My first attempt at racing, the 24 Hours of LeMons at Moroso in Dec. 2010, was a lot of fun, but ultimately very frustrating without a particularly satisfactory result. Our car failed tech and required a bunch of last minute welding at a shockingly large cost before we were allowed to compete. Once the car got on the track the engine gave up after 25 minutes or so of racing, leaving me sitting in $700 of otherwise unused protective racing gear without a car to drive.
Team Keys Disease seemed willing to try again so we resolved to get a different car, perhaps one that didn’t get forklifted out of a junkyard, and try again. The 24 Hours of LeMons wasn’t coming back to Florida ( I heard they weren’t too happy with Moroso Motorsports park, but I can’t say for sure ) but Chumpcar was coming to Sebring in September ’11 and their rules were pretty similar to LeMons.
We acquired a 1987 Honda Civic with a damaged cylinder head but an otherwise decent motor. Dustin replaced the head and prepped the car, including a wacky truck-like exhaust pipe that stuck up above the right side of the car with a flapper on the end. I ordered a roll cage and helped strip the interior. Skip did a LOT of wiring work. To make sure the car was ready for a long distance run and that I would be ready for the track, we even went to a track day in August with ERME and Dustin taught me the line around the track. This time, we were much more prepared when we hit the track Saturday, Sept. 24.
I got to drive first, which was very exciting and and nearly guaranteed that I’d get some seat time. It also meant that I’d be driving at the start, with most of the dodgy cars and drivers crowded on the track. In prepping me for this, Skip emphasized that we had to go ALL 14 hours to finish. Getting tangled with some other Chump ( whose car might have died from exhaustion in a few minutes anyway ) in the first hour while jockeying for a position isn’t good prioritization. I set myself a goal – drive well, drive fast, no black flags ( for unsportsmanlike driving ) but above all bring the car back undamaged.
I put my digital camera in the car, attached to the roll bar behind my head. Here’s video of the first couple of laps, though the flapping around of the camera lanyard is a little distracting. Gotta remember to remove that next time. It’s about 12 minutes long and if you stick around until the end you can see a Mustang cut inside me ON THE GRASS, causing me to slide a little off the track and screw up my line for the next turn. I’ll admit, I puckered a little.
We raced through fuel issues ( the gauge stopped working – stuck on full ) and a flaky transponder which is used to signal race control every time the car goes over the start/finish line. The tires wore like iron, though sadly, they gripped about the same. Here’s more video ( much shorter, just 10 seconds or so ) of Jennifer going through the hairpin at Sebring.
Despite having one of the slower cars in the race, our reliability was paying off. Out of 69 cars starting the race, we watched as we moved up into the 40’s, then the 30’s, peaking at about 32nd place. Once we got the fuel issue resolved, the car ran like a champ, knocking out steady laps. It looked ready to go the distance.
This is the car of the guys next to us on the pits – Floridiot Motorsports. Nice folks with a well prepared, reliable 944 ( love that paint job! ) that finished the race in 20th place.
10 hours into the race, the Sebring skies opened up and it rained buckets down on the track. Chumpcar will race in the rain, but the lightning ( a safety issue for the track workers, mostly ) caused them to red flag the race for an hour and a half. In the blinding rain and the confusion of the red flagged race, one of our drivers bumped the back of a VW that had stopped on the track. Even after the rain stopped, it was a while before the race organizers felt the front straight was dissimilar enough to a lake to make for safe racing.
Unknown to the team, the contact with the VW had damaged our radiator, finishing our race. I was the lucky driver to find this out when I went back on the track and the temp gauge failed to come off the peg, yet the motor was ACTING like it was overheating. I looked in the rear view mirror and saw smoke ( more than usual ) coming out of the stack. I brought the car in to the pits and Dustin pronounced it done. Our race was over with another DNF.
Still, it was a GREAT time and we ran for 10 hours – more than 500 miles before our race-ending incident. While it wasn’t fast, the Honda was reliable and simple and would have carried us up into the top third, maybe the top quarter of the field if we had been able to stay in the game. As well as the car was running at 10 hours, I’m sure it would have done it. I’d love to try again.