to the pits, and we figured out he had missed the checkered flag by under a minute :-( He had gone off the track on a corner, and without knowing how close he was to the end of the race, turned himself in, to an unpopulated and uncaring penalty box.

After the awards ceremony, during which the Nissan Maxima team won the "Most Heroic Fix" award, we decided we'd pack up tomorrow morning, and in the meanwhile just bask in the fact that having scored thirty laps (5/6th of which were Dave's) we were actually seventh from bottom - we hadn't come last! :-) Definitely time for a beer ...

All in all, this weekend was a 2,300 mile road trip to race a total of six miles ... some may consider that a waste of time, but having met Chris and Dave, and driven the Jaguar, and met a bunch of new racers, and also experienced a completely different race format, I had a hugely fun time, and would definitely do it again - preferably with a full set of working brakes ;-) - but I'll be back!

Thanks to Chris, Dave, the LeMons staff, and everyone else who competed!

24HoL - Doin' Time In Joliet - Day 1

by Toni 7/25/2014 22:16

'Yesterday' ended at 2:30am today, when I finally made it to my overnight stop in Arcola, Illinois. At 9am this morning I was back on the road headed to Joliet, IL, and the Autobahn Country Club, for my second 24 Hours of LeMons race! Rather than fly, we figured out it was cheaper to drive the 1,150 miles to get there, and so with the space of the BotMobile to use, I've packed camping gear, so I can stay at the race track for this event. Should be interesting ... Hit Back after viewing an image.

I spent all of my time in Missouri and Illinois driving in the dark last night, so in daylight, this is what Illinois looks like - flat and green. And overcast. The weather predictions for this weekend are all pointing at a good chance of thunderstorms, so that could make me regret my decision to camp, but chin up - just the last few miles to go ...

... Which take an extra hour, because apparently the Autobahn Country Club is inside some weird GPS-defeating quirk in the time-space continuum, and my directions were a bit off, but not long after I arrived, the star car I had signed up to drive arrived: a 1987 Jaguar XJS V12. Yup. A Jag. For $500. Pretty cool eh?

The car is owned and operated by Team Double Jeopardy, captained by Chris, and this is the car's second 24 Hours of LeMons event. We'll be joined later by Dave, a colleague of Chris's, and for whom this will be his first ever car racing event. Chris has spent the last two weeks busting behind to get the car ready, and it really looks good - of course the V12 engine sounds good too :-)

During a lull in the proceedings I pitch my tent and bust out the sleeping bag - told you I'm going to be camping, an activity I haven't taken part in for at least twenty years, and I'm too much of a geek to do without all my gadgets, so that's a small generator next to the BotMobile for charging stuff, running the DVD player, etc. All mod cons :-)

With the car ready, we went over to do the Tech and BS inspections. The car had competed before, but in last year's season, and the rules had been changed a little for the 2014 season. Because of that, Chris had had to do some work to meet the new requirements, and after we passed Tech he was happy that his work had paid off. Next came the BS inspection, and Judge Phil was very happy to see the Jag! After predicting a huge engine failure, we were assigned to class C with zero penalty laps, and a recommendation to bleed the brakes. Happy we were through the pre-race stuff, we went back to the pit.

Back at the pits, Chris decided to take Judge Phil's advice and so I got to learn something: how to bleed brakes. Getting at the rear brakes was through the bulkhead in the back of the car, but to get to the front brakes we had to take the wheels off. While they were off we also removed dust covers from the wheels, and with the brake fluid topped off, there wasn't anything else left to do to the car - we were ready!

We took a wander around the paddock, checking out some of the other racecars, including this one - the MGB-GT, or as Chris referred to it "The Other British Car". There were only a handful of cars I recognized from Buttonwillow last month - the crowd at Joliet were mainly from the Midwest region, with a few East-coasters thrown in. All told, there were just over 100 cars entered, but we'd have to wait until Tech closed to see how many would actually be racing.

As we were hanging out, waiting for Dave, the sky grew ominous, but aside from maybe a dozen rain drops, we were spared inclement weather as the grey clouds just drifted past. The rule at LeMons is that if it rains, the race continues, but if there's lightning the race is halted, as this puts the corner workers in their little metal towers stuck in the middle of a flat race track at risk. Fingers crossed any remaining clouds pass us by just as uneventfully ...

