Lemons Chuckwalla Post Race Wrap-up – We Get Screwed

In short we were having the best race of our careers, blew the motor Sunday morning, did a 4 hour engine swap, only to be done in by bad freeze-out plugs in the back up motor.

Friday we rolled out of Van Nuys later than expected, and had some traffic and some tow vehicle trouble on the way to the middle of nowhere – Desert Center, CA. We rolled into the track at 5 of tech closing. I ran to Jay & Phil, and they just said to relax and drag it in Saturday morning. So we relaxed in our luck of the draw pit spot between Lemons legend Spank and with fleet of misfit toys, Alan and his 1960 Humber Super Snipe, The Ace Rothstein Special Cadilac FWD Eldorado Biaritz, and Matt Farah from TheSmokingTire.com. The truck was unloaded and the beers were cracked in record time.

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A few words about Chuckwalla, it is 5 miles from the nearest freeway offramp, it is 20 miles form the nearest functional gas station, and it is 50 miles in any direction from the nearest hotel, groceries, or fast food, and yet they have a smallest paved paddock space of any track I have visited. Plus, even though they are several miles from the nearest house/trailer they still lock the entry gates at 9pm, and no one is allowed in or out. Hopefully in the next few years they will visit some other tracks and learn how things are usually run. Also, hopefully they will build another 3 toilets.

We breezed thru tech and BS the way we typically do, and were ready to go when the green flag flew at 10am. The car was running fine, the handling was even better than last time and we were all set to grind out laps for the next 2 days. Then Ian the new guy spun the car off the track on his 5th lap. No black flag was ever waved at us that we could see, so we told him to stay out. 2 laps later he over cooked a corner and went 4 wheels off. He was black flagged this time and forced to come in and have a few words with Phil. This screwed with our pit strategy because we didn’t have a driver ready to take Ian’s place. Jeff is a pro though (really, you may have seen him recently on Spike TV’s GT Academy), and he was suited up and in the car in just a few minutes. At this point I believe we were about 4th in class C (The Ugly), and a little pissed about our strategy being out the window.

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But we persevered, and our lap times were right there with the rest of the top 5 cars in our class. Toward the end of the day we were 3rd in class behind 2 Porsche 914s. Then one of them stopped for some reason, and we took 2nd. We were cautiously optimistic at this point, because our lap times were equal to the car ahead of us, but we were a lap down on them. Then, with no warning the lead car in our class ran out of fuel ON TRACK! by the time they got pulled in by the tow truck they were 5 laps behind us. To quote Murilee Martin from Car & Driver Magazine “On Saturday, the Billy Beer Malaise Forever 1979 Ford Fairmont Futura led Class C by a seemingly insurmountable margin, 200-cubic-inch inline-six engine and all…” and “The struggle for the Index of Effluency, the top prize of LeMons racing, remains difficult to call. With a good dozen teams in the running for the IOE this time and quite a few of them making strong cases for the award, there‚Äôs no telling how things will sort out tomorrow. All we can say is that a race with a Humber Super Snipe wagon versus a Cadillac Eldorado Biarritz versus a Subaru BRAT versus a six-banger Ford Fairmont is a good race!” So looks like we were leading our class, plus in the running for the top subjective/big money prize, the IoE. And with that Saturday was over and the party began.

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First was a 50 mile round trip to fill up with fuel for Sunday. Then there was much beer, whiskey, smoked sausage, cupcakes, punk band “The Mice” live in the pits, drunken Honda scooter riding, and finally another round of smoked sausage, this time wrapped in bacon. With all this we still were in bed by 10pm, since it was pitch black out there by 5:30pm.

Sunday we were in a bit of a panic because while rotating the tire we realized one of our fronts was nearly to the cords. The only replacements we had needed to be mounted, which required a machine. We scrambled in various directions, finally finding a tired shop at the front gate of the track (more than a mile from the pits). I believe we paid $50 to get 2 tires mounted. But we made the green flag, so it was worth it.

Then it all went so wrong, on lap 2 of green flag racing we heard over the radio that the car was dead. Lost the motor in a cloud of smoke.

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There was a spare in the back of the truck (of unknown provenance) so we borrowed a hoist, rallied the troops and did this:

4 hours later, we were running again and rolling back onto the track. 2 laps later it was back on the end of the hook overheating. We determined that the freeze out plugs were very badly rusted and water was just pouring out. So we pulled the old ones out of the blown motor, poured in a bottle of stop leak and sent it back out. 2 laps later it was back, under its own power, but still running hot. While trying to fill it up one last time a 1″ freeze out plug just popped like a champagne cork. So we shut it down and called it a day.

It was all worth it in the end though, because Jay, Nick and Phil (and whoever decides this stuff) awarded us the “I Got Screwed” award in the grand post race gala.

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Later we reviewed the in car GoPro footage and it showed us all wee needed to know about why the motor blew

If you look closely, and listen, you see that the 3 speed auto tranny was actually in 2nd gear the whole time, and not drive. You can barely see the needle on the tachometer, to the right of the steering wheel. Flat, pointing toward “3 o’clock” is about 7250rpm. When it finally let go it was turning about 8000rpm! Not bad for a 200 cubit inch Ford straight six with a restrictive log intake manifold design in the 1950s.