LeMons Reno. We are the Champions, my friend, doot doot dooo

Honestly, this is almost 2000 words, so highlight here: we came, we dressed like Elvis, we got lucky and we won the whole damn thing  for the short version.

Or, if you are a sadist, here’s the long version:

Slot machines are annoying.  They make tons of noise, they are seemingly everywhere in Nevada and they rely solely on luck to win.  A more skilled gambler will play games like craps or blackjack.  These games rely on the skill of the player, but there is also a certain amount of luck that is required to win.

As we pulled through the gates of Reno Fernley Raceway, we knew that we had many of the advantages that made Eyesore Racing a favorite to win this leg of the 24 Hours of LeMons.  We had an experienced team with top notch drivers.  We had worked out a pit strategy that was both fast and effective that other teams had begun to videotape and study. The car was highly engineered and track tested.  We had a velvet Elvis painting screwed to the trunk lid. Despite these advantages, we knew we would need a certain amount of luck to pull out a win in our sixth race.

At the end of the race, we would realize just how lucky we had been.

Friday
We weren’t going to be able to race.  Our tech inspection had not gone as planned and our seat harness was a 2-inch Hans Device ONLY set rather than the 3-inch straps that were required.  Despite having run the last two races with this harness, the tech staff was not budging. 

Luck: A Summit outlet store was 30 minutes away.  They had what we needed in stock and Coleman was sent to go pick up the new safety equipment.

While he was gone, the team was asked by the organizer if we would take part in a small concourse of LeMons cars to promote the event to the locals attending a circle track event.  In exchange for taking the car over, we would get a “Get Out of Jail Free” card good for one black flag dismissal.  Since we were waiting on the new straps anyway, we accepted and all strolled over in our Elvis regalia to meet the folks and talk up the event.  We posed for pictures, answered questions, avoided drunk guys and generally did some good PR for our beloved series.

Once Coleman got back, we installed the new harness straps and went back to Reno around 11 p.m. to get some rest. 

Saturday
The car was fueled, tight and ready to go.  We were all anxious to get out onto this beautiful track.  The course workers were excited to have us there and we had a great pit position.  124 of the 127 registered cars (3 wouldn’t start) began to circle the 2.8 mile track in preparation for the green flag. 

As the course went green, Salty began to dominate, pushing the little Ghetto-charged Miata past slower cars and drivers.  By the end of her stint, we would be in first place.I was up.  Ready to drive for my 2.5 hours.  I simply didn’t want to get black-flagged.  I also didn’t want to suck.  Unfortunately, I would find myself doing both within three laps.

That damn Shark BMW kept bearing down on me, getting into my head.  I was learning the track and knew that I could pull away going up the hill out of turn 5.  I thought I could late brake the apex and dart up the hill in 2nd gear.  I was too late with the braking and understeered right off the course, taking all four wheels into the dirt before correcting and throwing it back onto the pavement. 

AAAANNNNNDDDDD… There’s the black flag. 

Luck: Jay Lamm was standing in the penalty box as I pulled in.  Coleman came sprinting up to the car yelling, “Get out of jail free card!” 

Jay looked at me and said, “Get back out there.”

I pulled away at the regulated 10 mph and saw a yellow-shirted staff member running after me.  I stopped and he came up to my window net, smiling.  “You just went four off.  You aren’t heading back to the pits, you’re headed to the penalty box.”  A wolf with a taste for blood.

“Jay waved me through,” I said as the young man’s smile melted and his shoulders sagged.  Back into first gear and back to the track. 

Another hour and a half went by pretty uneventfully.  It is amazing to think that I ran on pure adrenaline, talking to myself that long. 

“Find your apex, look through, and accelerate.”
“Excuse me, Biting Monkey Racing, I’m going to need to get past you now.”
“How about we try this turn in 2nd.”
 “I’m going to need you to take the outside of this turn… thank you.”

After unintentionally taking off the bumper of the Pandamonium BMW (who handled the accidental PIT maneuver like a champ, by the way), the Shark BMW came bearing down on me again.  Rather than get flustered again, I waved him by.  As he approached the DILLIGAF CRX, I watched them dice it up and, I hoped, take each other out of the race. 

They did.  I was the first car to come upon the accident.  I don’t know who was at fault, but the Sharks ended up with the passenger’s side front wheel shoved up into their engine compartment and a bent roll cage. 