Some more wandering around, and we see a couple of cars from SpeedyCop, who is the East Coast's equivalent of the West Coast's Spank - he usually brings some utterly outrageous concept, although this photo isn't one of them :-) This time he brought the Honda Accord(ion), an Accord that has been chopped in half and a bellows, like an accordion, installed. The two ends of the car can be pushed and pulled, and it makes music. Seriously.

This isn't a LeMons car :-P The Autobahn Country Club is like a playground for people with expensive, fast cars, like this Corvette. We saw Ferraris, Porsches, all kinds of classic cars, while wandering around. The Club was having a track day today for their members, and there were even 'proper' race cars and track toys like Formula Fords and Radicals zooming around.

It seemed like a good idea to do a test fit in the Jaguar, and this is what is looks like in the driver's seat. Chris said the only things that work on the dashboard are the rev counter and low fuel warning light - should be more than enough. There's not a lot of clearance between the wheel and the roll cage in the 10 o'clock position, so I'll have to do '2-and-7' instead of '2-and-10', but the harness fits, there's headroom, and the mirror affords a great view behind the car.

Tech inspection is getting ready to close down, and there are still some folks trying to get through - the pits are pretty busy, and on-track testing is open until 7:30pm, so still plenty going on. Chris and I don't have a whole lot to do except chat, and he's a very pleasant guy to hang out with.

Another wave of dark clouds float in as Dave arrives. The on-track testing is done and the track is cold, so the three of us spend a while in our camp site, with beer, pizza, and time, chatting about this and that. Dave is also fun to hang out with, and is obviously amped up for his first LeMons race.

With Tech and Testing closed, the level of activity in the pits begins to subside. There's a different vibe to this event versus Buttonwillow last month - not quite as crazy-hectic in the run-up to race day. Maybe it's just a reflection of my feelings because with a one-car team versus a four-car team there's not as much to do, or maybe Midwesterners are just more relaxed than Californians, or maybe it's the prospect of a single fourteen-hour race tomorrow, instead of the more typical two-session races, and people are focusing on a long day tomorrow.

Night falls, and all three of us are a bit sleep-deprived, so we decide to turn in for the night. I climb into the sleeping bag, grab my towel for a pillow, fire up the DVD player for an episode of Doctor Who, and cross my fingers the storms stay away, as I fall asleep.

Because: Racecar!

by Toni 7/19/2014 18:33

After attending the Button Turrible race last month, we were hooked! We want to take a stab at running a racecar at the Gator-O-Rama race in Houston in November. Naturally this means we need to find a car, and so we'd been perusing Craig's List and eBay trying to find something to get started with. We found this beauty! A 1996 Buick Century, and as a bonus, it's raced in the 24 Hours of Lemons series before, so it's pretty much ready to go! Hit Back after viewing an image.

The car was put up for sale by the Mystic Lemons team, who have run it in three races, and are ready to move on to something bigger and better than this C class heap. Wayne, the owner, was asking $900 for it, which, considering it's already outfitted with the necessary safety equipment, is a bargain in our eyes.

After paying the cash, and sorting out some paperwork (the car has a Texas title that needs to be transferred), here they are: the keys to Team Radicus's very own racecar! As far as we can tell one key unlocks the doors and trunk, and the other one starts it - not entirely sure why one key can't do both, but hey :-)

Ta-daa! Sitting in our very own driveway is the beginnings of an astonishingly mediocre Team Radicus racecar :-) It's going to get a new theme, although we haven't decided what yet. Let us give you a quick tour of this heap:

On the left side there's an air intake - not entirely sure why it's there, but that's something to learn about. It previously raced as number 606, but Wayne removed his team's markings and advertising, leaving the cute paint job on the front, which was done by kindergarteners.

Looking in through the drivers window at the cockpit, most of the controls and gauges are still there, and we're told work. Including the indicators, which could be amusing on the track. The speedometer goes up to 110 miles per hour - Wayne has said he's hit 100 in the car before, which could also be amusing in a dangerous way!

