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!