NEWS, WEATHER, and SPORTS

July, 2014

photo by Craig M. Renwick

Bamm Bamm and the Lemon Slug

Your reporter poses with his full-face helmet and fireproof gloves, wearing his fireproof suit, socks, long underwear, and shoes (I know—red; they were out of black, see, and I thought, “Okay—I will rock those red shoes”). I am about to take my first driving shift in the “24 Hours of LeMons,” in Tooele, Utah. (Pronounced “Too-ill-uh.”) The endurance racing series, punning on the famous 24-hour race in Le Mans, France, was conceived around 2006 by journalist Jay Lamm. His mission was to give low-budget enthusiasts an opportunity to race—safely and humorously.

Explained in Mr. Lamm’s own pithy words: “Yeah, it’s real racing. That said, between the thick scrum of crapcans in front of you and our aversion to long, flat-out straightaways, you’re not going to set any speed records. It’s kinda like a loud, hot, noisy version of driving to work. For a really, really long time. Without actually getting anywhere. And it’s a lot harder to drink coffee through the helmet. Oh, and, you know, it’s more dangerous.”

Over the years the series grew in popularity (for obvious reasons!), and is now held all through the year at roadracing tracks across the U.S. The rules are simple: the car must have a maximum value of $500, and it must be “interesting” to the LeMons organizers. (“Funny” is a useful synonym there.) Safety equipment like roll cages and fire suppression systems are not included in the budget, but are required—safety being the only thing the organizers take seriously. Otherwise, humor is the overarching theme, in car choices, presentation, team names, and even costumes.

Some of the Competition

photos by Craig M. Renwick

Famous last words: “It started as a joke.” And so the joke continued—for the series, and for our team. Team leader, car fabricator, and chief enabler Ken (“Clouseau”) has worked on my old cars for many years. Chief Inspector Clouseau is an expert, intuitive technician, and a good friend. For unimaginable reasons, he had four old Jensen-Healeys around his shop (as you do), though none of them ran. One day he started talking about using one as the basis for an entry in the 24 Hours of LeMons. I thought he must be joking, well aware that in the early ’70s, when it was new, the Jensen-Healey was known as “Britain’s Favourite Roadside Car.” (Typical of British industry at the time, it was cleverly conceived, but shoddily constructed.) Never imagining how that joke would play out, it was easy to laugh and say, “Okay—I’m in!”

In the early ’70s my first car was English, a tired MGB roadster, and my second was a Lotus Europa. (It lived up to its acronym, “Lots of Trouble, Usually Serious.”) So I had a weakness for British sports cars (still do, regularly driving my old Aston Martin and Jaguar), and back then I admired the look of the Jensen-Healey. There can’t have been many of them on the roads of Southern Ontario, but I seemed to see each one—parked at the side of the highway.

Apparently the Jensen-Healey’s “legendary lemonness” appealed to the LeMons organizers, and they accepted Clouseau’s entry application. In late January the joke started getting serious, when Clouseau convinced two other friends from the Aston Martin Owners Club, Jonathan (“Bad Grampa”) and George (“Wrong Way”) to join our LeMons team. (Bad Grampa’s son, “Frisco Kid,” also signed on, but didn’t make it to the race because of a birth in the family.) Plans were going forward for a race in Utah, over the last weekend of May.

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Your reporter found himself choosing his own driving alias (“Bamm Bamm Rubble” seemed fitting) and shopping for proper racing gear. That safety equipment is also required for each driver, to strict specifications—but they even make that relatively cheap and easy, with good discounts offered to LeMons racers by the Pyrotect company.

Bad Grampa is an English expat living in San Francisco, and suggested the team name Bangers and Mash (English comfort food, sausages and mashed potatoes). I suggested the ‘n’, as in Bar ’n’ Grill or rock ’n’ roll, which seemed a suitably American corruption of British slang. We would certainly be driving a “banger,” but we hoped not to “mash” it.

At best, our car would not be fast enough to trouble the quicker racers, whether big American V8s or more refined European machines (made eligible because devalued by high mileage, though the officials were sometimes suspicious and deducted points for what they called the BSF, Bull Shit Factor). We hoped just to stay out of their way—and finish the race. That was another good reason for our choice of color—lemon yellow, naturally—for what motorcyclists call “conspicuity,” so the others would be sure to see us. On their way by . . .