Implements of LeMons Justice

Implements of LeMons Justice

Then, my second black flag.  Going down the main straight, I was easily into triple digit speeds.  As I attempted to out-drag an Oregon hippie (nice guy, but they had a wind-powered supercharger for God’s sake) down the straight, the MR2 cut into my line leaving me with the choice of T-Boning the driver’s door or hitting the brakes and unsettling the car.  I opted for the latter and felt the back end swing wildly back and forth.  As I went off the asphalt, I spun.  How many times I can’t say because all I could see was dust and dirt.  Later, the guy driving the car behind me would tell that we nearly collided in the cloud of debris.  The dust was so bad that it clogged his air filter, preventing him from revving above 3000 RPM.  Just another reason not to run a hood.

Both of my feet went to the floor and the engine purred as the car came to a halt.  I pulled out and started racing again, knowing that the penalty box and the jaws of Judge Johnny happily awaited us. 

As I pulled in, filthy and disgraced, Judge Johnny rubbed his hands together and announced, “Well, well, well!  If it isn’t the leader car!”  We were fucked.

Luck: Jay strolled up past the magistrate and clapped his hand on the roof.  “I think your get-out-of-jail-free card was a two-fer, wasn’t it?” 

I do believe it was.

The remainder of my stint went uneventfully.

As JKav and Bitter both drove flawlessly, we saw our lead extend over the field.  We left the track that night to sounds of sawzalls, power drills and hammers of the other teams.  Our ghetto-charged Miata was ready to drive tomorrow.

Sunday
There are tales of heroic fixes at LeMons.  Thankfully, we’ve got smart people on the team who have engineered out most of the need for these fixes. 

Most.

Sarah took the green on Sunday morning with a 5 lap lead over the Alfa, Formula BMW and Blanco Basura teams.  This was our race to lose.  Then, just a few laps into her stint, it looked like it would be another “almost had it.” 

The car had died.  Simply died on the track with no fanfare or pre-emption. 

Luck: The car had died on an easily accessible point on the track for tow access.  Rather than just let the car sit and rot like so many others who had broken down on the back end of the track, the tow vehicles could easily get to our car and pull it back to the pits.  Also, Tony from team Metro Gnome who was pitted beside us was a Spec Miata racer.  He started listing off potential causes as the truck pulled the car into our pit.

Then we got to work analyzing the problem, knowing full well that if it took longer than 20 minutes, the whole race was shot. 

I sprinted off to find other Miata teams to try and secure parts if needed. Unfortunately, I didn’t know where any of them were pitted, so I had to ask around.  This is when I found out that, though funny most of the weekend, soliciting serious answers from people when you are dressed like Elvis is extremely difficult. 

Bitter skillfully determined that our top-of-the-line kill switch had died, cutting the power going back to the battery and severing the favorite route of our electrons.  He fixed it and we got back out on the track in under 6 minutes, holding on to our slim lead.

Coleman, our best, most fearless driver was the anchor.  His sole mission was not to get black flagged while driving fast enough to hold on to our lead, but not so fast as to expend all of his fuel which would mean another pitstop and, potentially the victory. 

Then he got black flagged.

Driving behind the orange pickup of The Road Crew, Coleman was being conservative.  After the other driver waved him by, Coleman still stayed behind, being conservative.  Then, he decided to pass on a corner at the precise moment that the other driver decided to stop waving him by.  The two nearly collided with Coleman opting to run over a cone. 

I had sprinted to the penalty box, arriving just in time to see the newest LeMons judge kneeling beside the Miata’s window. 

“What’s worse, hitting a truck or hitting a cone?” Coleman yelled through his full-face helmet.

“Hitting a truck,” replied the judge.

“Then I did the right thing, right?” Coleman pleaded.

“Yeah, get back out there,” the judge said as he waved the pink car through. 

LUCK!  Many other times this would have resulted in time wasting penalties, but the duration was short. 

We didn’t know where we were in the standings at this point.  No leader boards had been posted since noon and it was now 3:30, time for the race to end.  Were we still leading?  By how much?

Then, as the Miata cruised down turn 19, the judges strolled up to us to hang out and watch as the flag station waved the checkered flag over the Eyesore Racing Miata! 

We’d won!  We all jumped up and down and screamed like little girls, but we’d won!  $1500 in nickels were the least of our rewards.  We’d finished in the top ten three times before.  We had finally reached our oil stained goal and we couldn’t be happier!

Unlike other teams who have won (I’m looking at you, Black Iron Racing) who have disappeared from the circuit, we fully intend to keep racing our car.  We don’t figure that we’ll ever win again, but now we can focus solely on having fun with it and not living in fear of the judges’ rulings. 

Taking the checkered

Taking the checkered

I know that this race doesn’t mean much to almost anyone, but I’m really proud of what we accomplished.

There are tons of pictures at Caoline On Crack’s Flickr site, love from jalopnik.com, Judge Johnny’s entries at WebRides.tv blog, Good Morning America, and tons more. 

You know what, just get some of your dumb friends, buy a car and come out next time.  You’ll have a blast!

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