The rear end of the car is clean and tidy, and the both the front windscreen and rear window are stock. In fact this car is extremely stock, with next to nothing having been done to it except strip it and install safety equipment. This is a good thing, because it means there's not much in the way of tricky suspicious parts to learn about beyond what would be in a standard service manual.

After figuring out which key to use to open the driver's side door, here's the full cockpit. The race seat harness is dated 2012, so there's a good few years left in it, and the roll cage passed Tech Inspection in March 2014, meaning it's up to the current rule set.

In the back the stripped out interior is pretty barren, but that's as it should be. Naturally, any sound-proofing has been removed too, so it's going to be pretty noisy :-)

Looking in from the passenger's side, the wiring is pretty neat and tidy, and it's amusing that the team kept the center console with the air vents and radio. The cage is appropriately padded all the way around, and was professionally made by a third party. When you realize that most externally made cages cost in the range of $2,500, you can see why we think this car is a bargain!

This is a stock GM 3.1 liter L82 V6 engine. Let's see what Wikipedia has to say about it:

The L82 ("M-code") was an updated, SFI replacement for the MPFI LH0, produced from 1993 through 1999. It featured a structural oil pan, a stiffer redesigned engine block, sequential fuel injection and revised aluminum heads. Output for the L82 was up 20 hp (15 kW), over the previous Gen II LH0, to 160 HP (119 kW) at 5200 rpm and 185 lb-ft (251 N-m) at 4000 rpm. Compression Ratio for the L82 was 9.5:1 and the bore measured 89 mm (3.5 in) while the stroke was 84 mm (3.3 in) giving it a displacement of 191 CID (3,136 cc). This engine is notable for its cooling system issues which may lead to blown head gaskets and cracked heads.
Emphasis added ...

The transmission is likewise stock, in the form of a four-speed automatic, which has issues, currently, with reverse and fourth gear not working properly. Again, let's see what Wikipedia can tell us about the transmission:

The 4T60-E (and similar 4T65-E) is a series of automatic transmissions from General Motors. Designed for transverse engine configurations, the series includes 4 forward gears. The 4Txx family is an evolution of the original Turbo-Hydramatic 125 transverse automatic introduced in the late 1970s. The "-E" transmission is electronically controlled and features an automatic overdrive transaxle with an electronically controlled torque converter clutch.
Knowing there were issues going into this car purchase, we ordered the service manuals for it ...

We didn't take any video, but we did start the car, and it makes appropriate (and loud) engine noises. As it doesn't have a license plate or current inspection sticker we can't take it for a test-drive on the roads, so for now, this will have to do until we can figure out what to do about the transmission.

Guess we need to dig out some cassettes ...

24 Hours of LeMons - Button Turrible - Day 3

by Toni 6/22/2014 22:19

Not such a hectic rush today, because we know the K Car is out of it, but Chris still has three more cars in the race, so it's time to suit up and head back to Buttonwillow Raceway for today's action! Hit Back after viewing an image.

When I arrive at the pit area, Chris has the engine of the Corvattutu disassembled. Honestly, I don't know what he's doing, but I fetch tools as requested, and check on the other cars. The A-class #41 Honda Coupé is in fine shape; the Stickerubaru had a collision yesterday, but the damage to the rear right wheel assembly was fixed, and it ready to go ...

... and then, of course, there's the K Car, which seems to have sustained some additional damage while parked up overnight. DC Doug is one of the former 'owners' of the K Car, and it tried to kill him a few times, so it looks like he exacted some revenge in the wee hours.

The start of the race was delayed, due to one of the cars clipping a corner worker, breaking his leg and sending him to hospital. After the delay, the cars were lined up and the second day of racing was ready to begin.

To be honest, the two main things I remember about the rest of the race was that it was hot, and busy! The drivers did 45 minute stints for the most part, although Ryan did (I think) three back-to-back stints in the Stickerubaru, because he was enjoying himself a lot. Chris was even able to get out on the track for a stint in the Corvettutu, which was good - he'd been busy all weekend working on his cars, other people's cars, and generally captain-ing.