During one test day, Clouseau pointed to his hoodie with the UC Santa Cruz logo, along with the humorous name of their sports teams: the Banana Slugs (named after a local slimy mollusk as attractive as it sounds). With a chuckle, he pointed over at our yellow Jensen-Healey and said, “Maybe that’s what we should call it—the Banana Slug!”

I laughed and said, “How about the Lemon Slug?”

Donor Car, February 7, 2014

photo by Clouseau

Clouseau put in many hours in his home garage, “Q’s Workshop,” stripping out the written-off donor car and installing the safety gear. I felt bad that Q’s Workshop was so far from my home—350 miles north to the Santa Cruz Mountains—and likewise fairly distant from the other team members. I know for sure we would all have liked to help out more with the build—would have enjoyed it, in fact. Future events in Utah would show that we could all handle wrenches and a little grease. Lucky for Clouseau, his wife, Marla, worked ten hours a day, four days a week, as a caregiver, including Sundays—so he could devote time to the car without too much domestic friction, or totally neglecting his paying business. Wrong Way was able to visit and help out some, including the stellar stencil job on “BANGERS N MASH.”

In the spirit of LeMons racing, hardware-store door hinges were crudely welded on, with linch-pin fasteners, as on the hood, while the bumpers were “fabricated” of simple steel bars. I was delighted to learn that the “headlights” are aluminum pie plates. (Our event in Utah would be two daytime races, about eight hours the first day and six the second—so only technically twenty-four hours.) A purple rear spoiler from another moribund Jensen-Healey was installed across the trunklid (for that “Go Faster” look), and the handmade plastic windscreen was another nice touch. We were able to schedule a few test days at California’s Thunderhill and Willow Springs racetracks, to sort out some of the bugs.

Clouseau, Testing Day, May 23

Here is a report I sent to Bad Grampa and Wrong Way, after Clouseau and I tested at Willow Springs:

Fellow team members --

It is my great pleasure to report that Ken and I had an absolutely awesome day at Willow Springs.

Our troubles were few, and our joys were many!

(Prescription for life, innit?)

This photo shows Ken about to set off on the first session, which went just fine. On the second session -- your reporter's first -- there was a problem with sudden power loss, and eventual stranding on the uphill Turn 4.

Turns out that when our fuel gauge shows 1/4 -- that's not enough for sharp uphill left-handers!

Lesson learned.

The only other problem we encountered all day was a bit of clutch slippage and grinding on upshifts, which Ken has diagnosed as a leaking transmission seal. And even that was not enough to slow us down. We took turns doing fairly lengthy sessions well into the afternoon, and as for this newby, I just loved the car.

It felt perfectly balanced dynamically, with the engine, brakes, and handling nicely synchronized. No surprises, no frights, no puckers.

I soon felt that I was getting the best out of it, and out of myself, and was turning consistent laps one after another.

We tried out all the safety gear, including the HANS hookup [Head And Neck restraint System], and everything seemed perfectly comfortable and effective.

For next weekend, Ken and I have defined our wish list as follows:

1) That every team member should have a stint behind the wheel.

2) That we should finish.

3) That we should PODIUM!

 

Because yeah -- we got it goin' on...

Bamm Bamm’s Testing Day

photo by Clouseau

On May 29, the day before Friday’s tech inspection and testing day, I drove 700 miles from Los Angeles to Tooele in my Aston Martin Vanquish—a polar opposite to the car we would be racing, and certainly one of today’s great Grand Tourers. (On a long journey like that, not so much for the performance or styling, but for the seats—after driving for ten hours, stopping only for gas, it is pretty amazing to climb out without a single ache or pain.) It was the best kind of journey, dynamically—it got better as the miles passed. Getting through Greater Los Angeles around four a.m., I welcomed a long, open stretch across the wide Mojave, through Vegas. (Saw a good bumper sticker on a big Suburban: “Honk if a Kid Fell Out.”) The spectacular Virgin River Gorge cut across the northwest corner of Arizona, carrying me up to the high plateau of Utah, rising to five and six thousand feet. The sage and juniper plains stretched far in every direction, with higher serrated mountains on each side, some still streaked with snow in the last days of May.

