The 24 Hours of Le Mans is the world's oldest and most renowned endurance race. It's one of the most extreme tests of man and machine-a grueling, nonstop race that runs around the infamous Circuit de la Sarthe in Le Mans, France.
While I wish I could say I was driving in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the truth is far from that. Instead, I'd be piloting a $500 race car in the 24 Hour of LeMons at Buttonwillow Raceway Park in Buttonwillow, California. If you haven't heard about LeMons, it's a race series that's gaining popularity because of its affordability, excitement and sheer wackiness. The premise is an endurance race of vehicles that have been swapped, purchased or built for $500 (this doesn't include safety equipment, such as rollcages and brakes)-true beaters. And while other teams really bend the rules, like bringing vehicles that are clearly worth more than the allotted amount. The team that I was driving with, Team Bigfoot Hunter, had a '88 Ford Escort LX that was an honest-to-goodness $500 car.
Dicing through the 90-plus field of cars.
The Escort receives a much-needed tire rotation after the first day of racing.
Be Safe and Drive in Style
Even though the 24 Hours of LeMons seems lighthearted and isn't taken too seriously, having the proper safety equipment is critical in any form of competitive motorsports racing.
Thankfully, I had the best in the biz, Alpinestars, provide me with everything I needed to be ready and safe for race day. It included:
»'08 GP Pro Suit US
»'09 Tech 1-T Shoe
»'09 Tech 1-Z Gloves
»Nomex underwear, including hood, bottom and top
The entire outfit provides extra layers of fire protection to help me avoid any exciting trips to the burn ward.
Team Bigfoot Hunter's Ford Escort
A closer look at our Ford Escort LX reveals that most of the vehicle has gone unchanged. Other than a hotshot header that was purchased on eBay for $50 and a cheap aftermarket cam, the engine is all stock. Some Merkur XT4i wheels with Hankook Ventus RS-2 tires were added to increase grip while the interior was gutted completely (minus some digital gauges) to lighten the car.
Mike Ullrich, who owns the Escort, and long-time friend and fellow team member Nick Mikulsky actually drove this very car (which belonged to a buddy) around in high school. It was passed on to the buddy's younger brother, who used it and then let it sit for a number of years until it was time to get rid of it. That's when Mike thought it would be a great idea to convert the Escort into a LeMons car, and the rest is history.
Before I get into the details of the actual race, you're probably wondering why all the vehicles in the photos look so silly and are covered in weird decorative items. That's because every team has to have a theme for its car. The better the theme, the more points you score with the judges. Yes, there are judges for this wacky race. If you want to get all the facts, rules and guidelines about LeMons, check out the website at 24hoursoflemons.com.
Having completed one prior 24 Hours of LeMons race, the Escort fared well and finished fifth overall. Hopes were high for the Buttonwillow event, but some minor work needed to be done to get the car race ready-particularly, fixing a charging problem that had developed unexpectedly. With some late nights and serious turning of the wrenches, we had the car in race shape-or so we thought.
Race day came and after a mandatory bribe to the judges, our Ford was OK'd without any penalty laps. If the judges think you've built a car over the budget or are cheating in any way, they will hand out penalty laps.
One of the most clever and well-themed cars was the One-Up Sentra.