2008-07-27

24 Hours of LeMons South


First and foremost, behold the "People's Curse" ceremony on the left. That was one of the main attractions of the event. For full (poor-quality) photo coverage of the crushing and the rest of the race see my LeMons set on Flickr.

Now that I've got the excitement over watching a car squashed by heavy machinery out of my system, let me report in somewhat chronological order.

So I got to the event around eleven-thirty on Saturday, having driven about 3.5 hours to get there. The race start was scheduled for noon, and I caught the last few minutes of the drivers' meeting and even had a bit of time to say Hi to everyone on the team I was rooting for (all of them members of THSCC) and take a few shots as they were getting ready for the start.

Now for those of you unaware of what exactly the "24 hours of LeMons" race is about, here's a short summary: It is an endurance race, in which only cars that were bought and prepped for 500 USD or less can participate. If you are into details, read the rules.

The car Dorifto Dogs (who I will also refer to as "us" or "our team" from this point) were using was a 1986 BMW M3 e30, and in full accordance with the "dog" theme, they called the car "Dieter."

Here you can see Dieter being rolled backwards, but for reasons other than lack of reverse gear. You see, Dieter is not a real race car, so of course he has a functional reverse. But somehow, it seemed to be easier (and more suited for the race environment) for five guys to roll the car back than for one to find the reverse...

The event started with a "parade" of three or so laps, also known as transponder check. Each car was equipped with a transponder unit to count the laps it completed. Spectators and crews lining the fence cheered on their drivers as they passed the pit/tech area, and then the officials threw the green flag and the race began.

Within ten laps of the race start the first car broke down. You can see it being removed from the track below.

Many more cars would follow its fate.

At various times, I saw whole cars and also car parts (e.g. a driveshaft) removed from the course.

The race was not particularly fast, with top speeds reaching 70 miles per hour (112.6 kmh), and dropping to below 30 mph sometimes in the tight slow spots.

Besides being a 22 year-old car with a hideous paint job and a fake bone glued to its front bumper, Dieter did not have any major issues and survived the entire race without a single breakdown.

Our team had six drivers who were changing every 45 minutes.

Race officials were watching over the race to make sure everyone was playing by the rules. I thought it was funny that in a jalopy race metal-to-metal contact, as well as overly aggressive driving, hitting of the barriers, spinning and such were strongly discouraged. For teams and drivers who consistently broke the rules, there were a number of penalties ranging in severity: from mandatory pitting, addition of a "Grille of Damocles" to the front of the car for aggressive driving (the grille would have inward-turned spikes aimed at the radiator, which would destroy it if the driver were to push someone again), and even tarring and feathering of the offending driver.

Here you see one of the race officials getting ready to weld something humiliating (I did not catch what it was and for what offence exactly) to the hood of a car.

I also saw some feathers scattered on the lawn as I stopped by to check out the standings at some point.

Good thing our team did not do anything requiring such drastic measures!

That doesn't mean that they were behaving though--as a matter of fact, they got four black flags (penalties) by the end of the first day, leaving them pretty much at the mercy of Jay the chief LeMons race guy, to kick them out for good or let them continue.

I was there as about forty minutes before the end of day one Dieter bumped into a tire wall, getting smeared with mustard from the impact. They had mustard- and ketchup-filled pantyhose in all the tire walls, so that it would be apparent if a car came into contact with it. The race has a four-strikes-and-out rule, and we already had three black flags on our collective conscious, so the situation was grave.

We all ran to the tech area where they had the car pull in, and waited for Jay to come tell us the verdict. We must have all looked sufficiently crushed and humbled that he generously allowed us to continue. On the condition that he doesn't see any of us getting black-flagged again. Tomorrow.

That's right, tomorrow.

We were grounded for the rest of the day, as the competition was busy lapping the course while we followed the car to our pit spot.

The second day started somewhat somber, with everyone expecting a black flag to end the great adventure any minute.

Admittedly, I did not show until shortly before noon, but that's what all the team mates were saying. But apparently Jay's dressing-down of our team worked, and hours went by without incident.

I got to the pits just minutes before the "People's Curse" ceremony, and was glad to hear we were still in the race!

Now, about the "People's Curse."

Quote from the official LeMons page:

Halfway through the race one entry will be chosen by popular ballot for immediate crushing. Could be yours. Heck, it probably WILL be yours. Be prepared.

Each team gets one ballot to vote for the "curse." This time, the team "Salad Bar" was overwhelmingly selected to be crushed. That's where the title picture came from. More "curse" pictures of ever-diminishing quality can be found on Flickr. The fogging in the shots comes from the unfortunate fact that the camera was taken from the air-conditioned hotel room, in an air-conditioned car, right to the crushing ceremony in the hot and muggy South Carolina noon, causing the inside of the lens to fog up. As you see in later pictures, it all cleared up eventually, but the most exciting pictures are pretty much awful. Sorry.

The rest of the day went well, without any new penalties, and with the team consistently improving its position in the race standings.

Our team did not win any trophies, but the fact that the team did not get banned and the car survived the entire race and was still in driveable shape was reward enough--for me, the loyal fan, at least.

I picked a different route back home which proved to be more scenic and a whole 40 minutes faster than the way there, as selected by my nav, which was just as well after a day baking in the hot sun.