The final 130 miles or so were particularly enjoyable, on narrow two-lanes through a vast open country of sage and juniper, irrigated hayfields, pastures, arid sand dunes, and distant mountains. There was almost no traffic, and every approaching car or pickup was visible from a long distance. It felt . . . peaceful. I thought of the word “lonesome” as opposed to “lonely”—thinking it ought to mean something like solitude without regret. Merriam-Webster’s third definition offers that slant: “Not visited by or traveled on by many people.”

On that lonesome road, amid that liberating emptiness, I felt myself open outward, into a deeper engagement with the landscape. It was the opposite to my usual closed-in sensation, the defensive cocoon of driving on city streets and freeways. In recent years I always listen to music when I’m in traffic, inside that cocoon, but not when I’m driving in lonesome country—it seems music enough. I had missed that feeling since my motorcycle trip to Death Valley back in April.

Clouseau and Wrong Way faced a marathon drive of almost 800 miles in Clouseau’s big pickup, towing the long trailer containing the Lemon Slug and a massive box of tools. (Oh, would we need those tools!) From Q’s Workshop near Santa Cruz, they had to cross the width of California, over the Sierras and across the long, dark emptiness of Nevada and Utah. Bad Grampa flew in from San Francisco, and Craiggie (Official Team Photographer) from Burbank, making five of us. We all met at the Best Western in Tooele, a half hour west of Salt Lake City.

During the morning tech inspection, the scrutineers ruled that our low, homemade plastic windscreen gave insufficient protection against flying connecting rods and starter motors from other LeMons cars. They recommended we install some kind of mesh screening across the front uprights of the rollcage before the race, but said we could practice that day as it was.

Each of our drivers had a short session on the track—not wanting to wear out the car—taking ten laps or so to get a little familiarity with a layout none of us had driven before. Every roadracing circuit in the world has a unique design, with each turn a carefully (deviously) plotted mix of radius and banking. The East Course of Miller Motorsports Park was 2.2 miles long, with twelve turns—some with fun names like Satisfaction, Agony, Ecstasy, 1st Attitude, 2nd Attitude, and Bad Attitude. All of us liked the track, and the car was going well.

The only team member with any experience in actual racing was Clouseau, with a few seasons of vintage sports car races some years ago. The rest of us had done plenty of trackdays in our own cars, but that’s just you and your car against the track—not other cars and drivers. We nominated Clouseau to take the first shift, and I had long ago called dibs on last. I figured (hoped) things might have settled down by then.

“Mormon Meteor”

photo by Craig M. Renwick

A stroll around the paddock was enough to make anyone smile—the sheer variety of bizarre cars and liveries. An old Toyota had been covered with crude “streamlined” bodywork, including a huge vertical wing, as a tribute to a Duesenberg that had competed for the Land Speed Record on the nearby Bonneville Salt Flats in the 1930s. Its driver was a local man, Ab Jenkins, and the car became known as the “Mormon Meteor.” A flat black Camaro sported red-gelled headlights, a pair of crude red horns on the roof, a scary plastic baby on the side, and the number 666. A minivan was an “art installation,” its sides painted with a van Gogh/Edvard Munch mashup (“Starry Night” and “The Scream”), and on the back was lettered, “Need Monet to buy Degas to make the van Gogh.” (The severed-ear hood ornament was also a nice touch.) A rust-brown 1950 Dodge pickup was running its original flathead six engine—which hadn’t turned over for at least twenty years.

One team’s name was “Preposterone Racing,” and another was the “Bucket List Brigade.” An old American car was painted in Kentucky Fried Chicken logos, and their crew attended the drivers’ meeting costumed like Colonel Sanders. One team was dressed in white shirts and narrow ties—Mormon missionaries—and another team in Village People costumes.

Our team was not quite so . . . flamboyant, but we did wear matching lemon-yellow shirts with the Jensen-Healey logo, the Bangers ’n’ Mash name (alternate spelling), and our driving nicknames. (Those were Bad Grampa’s present to the team. Bamm Bamm brought whisky.)

