LeMons @ Buttonwillow

Sunday, 30 June 2013 15:30

A little desert heatI took a little break from driving around the country by going someplace where it was 40 degrees hotter and driving around in circles for three days.

I've been taking my time getting around Southern California so that I could get to lovely Buttonwillow, CA for this weekend, where there was a LeMons race scheduled to happen, summertime desert heat and everything. I was driving with my friend Jim and teammates, who had hauled three cars down from San Rafael--a more or less stock Volvo 242, a sort-of stock BMW 328, and a not-even-close-to-stock Volvo 940 with a small block Chevy 350 in it and numerous other modifications. If those don't exactly sound like race cars, it's because they're not exactly race cars. For those not familiar with the LeMons series, it's sort of half comedy, half 'real' racing. OK, maybe 75% comedy, 25% racing. The general premise is that it's endurance racing (races at least 4 hours long, usually 6 or 8 hours) for cars that by the rules can't be worth more than $500 (not counting the cost of the safety equipment). Racers being racers, that $500 rule is generally the one that gets stretched the most, to the point where there's a separate technical inspection to assess the level of bullshit (appropriately named "BS Inspection"), and if they think you're driving something that's got a little more than $500 in it, they'll impose multiple lap penalties prior to the start of the race to level the playing field a little.

The cars: L to R, Volvrolet, Volvo, BMW The heart of the Volvrolet, a strong small block Chevy motor A car too smart for its own good. The BMW needs all this just to run.

The teams generally fall into a few different types...there are the guys out there in pretty decent cars with minimal comedy value who are in it to win it, and are often SCCA or VARA series racers in 'real life'. Then there are guys out there in really, truly $500 cars and some self-deprecating comedy who are in it for the fun and the super-cheap track time. Last, there are the guys who really stress the theming and the comedy aspect, and they generally show up with really ridiculous cars, drivers in costumes, decorated pits, and a variety of other fun and games. We fell mostly into the first category; the Volvrolet and the BMW are good, fast cars (when they're running), and the Volvo is a real $500 car. All of them are pretty fun to drive.

Mystery drivers pose with a fan Drivers meeting. All of these people thought this was a good idea, at least at the start. The Nyan guys, in full regalia The prize: A trophy made of junk

A couple of the more amusing entries this time around were a Simpsons-themed team, complete with Bart and Lisa on a couch and a variety of Simpsons/Homer sound effects available on demand, and a Nyan Cat themed team, which played the Nyan Cat song continuously--and loudly--from speakers in the car from green flag to checkered, both days. You have to admire their dedication to the theme, but those drivers aren't going to get that song out of their heads for weeks, if ever. 

The Simpsons car after a transmission swap Bart and Lisa, along for the ride
The Nyancar, an accurate cat+pop tart+rainbow rendition Nyancar in battle mode

Friday was a practice day, and I took advantage of the first part of the slower day and the availability of a jack and workspace to get under the Datsun and have a look around, as well as fix the squeak I've had on the right rear wheel where a dust shield was occasionally rubbing against the brake drum. Everything looked pretty good, with the exception of a small oil leak at the rear of the motor. I'm thinking rear main seal, since that's the only one I didn't replace. It's a tiny leak though, so I'll just keep an eye on it for now. Everything else looked great.

A pit stop for the Datsun
Unlike my past couple weeks near the Pacific, it was hot here. Really hot, like record-breaking hot. Sitting in a hot race car for two hours at a shot when it's already 110 or more outside can get uncomfortable. Ironically though, it was more comfortable in the car than it was sitting around in the pits, as we had cold water circulating 'cool shirts' and a nice 100mph breeze in the cars, which took a lot of the edge off--much better than just sitting outside and baking.  If I were smart, I'd have brought one of those for the trip in the Datsun to make up for the lack of air conditioning...if it stays this hot as I head north, I may get one anyway; they work really well.

Practice day went well, as did the 8 hour portion of the race on Saturday. We ran as high as 3rd place (out of 135 cars), and finished the day in 6th. The BMW was having issues with the heat (we think), as after about an hour and a half it started cutting out. We tried a bunch of stuff, but never really chased it down, and it was a problem all weekend. The car requires a remarkable number of computers and wiring to even run (from the stock BMW setup), and we think some portion of that mess didn't like getting that warm, but that's just a theory. The Volvo ran into issues with its brakes (also possibly heat-related), but it finished, and other than some contact with an RX-7 late in the race, the Volvrolet was fine.

Race action One of the older entries, a Ford Falcon The eventual winner, the Model T GT. Part Model T, part Mustang (I think). Some creative paint and magic marker work

Sunday wasn't quite as good--the Volvo finished again (that thing is indestructible), although its brake fade issues continued. The BMW did exactly the same thing as Saturday--ran great for the first hour and a half, then intermittently cut out for the rest of the day. The Volvrolet had bigger issues--about two hours in, it sheared the mounting bolts off the right front brake caliper (which was repaired), then about five hours in it had a major problem when the drive shaft broke off of the differential and trashed a lot of the rear end. The main problem then was that the rear wheels then only turned in opposite directions, which meant getting it back into the trailer was kind of an issue. Luckily, we got some timely help from the crash truck, which was able to pick it up on its stinger and kind of just shove it into the trailer.

Problem #1: Brake caliper came off. This one got fixed. Problem #2: Driveshaft broke off, differential and axle swung around. This one didn't get fixed. Getting some help into the trailer Good to see this finally go down

A couple fun bonus items: Some video of me from inside the BMW during the race, and I put the phone tracking app I've been using for the trip into the BMW for one practice session.

So now I'm off to (hopefully) cooler climates and/or higher elevations, and I'm not on the semi-schedule I was on to get to Buttonwillow on the 29th, so it's likely I'll be covering more ground in the coming weeks.

PS: Due to popular demand, the previous post (Santa Barbara/Paso Robles) has been updated with video of the elephant seals.