Towards the end of the day, one of the Honda Coupé drivers finally succumbed to the heat, and that left the last stint in the #41 open - so I took it! Wow! What a difference between this A-class car and the K Car yesterday - it had useful mirrors, amazing brakes, and plenty of power attached to the gas pedal - it was WAYYY more fun to drive than the K Car, right up to the point where I found myself at the end of the long straight, about to enter the sweeper, and with heavy traffic, and I locked up the brakes, skidding off the track onto the run off, and probably crunching a few cones in the process.

When the traffic had passed, the corner workers waved me on to the track, and I immediately made my way to the penalty box. Upon arrival, the Judge threw up his hands in mock frustration asking me why the heck I was in the penalty box with just ten minutes of the race left? I explained what I did, and he said, "Yep, you did that." But as this was only the second penalty for #41 for the day, and with just minutes to go, he let me back on the track. As the final laps went by, I kept whispering to myself approaching the finish line at the end of each lap "Checkered flag, please, checkered flag" until finally I saw it as I passed the podium. Success! :-)

After a cooling off lap, I pulled in, filed up with everyone else, and one thing that was cool was that as you enter the pit area, the Judges and organizers all shake your hand as you come in. I parked in the pit, and then finally realized the race was done, and I had driven in it! :-)

After a short period of time (it felt like) it was time to announce the winners and hand out some trophies. Unfortunately we didn't win anything (curse you K Car) but it was cool to see the teams who did come up in costume, and at least one team donated their winnings to Kenny, the corner worker who was hospitalized at the start of the day

At this point there were a number of cars to pack up and not a lot of time before the track closed, so I helped Ryan and Chris load up their respective trailers with cars, tools, parts, and all the other stuff that makes a racecar happen, and it was time to say goodbye. I had an absolute blast, and hope I get to take part in another 24 Hours of LeMons race in the not too distant future ...

P.S. One thing I learned on this trip that had never occurred to me before: when your diet for a weekend is 95% water and dyed sports drinks, you do tend to excrete some funny colours, if you know what I mean ...

24 Hours of LeMons - Button Turrible - Day 2

by Toni 6/21/2014 23:31

Didn't sleep all that well last night - partly because it's a dirt-cheap hotel, with a less than super-comfy bed and some noisy neighbours, and also due to some excitement (and anxiety) over what I'm about to do today: real wheel-to-wheel racing, on a real track, with a real car! Hit Back after viewing an image.

After the quick trip up I-5 back to the race track (and showing my myriad of wristbands to various people) I was back in our pit area, where Chris and Ryan were mounting a fan behind the radiator, as a last-minute thing to check off the pre-race list. We had about an hour before the race was due to start, so we worked out our strategy - Ryan is a mechanic, and the person who put the new engine in the K Car, so he would go first, and suss out whether there were any issues or not; next Neal (left of the picture), who is a seasoned K Car driver, would go next, and put a good number of laps on the board for us; finally, I'd go out third and try not to break anything. Then we'd repeat the rotation and that should get us to the end of the day.

As the start of the race got closer, the cars began lining up down the pit lane - it was pretty much first come first served in terms of your starting order. Being in C class, and hence one of the slower cars, there didn't seem to be a lot of point in getting at the front of the pack, so we waited a little while before strapping Ryan into the K Car and lining him up.

While all 120ish of the cars were working their way out onto the track, the whole track is under a yellow flag, which means slow down and do not attempt to pass anyone. This went on for about ten minutes, by which time all the cars that were going to make the start were on the track.

It was pretty cool to see all the different shapes and sizes of cars out on the track. There are very few limitations as to what you can race, other than the $500 value the car has to be mass-produced and not exceed about two tons in weight, and that's pretty much it. If you like, you can read the full rule set here.

And they're off! The green flag is waved, and the racing begins in earnest! There are about 120 cars on a 2.5 mile track, so as you can imagine, there's plenty of traffic trying to pass and being passed. Truthfully that's the bit that worries me the most - playing nice in traffic.

Every car on the track gets to see the green flag, which also starts the logging from the transponders attached to every car to record lap times and counts, so the green flag is waved for about three whole minutes at the start of the race. I have my fingers crossed things go okay for Ryan, and his 1.5 hour stint goes smoothly ...