Later in the afternoon, Craiggie drove into town in his rental car with Wrong Way and me to find a hardware store—in search of wire mesh and hose clamps. We came upon the most amazing place, a gigantic “big box store” called C.A.L. Ranch. Their business description is “Farm & Ranch supplies, Housewares, Pets, Horse tack, Guns, Hunting, Fishing, Camping, Gardening, Automotive, Western & Work Clothing, Boots & Footwear, Toys, and Accessories.” I am sure you could build a self-sufficient homestead just out of that store’s merchandise—they even had baby chickens! (Craiggie raises a few chickens at his South Pasadena home, and I had to pull him away from that section.)

My father was a farm equipment dealer all through my childhood, and I had worked part-time for him through school, as well as becoming parts manager when my musical career was stalled—just before I joined Rush. So I was very comfortable in that environment, and fascinated by it. I said to Craiggie and Wrong Way, “I could spend the whole day in a place like this,” then pointed at an overhead sign reading “Farm Toys.” I grew up playing with toy tractors and implements, and still love all things miniature. I told them, “Better keep me away from that section!” The interior space was vast and eye-straining—trying to take it in bombarded your brain with the shapes and textures of an intricate infinity of “useful stuff.” I asked one of the employees, a friendly, helpful guy named Earl, if they might have any “rat wire,” which one of the tech guys had recommended. It’s a strong, tight mesh typically used to keep rats out of a chicken house, for example. Earl had never heard of that, perhaps because there was no chicken farming (though why the baby chicks for sale?)—or maybe no rats—in that region. I fear I confused him even more when I tried to describe what we wanted it for—“It’s for a race-car windshield.”

After a pause, Earl said, “I thought I was catching on—until you started talking about a race-car windshield!” I laughed and said, “Right, sorry—I was hoping it might help if you understood what we were trying to ‘invent.’” Earl led us back behind the store to a selection of various wire meshes in large reels. He unrolled them for our inspection, and we chose the one we thought would serve to keep connecting rods and starter motors out of our faceshields. Then I asked Earl about two-inch hose clamps, and we marched off in search of them. Hardware in hand, we drove back to the track. Bad Grampa and Clouseau directed the fabrication of a crude screen around the front of the roll cage, and to our relief, it received the inspectors’ seal of approval, to their highest standard: “Good Enough.” (Surely the basic spirit of LeMons racing.)

photo by Craig M. Renwick

The morning of race day I was surprised to feel quite nervous and apprehensive—worrying about the car, about Clouseau starting amid that pack of maniacs (“the thick scrum of crapcans”), and about my own first foray into racing against other cars, other drivers. During practice we had witnessed some mighty spins, cars slewing off the track in clouds of dust, or rotating in place with screeching tires and clouds of acrid smoke. Even watching the different drivers angling through the turns showed that some didn’t have much idea of “the racing line” (the quickest way around a given corner). I was well aware that in the testosterone fever of racing, somebody near me might make a mistake—and so might I. In my secular version of prayer, I hoped nothing like that would happen—and if it did, it wouldn’t be my fault.

The race’s start wasn’t the howling chaos we feared. All of the cars were let out onto the track under a full-course yellow (usually a “caution” flag, meaning no passing), forming a low-speed parade while the officials checked that all the transponders (electronic boxes on each car that triggered lap counters) were working. Then the green flag waved, and each car roared and sped away—as well as it was able.

photo by Craig M. Renwick

All went well with Clouseau’s first forty-five minutes, running as high as third in our class—until he came in for a comically botched pitstop. In the so-called “hot pits,” the rest of us had to wear our full safety gear as we tried to get the car refueled from a tip-up fuel container with a leaky spout, and help get Bad Grampa’s safety belts connected and adjusted for him—five of them, plus “arm restraints,” like manacles, to keep his arms inside the car in case of an “inversion” (yikes!), and the yoke around his neck with two straps for the HANS helmet restraint. That took a while, and we could see it was going to be like that every time. Plus we weren’t allowed to touch the car otherwise—no checking the wheel nuts or oil level—so for the next driver change, Clouseau suggested that Bad Grampa just bring the car back to the paddock, where we could take our time. We were not going to win this race on quick pitstops.

