Saturday, April 16, 2011

24 Hours of LeMons - A One Lap Warm Up (of sorts)

Last weekend, a group of true knuckheads as my better half calls us went to Millville, NJ to race in the 24 Hours of LeMons.  The team was made up of Woody Hair, Neil Simon, Robert DiGiovanni, Grant Stephens, Jerry Reich, and me.  While we have participated in another race within this so called "series" that was a true 24 hours in duration, this particular event at New Jersey Motorsports Park's (NJMP) Lightning Circuit was only 15 hours and broken up over two days (8 hours Saturday and 7 hours Sunday). 

For anyone that does not know about the 24 Hours of LeMons it is a race series for cars that are not worth extensibly more than $500.  Safety gear - roll cage, race seat, racing harnesses, tires, brakes, and the like do not count against the $500 limit.  Of course our crapper car of choice is a 1991 BMW E30 318is.  A little four banger that had seen better days, but loves the track!

The weekend before the race a few of the team members gathered at Bobby D's abode to work on the car.  Minor items to shore up the car.  After our fine mechanical skills were exhausted we loaded DaChit back on the transport trailer and headed to Woody's house where it sat on the street until our 7:15 am departure Friday morning (April 8th).

Woody and I hooked up the X5 to the trailer and off we went.  Despite the nasty weather, tolls, minor rush hour traffic, and a wee wee stop we arrived at NJMP at 11 am.  We set up camp, repainted the number from 50 to 70 (really just the 5 to a 7 as the zero is a toilet seat and requires no painting - see photo), and went to tech.  The car failed due to slightly questionable welds in a couple of places on the roll cage.  In addition, Woody could not exit the car in the required time of 4 seconds or less.  Woody narrowed it down eventually to 4.2 seconds, but that was not good enough.  I wondered how they had passed another driver in the paddock that was at least 350 pounds and would have had to been dislodged from the seat and car with a crane and that only after a 30 minute soaking in bacon fat grease.

Unable to borrow any welding equipment within the paddock, we found a tooling/machine shop on the other side of Vineland, a neighboring metropolis, who agreed to look at it.  We were at the shop from 2:20 to 6pm, but were able to close up the questionable welds.  Arriving back at the paddock, tech had closed for the day.  Not to worry though as we had another chance on saturday morning prior to the race start.

While the others left for their hotel in Atlantic City, Woody and I went to the Old Oar House Tavern in Millville for beers.  After a beer or two and a nice meal, we retired to our luxury suite at the Quality Inn.

Saturday was a beautiful day with temps in the 60s. Our welds passed tech and Woody's egress from the car, while one of his admittedly slower attempts, was quite satisfactory. We then had "BS" tech where penalty laps are assessed for the judges' estimate of the cars value over $500 and speed potential.  They questioned whether this abandoned car came with shiney new H&R race springs.  OOPS, I knew we should have muddied those puppies up.  Anyway, we were happy with only 1 BS lap penalty as other cars in the field were assessed up to 40 laps.

With 6 drivers for our car, we decided on one 1:15 stint each, allowing for 5 minutes for fuel and driver change. We just weren't sure if we could go 2:30 on a tank of gas and didn't want a driver to have to pit early. I started, and according to the other team members watching was quickly knocking off good laps and passing a ton of cars.  Early in my stint a piece of thick metal debris/plate struck the windshield right in front of me. My efforts to duck were stymied by the harness.  The resulting crack wasn't bad.  When I came in to the fuel pumps for the first driver change I reported getting lots of fender rubbing on the left front.  A quick glance at the tire showed the outer edge of the new Dunlop Z1 was shaved off.  The fender had been damaged when we were knocked out of the race at Nelson Ledges. It was not an issue at a subsequent race at Summit Point due to the mostly left hand turns, but at Lightning there is a very long, banked, fast light-bulbed shaped turn. Think of a one mile stock car oval run clockwise. After re-fueling, our new driver, Neil, drove to our paddock area and a jack handle was used to bend the fender out. At the end of Neil's stint we didn't think there was any more tire damage, but to be sure we pulled the wheel and I pounded on the inner fender with a BIG F'ING HAMMER.

Neil, Jerry and Woody continued to do a great job in their stints and we were in 7th place in the 5th hour. We hadn't received any black flags for wheels off, spins on track, or contact.  Wheel-to-wheel racing is SO much fun and with 66 cars on the track with widely varying speeds (and skills), it is quite intense.

It was soon Bobby D's turn at the wheel.  Robert was not out more than 10 minutes when the car was seen moving gingerly through turn 7.  I next saw Robert exit the track and drive VERY slowly to our paddock. The clutch was slipping so bad it had almost no forward umph.  Neil and Jerry tried bleeding the clutch slave cylinder to no avail.  So after 188 laps of the 1.9-mile track, and 5 1/2 hours of the 15 scheduled, we were forced to pack it in.

Given the hour, Neil, Woody, and I opted to stay another night in that swinging town called Millville.  It was another fine meal, a brew or two, and good laughs at the Oar House.  We were so tired that we were horizontal by 9 pm, but with alarms set for 3:45 am so we could watch the Formula One race live from somewhere in the Far East.  After a quick cat nap post F1 race we were back at the track by 9:00 am to pick up the wounded warrior and head for home.

In all, a bittersweet weekend. But we're looking forward to our next LeMons at the Shenandoah track at Summit Point in June.  Where did we finish officially?  With missing almost 2/3rds of the race, we ended up 54th of 66.


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