Realizing there was no clock or timer in the K Car, let alone a radio, we planned to alert the driver that their stint was up by waving a large pink beach towel trackside, in lieu of a pit board. It worked well, and Ryan brought the K Car in. On his way in, the Judges indicated that numbers on the side of the car were too difficult to read, and we needed to fix that. Back in the pits, we refueled the car, re-painted the numbers, and Neal went off to do his 1.5 hour stint. Ryan indicated everything seemed fine with the car, and we were off to a decent start!

During Ryan and Neal's stints, I generally made myself as useful as I could, and being mindful of the warning we were all given during the Drivers Meeting at the start of the day, made sure to drink plenty of water and Gatorade - it certainly was getting quite warm, and the double-layer fire-retardant suit did not help you to stay cool!

And then it was my turn! With the roll cage having door bars, getting into the driver's seat of the K Car was not a graceful affair, but I managed it without too much pullava. We had already refueled the car, and it was my turn for a 1.5 hour stint. I really had no idea what to expect, but was determined to bring the car back in one piece - that was about all I could promise Ryan :-)

Right about here is where I realized I had no video-capture device! Argh! There's no GoPro in the K Car, and both my handheld cameras were in my bag, presumably not even charged - a major lack of planning on my part, but it was too late to worry about that, as Neal and Ryan ensured I was strapped down. And then I was ready to roll!

When you leave the pits, there's a track worker who checks you're an 'official' driver by making sure you have a yellow wristband - and now it made sense why the organizers made sure to put it on my left wrist - much easier to stick that out the window than your right arm. At that point, I was on my own, rolling out of the pit lane, in a 1986 Plymouth Reliant, and about to get on a race track with over 100 other cars! It's really tough to put into words the sheer exhilaration and nervousness I was feeling as I gassed the car and merged into traffic doing about 60mph.

One of the reasons I'm really sad about not having any video is because honestly it's really tough to remember everything that happened! With robot combat matches, there's only three minutes of 'blur' before you come back to reality - here I did a full one and a half hours of the same level of concentration. One thing that is really easy to remember, though, is how amazingly awful the K Car's mirrors were! The center mirror had been installed this morning, and it had been bolted to the dashboard, so basically all you could see was the tailgate, and another car only when it was right on top of you. Due to the 'bouncy' nature of the track, and the car on it, the wing mirrors had gotten waaay out of alignment, and so the only time they were of any use was while you were going through a corner - you had a split-second to check them both, and mentally calculate where the cars were behind you in relation to your position, and guestimate how long it would be before they were passing you, so you could stay out of the way!

Luckily for me, a couple of laps into my stint the whole course was under a yellow flag, which meant I could slow down a bit, and use the time to learn the track. I think the full yellow lasted about five or six laps, so by the time it was lifted I had a pretty good idea of where I was going, so when we were back up to racing speed I needed to learn how fast to take the corners asap.

Starting slow and building the speed with each lap was a good idea, even if it meant I spent a lot of time 'pointing' the passing cars by me, and doing my darndest to stay off the racing line. After what I was guessing was about an hour, I felt confident enough to try and get some 'real' laps in, and so putting together what I'd learned in the first two-thirds of my stint, I gave the K Car some more gas!

In the next half an hour I passed quite a few cars! Including a Porsche. Twice. :-D True, I was still being passed by a lot of cars, but that was to be expected, as the majority of the field were not only more experienced than me, but they were also in higher classes (i.e. faster) cars. Still, I did manage to pass some of our C class competitors, and that felt amazing.

I saw the pink beach towel, and brought the K Car back to the pits, very satisfied that I had put in a decent stint, with no black flag penalties, and even passed a few other racers! It was awesome! We refueled the car, and Ryan went out for his second stint, while I sat down, tried to calm down, and bump the hydration level back up. That was a fantastic experience, and well worth the early flight, high temperatures, and seat fee to get into a car known across the LeMons universe, and actually race it!

During Ryan and Neal's second stints, I once again tried to be useful, gassing cars, bolting drivers into their seats, and doing miscellaneous tasks Chris could find for me. Mentally I was preparing for my second stint, which should take us to the end of the first race day.

Sure enough, Neal came in, we topped up the K Car, and I was sent back out onto the track, for round two!