Bamm Bamm and Clouseau on the run

photo by Craig M. Renwick

Bad Grampa’s shift was steady and uneventful, and forty-five minutes later he came in to hand over to Wrong Way. I would be next, so my butterflies were . . . active. Clouseau, Bad Grampa, and Bamm Bamm stood above the front straight watching as much of the track as we could see, and on one lap, as our car passed below and slowed for Turn One, we heard a clattering sound—like ball bearings rattling in a tin can. Clouseau’s fine-tuned professional ear told him it was bad. He shook his head and said, “I don’t like the sound of that.”

A few seconds and a couple of corners later, far across the infield, we saw our little yellow car slow and pull off the track, dust trailing behind. Clouseau seemed to know already what had happened—he shook his head again, and said, “The motor’s blown.”­ When Wrong Way was towed in, he reported that it had started to lose power, then he heard a big bang and it died.

We lifted off the hood, and it didn’t take long to spot two ragged holes in the cast alloy of the engine block, one on each side. No theory about that big bang—you could see daylight through it, as well as the remains of a connecting rod that had failed and flown apart like shrapnel. (One word for that kind of catastrophic engine failure is “grenading.”) No question our race was done.

Grenade and Shrapnel

photo by Craig M. Renwick

Clouseau went to the tech office, just as a formality, and came back with a grin and said, “They won’t let us quit!” The needed part was a Lotus 907 “short block,” and initial searches turned up one in Ohio (for an outrageous $1500—well outside a LeMons budget) and one in Phoenix, with no price listed. In either case, both were too far away to be helpful. However, a local track worker said that the father of one of the security guys had a Jensen-Healey in a rented garage right at the track, with a spare engine under his workbench. None of us got too excited, feeling that such a miracle was just too impossible. That engine would be a rare bird anywhere—the all-alloy Lotus 907 of the ’70s was the first series-produced four-valve twin-cam engine, and was fitted only to Jensen-Healeys and a few Lotus models of the era—forty years ago. Even then, it’s a safe bet that vanishingly few examples of either car ever plied the roads of rural Utah.

We adjourned to the trackside diner and had burgers and hotdogs, while we “awaited developments.” Clouseau’s cellphone rang, and he was told that a security guard would meet us at a certain garage to let us in to look at an engine. The owner’s son said we could work out a price for it later, but it wouldn’t be more than a few hundred dollars. Everybody piled into Clouseau’s big pickup and we headed off—Bamm Bamm excited to hop in the back. That was another flashback to the farm-equipment childhood, as my brother and sister and I used to ride everywhere in the back of Dad’s International Harvester pickup.

Bamm Bamm Rides in Style

photo by Craig M. Renwick

Clouseau drove slowly through the many rows of garages beside the various racetracks. (True to its name as Miller Motorsports Park, the massive facility includes several paved track configurations for cars and motorcycles, plus separate layouts for dirtbikes and karts. It is a fantastic place, in the true meaning of the word, and was first conceived as the personal whim of the late Larry Miller, a fabulously successful local businessman—numerous car dealerships, sports teams, and telecommunications.)

A uniformed security guard on a golfcart met us at one of the units, and we walked inside past a nice-looking dark red Jensen-Healey and a couple of other cars, straight to a dusty metallic lump sitting on the floor under a workbench. Clouseau grabbed the crank pulley and gave it a twist, then reported, “Well, it turns over.”

photo by Craig M. Renwick

Without further discussion, we muscled the heavy block onto Clouseau’s floor jack and wheeled it outside to the truck. Four of us hoisted it into the bed, and we climbed aboard again and headed back to the pits. Clouseau said the next thing we would need to search out was a so-called “cherry picker”—engine hoist—to lift the old engine out and lower the new one in. As we passed the trackside fuel pumps, a pickup with a trailer was parked there, and strapped onto the trailer was exactly that device. The Angels of LeMons were certainly smiling on us, and in the spirit of LeMons, the owner was happy to let us use it. As we started working on the car, members from other teams came by to wish us well, and to offer any help or tools we might need.

