The following is part two in a series of three guest posts by John Watts about his team’s Lemons racing experience, and the genre of “crapcan” racing. See “So These Guys Find A Bucket of Lemons” for Part 1. In John’s words…
The idea to enter a 24 Hours of Lemons race was first raised in January 2011 on the F1 Meetup page. There was a race at Summit Point in June, so we decided to aim for that.
At that point we really didn’t know each other and had virtually no experience in racing. We decided to buy a previously raced car to make it easier, and found a Suzuki X-90 with a 1.8 liter Mazda Miata engine for sale.
The car had raced in several guises, including one as pop-up camper. When we got it, it had a blown head gasket from the last race, but had a roll cage, race seat and other safety equipment. As we started taking the engine apart, we realized it was in bad shape and decided to buy another one from a junk yard.
To understand just how amateur we were at this point, consider that the first couple of weekends we struggled to figure out how to remove the engine and replace the water pump. But we eventually managed to revamp the whole car, upgrade the brakes and suspension, clean up and repaint it, and somehow managed to turn up at Summit Point in June ready to race.
Or so we thought. Unfortunately, we hadn’t paid enough attention to rule changes, and the car no longer passed tech inspection (the one thing Lemons takes very seriously). We needed to refit the rear stays of the roll cage and install a proper fuel cell. The team worked tirelessly to get the car fixed, but were stumped by the fuel pump not working. The car never started the race.
We next entered a race at New Jersey Motorsports Park (NJMP) in August, and rushed to get the car fixed in time. It was such a rush that we spent Friday practice reinforcing the fuel cell supports. But we passed tech inspection and started the race.
Unfortunately, in our haste we did not get a chance to clean the car properly and wrap the exhaust headers as we had wanted. This proved disastrous as the water hose got too close to it and melted, promptly overheating the engine within the first few laps.
We spent the rest of the race weekend trying to fix the engine, and ended up leaving the track with an empty engine bay and the engine in pieces. One of our team members wrote a great summary of the experience.
After that we decided to slow down and prepare the car properly. We rebuilt the engine from the block up, cleaned the engine bay and built a new support for the fuel cell. This approach worked well, as we got to the track early for the next race and were able to take part in Friday practice.
During practice we blew the transmission – the only part of the car we hadn’t yet refurbished – but had enough time to find another. We worked late on Friday but saw the green flag on Saturday morning.
By Sunday afternoon, the car had completed 296 laps over 12 hours, run 666 miles (over 1,000 km) and we ended up 62nd out of more than 150 cars. It took us longer than we intended to get there, but the reward was worth the effort 10 times over.
Stay tuned for Part 3 next week.
All photos courtesy of John Watts & team