Which didn't go quite as well as the first outing. Beset with confidence, about forty minutes into my stint, I saw a black flag with number 122 beneath it - oh no! That's me! :-( I rolled around to the pit lane, and drive myself into the penalty box, wondering what I'd done.

Up came two of the Judges, and they asked my why I was in the penalty box. I responded that I didn't know, that this was my first ever day on a track, and whatever I was in for was undoubtedly my own doing. I think they liked that answer, and said I had put all four wheels off the track. I apologized, and reiterated that I was a total rookie and it was highly likely I made a mistake like that. They also informed me I ignored the black flag for pretty much a lap and a half, to which I could only apologize again - without the number, and being in traffic most of the time, I didn't realize it was being waved at me. This was the K Car's first penalty of the day, though, so they let me off with a warning and I was okay to go back out on the track.

Just as I was about to pull out of the penalty box, one of the Judges stopped me and said there was a wire hanging out of the bottom of the car, and to go to the pits to have it removed or repaired. I agreed, and drove over to the pit area straight away. After reiterating my tale to Ryan and Neal, Ryan snipped off the offending wire, and then noticed a few drips of something on the ground under the engine bay. I stayed in the car, while they checked various fluids, and finding nothing obviously wrong, closed the hood.

It was too late, though - between getting a penalty, and baking in the K Car while it was sitting in the pits, my confidence had taken the rest of the day off, and I asked Neal if he wanted to get back in. He didn't, but standing in the pit was Steve, one of the former owners of the K Car, and who happened to be suited up in race gear. He said he'd happily take the car back out, and so we traded, strapped him in, and sent him on his way.

There was now just half an hour to go in the first day of racing, and there were mutterings that the K Car was actually doing well! Of course, right at that point, I happened to look out at the track, and saw the K Car on the side of the track, being hooked up to a tow truck! When Steve and the car got back to the pit and were detached from the tow truck, Steve explained that just a lap or two into his stint there was a bit of a fireball from the under the bonnet, and the car died. In looking at it, the engine had had something forcefully pushed through it, which turned out to be a part of the clutch, and was now only being held in the car by one bolt and the remainder of the clutch. It was terminal.

It was gut-wrenching too: at the end of the seventh hour, the K Car was leading C class, with the most laps, and also the fastest lap! But there were no repair options, and so despite having been in the lead, the K was out. After the checkered flag was dropped on the day, we found some time to commiserate with a beer, tidy up a bit, and then I had to head back to the hotel - totally exhausted, totally drenched in sweat, but totally hooked on this experience! The K Car may be dead, but tomorrow is another day - time for food, sleep, and then back again tomorrow for the second half of the race ...

24 Hours of LeMons - Button Turrible - Day 1

by Toni 6/20/2014 22:13

So we haven't really done much in the way of robot building lately, partly due to taking my Mum to Hawaii in January for her 60th birthday, and partly because we've been spending a bit of time racing online in Forza Motorsport 5, which we've been playing since November. A couple of months ago, we got to wondering whether all this time racing on the seat would translate into running a real racecar. The biggest issue, of course, is finding a racecar to drive, preferably without spending a million dollars starting a team.

An online friend suggested looking at the 24 Hours of LeMons racing series - and you read that right: "LeMons", not "LeMans" - the basic premise of which is the racecar must cost less than $500, excluding safety equipment. Realizing we have no automotive engineering ability beyond putting gas in a car, we decided to peruse the 24HoL Forums to see how to get started. There is a concept of "Arrive and Drive" where a car-less driver goes to a race and buys some seat-time with an established team. That was the option Toni went for, and hence we took a trip to Buttonwillow Raceway, half an hour from Bakersfield, CA. Hit Back after viewing an image.

The alarm went off at 4am this morning, and after stuffing clothes and some rented race gear into a suitcase we headed to the airport for a 7:20am flight. For some reason what we thought was a direct flight actually included a stop-over in Denver, CO, which actually was nice, because we got to see some snow, and that helps to define the fact we're on a trip!

Although the closest airport to the race track is Bakersfield, it was cheaper and simpler to fly into Burbank, CA, and drive up I-5 to the track. Los Angeles always looks so icky - blue sky, and then a brown haze layer of smog hiding the city - yuck. Burbank is actually a tiny little airport, and it didn't take long to get the rental car and hit the Interstate.