Bad Grampa, Wrong Way
Bamm Bamm, Clouseau

photo by Craig M. Renwick

(A note about the flags on the side. Bad Grampa is actually the only Brit, and was the member in charge of the flag stickers. Somehow he came up with one Maple Leaf, four Union Jacks, and no Stars ’n’ Stripes. One suspects a certain passive-aggressive resentment still smoulders against those rebellious Yanks.)

Without getting into the painful details, there were a lot of little jobs to be done in disconnecting one engine, removing it, and installing and connecting another. Clouseau was the only proper mechanic among us, though Bad Grampa was quite “useful.” Wrong Way and I plied our wrenches willingly, but less skillfully, so naturally Clouseau gave us the worst jobs!

Of necessity, in my MG days I used to do a lot of mechanical work on my cars, but I was never “adept” at it. It had been a long time since I had done anything more mechanical than change the oil in my motorcycles, and it felt good to pitch in, wielding this wrench and that wrench, under the car and over it, soon covered in grease up to my elbows. I was put to work under the car, raised on axle stands, to disconnect a few cables and hoses, the universal-joint bolts from the steering gear, then the all-but-inaccessible nuts from the exhaust manifold. Then I was assigned to remove a couple of needed manifold studs from our engine, and with instructions from Clouseau, managed to get it done. That was pleasing.

photo by Craig M. Renwick

Even Craiggie lent a hand with a few jobs—holding a wrench or finding the needed socket. Later in the afternoon Clouseau dictated a list to me, and Craiggie and I drove into town in search of ten quarts of racing oil, a can of parts cleaner, a tub of grease remover (for our hands), Marlboro 127s and Rockstar energy drinks for Clouseau, and smoked almonds for Bad Grampa. (We had already brought a case of water for everyone, and some Coke Zero for Wrong Way.) We also stopped at the motel and picked up my bottle of single-malt whisky, for “later” (no knowing when that would be), for everyone except Clouseau. (“I’m allergic to alcohol—it makes me break out in handcuffs!”)

While we worked, the first day’s race continued behind us, of course, and ended at 6:00 p.m. Darkness fell, and we were still working. (With one worklight and a flashlight among us—Craiggie proved particularly adept at focusing the flashlight on the needed task, while the worklight illuminated the underside, where Wrong Way struggled with the manifold nuts that had so frustrated Bamm Bamm during the disassembly.)

After many hours had passed, I suggested we ought to change our name to Bangers ’n’ Masochists. Poor over-stressed Clouseau descended into flights of profanity, as he wrestled with stubborn parts and fasteners, and Bad Grampa suggested we change our name to the Tourette’s Racing Team.

photo by Craig M. Renwick

At some point during that marathon operation I was lying under the car trying to loosen or tighten something, and I looked up and saw a guy and his son walking through the paddock—the dad wearing a Rush T-shirt. I smiled to myself and thought, “If you only knew!”

All around us most of the other racers were camping in RVs and tents, barbecuing, drinking, and having a fine time, while we labored on. It was after 10:00 when Clouseau finally coaxed the new engine into life with a roar, and an even louder cheer went up around the paddock. Everyone was on our side.

After a late (and painfully slow) dinner at Denny’s, the team drove back to the motel for a few hours’ rest. We met early the following morning and headed back to the track. Clouseau tuned up the engine as best he could, and installed his “mascot,” the gopher from Caddyshack, to look over our shoulders during that final attempt to finish the race.

Bamm Bamm Belted In

photo by Craig M. Renwick

That morning I felt amazingly nerve-free, after all we had faced up to already. I put on all my gear and slid between the rollbars and into the driver’s seat. Clouseau helped me buckle all of the belts and safety harnesses, and I lined up in the paddock with the rest of the “LeMonsters.” One by one we were waved onto the track, and circulated under the double yellow until everybody’s lap-counting transponders had been verified. The green flag waved, and we were off—each according to his or her (there were a couple of females) abilities. I just tried to stay smooth, consistent, and out of trouble. On the short straightaways I would glance at the oil pressure, water temperature, and fuel gauges, and everything seemed healthy.

