Ever since its inception, I’ve really dug Jay Lamm’s “24 Hours of LeMons” series of car racing. The ethos is all about fun. More importantly, fun on a budget. Car racing is way too serious and way too expensive, but LeMons has changed all that. I’ve wanted to participate since day one at Altamont, but have never had the team, the car, etc.
That all changed a few months ago when a co-worker offered his already prepared LeMons car (the Team Pandamonium BMW E30) for sale on an internal car group at Facebook. (Yes, we use Facebook at Facebook as our Intranet – it is awesome!) Within minutes a new team was formed, made up entirely of Facebook employees. We’ve re-themed the car (Facebook of course!) and last weekend we participated in our first race. Our goals for this race were:
- get to know the car and each other
- Learn what we need to keep the car running and race efficiently
- Finish in the top half
- Have fun
The race was at Buttonwillow in California. I had business in Palo Alto late that week so I was able to get down there and participate. In fact, since I have lots of trailering experience (horses and cars) I volunteered to drive our beater race car down with our beater truck (a 1994 Ford F250XL with utility bed), what I wasn’t prepared for was the worst windstorm in recent California history the evening I drove down! Between Gilroy and I-5 I think I topped out at 35 MPH, and had to pull over a few times to ride out the insane winds. I left Menlo Park at around 3pm and I think I arrived at the track around 9:30 pm. I had planned to get a hotel room, but laid down in the truck to catch a nap (as anyone whose driven a truck and trailer in extreme conditions will tell you it totally wipes out your brain!) I figured I’d sleep an hour, but ended up waking up at around 3:30 am! I just stayed put at that point. We had a day to test the car and track before the race started. I took the car out for a while on Friday, and turned in respectable 2:20’s lap times. Not bad for not having been on a track since 2004, and my first time in this car. At the end of the day we put the car through tech & BS inspection, and we were assessed a 10 lap penalty for having a car that has won a previous LeMons race. We brokered that down to 5 laps with a bottle of Scotch (Bribery of BS Judges is encouraged at LeMons!)
The track was set in “Race #15” configuration, which was a nice mix of speed and hard corners, including a very long back straight (“The Drag Strip”). We had five drivers and six ~2.5 hour shifts to run. I ran the last shift of the first day. Words can not adequately express how awesomely fun it was to drive in an honest-to-god actual wheel-to-wheel race. Yes, there were many cars faster than ours, but we seemed to pass as much, if not more than we were passed. I yelled at d-bag drivers, I made daring passes, I hammered the car to 120 MPH down the straight, and I laughed out loud at crazy cars and insane driving. I had a complete blast. The only incident that marred my track time it was having to pit for gas. I was out, and making progress when I finally glanced at the gas gauge while flying down the long straight at ludicrous speed (I recall Mike Hawthorn describing the 170 MPH Mulsanne Straight as the moment when he could actually relax and think. It is true, everywhere else you’re too busy to look at gauges!) and realized I was almost empty. As I was working through the Esses I thought about pitting, and as I gunned it to pass a car in the short straight before Sunset Corner the gas light came on and I recalled Capt. Kulka saying “if the light comes on, PIT!” so I exited the track to refill the tank. Hopefully we’ll learn to avoid these issues in future races, as it is in the pits where races are won or lost!
After the tank was filled the remaining 30 minutes of track time went by in a flash. The setting sun made the infamous Bus Stop corner even harder than normal, but I seemed to master it with a quick stab on the brakes and a down-shift into third right BEFORE the corner, and then carry acceleration through it and into Riverside and the long straight. Being on-track for the day’s finish with the salute from the corner workers as the sun set was awesome – a moment I’ll never forget.
As a team we did really well – far better than we had hoped. After Day Two, we finished 27th out of 134 cars – way beyond our hoped-for top-half finish. Each of us stayed very consistent, turning 2:15—2:35 laps, depending upon traffic and yellows. The only real issue we had was a 30 minute penalty on the first shift of Day 2, when one of our guys spun off the track. If we can get out pit stops worked out and stay on-track, we could be quite competitive.
This was my very first time driving a BMW. Despite being old enough to legally drink ethanol, and being stripped bare for racing, I found the 325i a joy to drive. Rear wheel drive, reasonably torquey inline six, and a full complement of three pedals made for a real driver’s car. I may seriously consider a Munich Machine for my next daily driver!
Stay tuned for more as we run our next races.
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