Lemons is all about finding a sweet junker, and making it race-able. And keeping it running for a whole weekend wheel-to-wheel racing with a bunch of other junkers, and not crashing. Right?
I wake up from a refreshing slumber in the back of a German sedan thrumming down the NJ Turnpike towards Millville, NJ, with Aaron Brown at the helm. It's race day, and I'm on my way down to NJMP to try and snag a stint in someone else's craptastic race car. To be more specific, my main motivation for making the race is the stripped and caged '92 Ford Taurus SHO, which I'd been offered a seat in.
We arrive at the track after the green flag had already dropped for the day. Sweet. We had to lap the paddock a few times to find our (I use the words "our" and "my" quite liberally) team's spot. The car was on track when I arrived, so I grabbed my helmet, Nomex things, and headed over to get my gear tech'd. In my haste to get out the door that morning, I'd apparently grabbed a motorcycle helmet which is not fire-proof; Lemons requires a fireproof helmet, y'know, so your head doesn't catch on fire. Strike one. The team owner luckily had an extra DOT helmet for me to borrow which was extra convenient because I didn't have HANS brackets on my helmet either. Strike two.
The guy checking my gear was in a particularly foul mood after being called a "rookie" by a recently penalized racer, so he was none-to-happy to have me pestering him with a gear check halfway through the day. He lifted my Nomex pant-leg and asked if my socks were Nomex too...shit. Strike three, I probably should have just left at this point. Again, the ever-patient and generous team-owner provided me a pair of quite worn and stinky fire-proof socks. Perfect, ready to race!
Just as I finished getting torn apart/put back together by the race stewards, my team's car was coming off track for a driver change. The car needed gas and since I was already suited up (as per Lemons fueling rules) I held the fire-extinguisher at the ready as another teammate dumped a few gallons into the fuel cell. Fueling done, I was pointed towards the drivers seat and started strapping in. As I tightened my belts, the driver who'd just been out leaned into the cockpit to offer some advice; "So uhhh...there's something weird going on with the steering, it kinda get's caught under-load with around 10 degrees of angle to the left, aaaand the brakes are almost cooked, aand the clutch is starting to slip so be really gentle on upshifts, and even more gentle on downshifts. Basically just don't race anyone." Right. Don't race. Got it.
I barely had time to adjust my mirrors as I threaded my way through the paddock and towards pit-lane. Down pit lane and all of a sudden I'm entering NJMP's Thunderbolt track to a field of well over 100 Lemons. My first few laps were pretty timid, getting used to the car and feeling out it's limits. Driving a car for the first time on track in a race-setting is not the best way to "feel-out" a car. In fact it's probably the worst way.
The FWD Ford was grippier than I expected so I started leaning on it more and more through the corners, halfway through turn 5, with steering angle roughly 10 degrees to the left under load and cars on both my left and right, the steering locked. Shit, this is what he meant. Quick thinking required, I did the only thing I could do, yank the wheel in one direction and hope that I don't hit anyone. I chose to yank further towards the left and the steering rack freed itself; to my great relief I only ended up an inch away from the car on the inside instead of punting him off track. Whew. Keep racing, er, not racing.
I lost track of how many laps I had done, and I was getting the hang of the SHO. Understeer was surprisingly light, and other than the sketchy 10 degree hiccup, the steering was very communicative. I was shifting slower and more gently than I ever had in CCC's '69 Jaguar E-Type, which lacked synchromesh and quite often required a double press on the clutch to engage a gear. I found myself chasing a Volvo 740 with some kind of tail swinging around through turns 13 and 14 onto the straight. The SHO has a power advantage over most of the field, which led to me delightfully passing the Volvo and an Integra on the front straight. In my (over)exuberance to utilize the single well-working bit of the SHO, I completely missed the breaking point for turn 1. Stab for the brakes...pedal goes straight to the floor. FUCK.
So I'm barreling towards some sand and a wall at +/- 100mph in a car with very little brake-pad left, let alone pressure. I glanced at my mirror to be sure I wasn't about to smash into one of the folks I had just so gleefully passed, and chucked the SHO towards the inside of turn 1, hopped the inside curb, got a bit of air, and came back onto the track in just about the right position to enter turn 2, albeit 15 mph slower than the cars I'd just passed. I started chanting a mantra in my helmet: Stop. Racing. Stop. Racing.
And I raced on. Tip-toeing the SHO around Thunderbolt for a lap, I regained a small amount of braking power. I passed a few cars, and definitely didn't battle a white mid-90s Mustang for a few laps, and got passed a lot, but overall I had a hell of a good time. I brought the car back to the paddock in roughly the same condition it had left in, albeit with a bit less rubber and brake pad, and a bit more excrement in the drivers seat (sorry Keith).
Take this as a guide on How Not To Participate In The Lemons 24. I arrived like a Ferrari Challenge driver (late), and left like much more like a Lemons driver (dirty, sweaty, and a little drunk) after helping the team clean their area and pack their trailer. Don't do Lemons like I did; find a car, turn some wrenches, and enjoy the gratification that comes with campaigning a race car that you've built.