We were not the fastest car, not by a long shot, so I had to get used to people passing me, sometimes on both sides. The only nervous part was when some maniac dove through a turn on the inside, with tires squealing, and I could only think, “Please don’t lose it and take me out too!”

On one corner a car ahead of me lost control and spun in a complete pirouette. I was pleased to feel my “motorcycle reflexes” kick in—time slowing as I kept the car in “stable” mode, while pondering different choices I could make to avoid the spinning car. I was ready to do what I could, but this might be something I couldn’t do anything about. Thankfully the car spun away and off the track instead of into me.

Eventually I started catching up to a few slower cars, and was faced with another daunting challenge. “Oh no—now I’ve got to pass somebody!” That thought made me laugh out loud in my helmet, even in that tense state. I managed to make some “clean passes,” and stayed out for about an hour, maybe twenty-five laps, and things were looking pretty good for us. Our first goal had been achieved now, each driver having a stint at the wheel, and we dared to hope we might even achieve our second goal: “Finish.”

Bamm Bamm on Track

photo by Craig M. Renwick

Of course the replacement engine was a completely unknown quantity—a forty-year-old block that had lived under some guy’s workbench for who knows how long. (Later we learned he didn’t even remember where he got it, or when.) Alas, as the hours wore on, it too began to “go south.” Bad Grampa and Wrong Way took their shifts, and reported that the engine was losing power steadily. We hoped to save the last shift for Clouseau, so I went out again, and it started misfiring so much that the car slowed down dangerously—cars roaring up from behind and dodging around me. I pulled off the track and waited for the emergency vehicle to tow me back to the pits. (They knew our car pretty well by then, and where our pit was, but the men and women were wonderfully supportive, praising our efforts the previous day in making that engine swap.)

We lifted off the hood and Clouseau fussed with this and that. He reported that we were struggling on three cylinders, sometimes two and a half. He thought maybe it was a valve problem. I took the car out again, and it was a little better, but still very slow. I had to drive with my eyes on the mirrors at all times, as everybody passed me—everybody except the ’50 Dodge pickup. I felt a grim satisfaction in laboring past it on the front straight.

photo by Craig M. Renwick

After me, Wrong Way and Bad Grampa took their shifts, and those of us looking on could see the car was getting more gutless, and lap times continued to rise. Clouseau looked at me with a tight smile and said, “Lemon Slug.” Still, we kept it going until almost the end of that day’s six hours of racing. With only fifteen minutes remaining, Bad Grampa followed our previously discussed plan—he came in and handed the car over to team leader Clouseau, to bring it home. But sadly, after two more laps, he coasted to the side of the track. One last time the emergency vehicle towed the Lemon Slug to our pits.

Still, we were all very pleased with what we had accomplished. Bad Grampa certainly spoke for Wrong Way and me when he remarked that it was pretty amazing that none of our work had been the cause of any trouble.

Clouseau, Bad Grampa, Bamm Bamm, Wrong Way

photo by Craig M. Renwick

At the awards ceremony, we even received a trophy—for both “Most Improbable Entry” and a Mormon-themed category called “Miracle of the Gulls.” (Apparently in the pioneer days there was a plague of locusts, but the crops were saved when gulls came and ate them. Because God.)

Certainly it had been some kind of miracle for us to have found that Lotus 907 short block in Tooele, Utah. The odds were. . . beyond astronomical, even beyond theological. So I guess we can only call it a phenomenal coincidence.

The four of us were already discussing what a fantastic experience it had been, despite—and because of—our challenges. We immediately began planning another assault on the “24 Hours of LeMons,” at Thunderhill Raceway in Northern California, in September.

The LeMons organizers had dubbed the Utah race—their first visit to Miller Motorsports Park—“Return of the Lemonites.” The artwork on our souvenir patches featured a covered wagon (with LeMons logo) pulled by a pair of oxen, representing the Mormon trek. Our team had a suggestion for the name of the Thunderhill race: “Return of the LeMon Slug.”

Because this time, we are serious.

(Well, not totally.)

“Miracle of the Gulls” Trophy

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