Apparently race tracks are quite keen on wristbands, because I had to get two of them to be able to get into the track grounds. Not really knowing where I'm going or what I'm doing, I decided to park in what seemed like an out-of-the-way spot, and then go wander around.

Right after getting out of the rental car I saw this running around the track - my first thought was "That looks like more than $500!" As it happens, today is an open track day at Buttonwillow Raceway, and that car was just here for the day to do some test laps, while the LeMons teams were loading in to the track.

Ah ha! Yup, that looks more like my ride :-) This is the infamous K Car - a car that has done dozens of races, and you should really take a few minutes to read up on its history, chronicled over at Car and Driver Magazine - go on, have a read and then come back here, so you know what I signed up for ...

The K Car is running under a team called Pit Crew Revenge, captained by Chris Overzet, who is a bit of a LeMons maniac, and is running three other cars along with the K, which is technically being run by an almost rookie called Ryan. As we have plenty of time this afternoon - there's still three hours before tech inspections close, so we do a little work together to get the K into racing shape. These two are two of Chris's cars - the Stickerubaru and Corvettutu.

The pit lane we're on is slowly filling up as the afternoon goes by - it seems like a trailer and a canopy are pretty much a given for each car here. Beyond that there's quite a lot of diversity in terms of how teams organize their pit area and themselves, with some teams getting more into their themes, with music, costumes, etc.

Looking back up the pit lane, and there's plenty of teams here at the track, and it looks like it's going to be a sunny weekend. Last year it hit 115°F, but the weather forecast for this weekend tops out at 100°F, so fingers crossed it stays 'cool'. There will be much water and Gatorade consumed this weekend ...

Here's the inside of the K Car - knowing the history of the car from the link at the beginning of this post, it shouldn't come as too much of a shock at how much of a rat's nest it looks in terms of wiring. On the other hand, the stripped out interior and cushion/cover-less racing seat do make it seem more like a racecar :-)

Just a random landscape shot - that's the starting tower, with some California hills in the distance and nary a cloud in sight. Some of the LeMons cars were out practicing on the track, while most folks were doing last-minute fixes to get through safety - very reminiscent of a robot competition ...

This is one of the more - er - enthusiastic entries: a Peugeot 10, dressed as a Dacia 1100 from Romania, complete with live goats on the car, live chickens in the car, and assorted Romanian peasants pushing the car to safety inspection. What was more amusing about this group was that the majority of them stayed in character for the entire weekend. And if you think the paint job looks like it was done by kids - that's because it was! The car was 'painted' by a Kindergarten class.

Here Ryan is taking the K Car through safety and BS inspections, to the derision of the Judges. The safety inspection is mostly self-explanatory; the BS inspection is where the Judges (a) determine whether the value of the car is indeed less than $500, with a penalty (negative) lap assessed for every $10 over budget, and (b) what class (A, B, or C) the car will compete in. Naturally the K Car will be in C class, and gained zero penalty laps.

After the inspection, Ryan went to get his driver gear inspected (I'd already done mine, which got me a third wrist band!) and so I got to drive the K Car back to the pits - this is the view out the front window! I also realized how heavy the steering is, as of course there's no power steering in this car. Hopefully the steering will be lighter when the car is moving faster, otherwise I'm going to end up with Popeye arms ...

The 24 Hours of LeMons organizers get patches made for each race, and Chris was kind enough to get one for each of the members of his extended team. If I ever buy a race suit (I'm renting one for this race) I can start collecting these ...

With the K Car ready to roll, there wasn't a lot left to do, except wander around looking at some of the other cars, and this one caught my eye - it's actually an old Honda Civic, with a wide-body kit on it, for sportiness ...

... And a turbo-charged Saab engine in the back of it! The wide-body kit has a touch of "home brewed" about it when you look at it up close ...

Well ... it was getting on for 6pm California time at this point, and I'd been up sixteen hours, and had yet to find and check in to my hotel, so I bid everyone adieu, and took the ten mile ride down I-5 to the hotel, got my room, found some food and drink, and called it a night!

About Team Radicus

This site contains records of our trials and tribulations in building combat robots. So much to learn, and so little time!