Return to The Ridge

yep, this is the right place...

With the Clowntown Roadshow BMW E30 out of commission indefinitely with a blown head, I’ve been catching rides as an “arrive and drive(r)” with various teams at west coast races for the past year. I drove a Humber Super Snipe (really) at Sonoma in December, a Volvo station wagon (a really fast turbo one!) at The Ridge at a “Lucky Dog racing League” event, and with The Flying Scotsmen in their expanding fleet of E30s at Buttonwillow last month. Often times these have been last-minute affairs, that have cost me very little, if nothing beyond travel costs. Right after Buttonwillow I check the 24 Hours of LeMons forums and read a plea from a new rookie team for an experienced driver willing to help them out at The Ridge. I reply, and after an email exchange with the team captain, agree to help them out. We swap lots of emails about their car, passing tech, things to bring, things I will bring, track etiquette, the paddock scene, etc. With as much wisdom imparted through ASCII and RFC2822 as possible, the day comes to drive up to Shelton, meet the team, and race.
Continue reading “Return to The Ridge”

Clowntown at Thunderhill

The Clowncar navigates Turn 1 at Thunderhill

The last race of the season for my 24 Hours of Lemons team was at Thunderhill in Willows, California. Willows is within a reasonable driving distance from central Oregon, so Nick and I hopped into the M Roadster and made a mad dash down US 97 and I-5 long before the sun rose, with a pre-dawn breakfast stop in Klamath Falls. It was fun to actually drive there as opposed to fly and drive the tow vehicle – as well as a bonus to bring Nick along. We arrive around 10 am on test & tune day…

Nick attending the Safety&BS inspection process.

Continue reading “Clowntown at Thunderhill”

Another Lemons Race. Another Track. Another Team. Another Car.

This WAS a fairly nice Acura Integra - at some point in the distant past.

Racing cars is a lot like smoking crack. One hit of the stuff and you’re hooked – and then you can’t get enough.

I’ve loved every minute of racing with my Clowntown Roadshow team mates. However, I’m the sole team member living and working in the Pacific Northwest, with the rest being in Northern California. While I’m very in-touch with my team mates via our Facebook group, and I always volunteer to pull tow-duty on the SoCal races – I miss the weekends wrenching on the car, and have been unsuccessful in convincing my team to think about coming north for events in the northwest.

I advertised myself as a “driver for hire” on the 24 Hours of Lemons forums for any team in the PNW planning on running the Pacific Northworst Grand Prix in Shelton, WA. I had a few teams show an interest, but a group of “newbies” from Shoreline, WA seemed the most eager to have me along, so I joined their team. They had a car, and a lot of enthusiasm, but only three drivers. All had young families and hoped to make it a big outing. Nick had his Freshman Orientation the two days before the event, so I brought him along to round out the family atmosphere.

The event was at the brand new Ridge Motorsports Park outside of Olympia. Nick and I awoke at O’dark:thirty Thursday morning to drive to Corvallis – spent all day and the next attending welcoming lectures, parental-panic-soothing seminars, class registrations, and advanced placement tests at Oregon State University, before making the dash Friday night (with a stop in Portland for dinner with friends) to Olympia. Saturday morning dawned wet and gloomy – yes we were back in western Washington! We arrived at the track, paid our fee, and lapped the paddock looking for our team. I noted that street cars were lapping the track, and since we could not find our team I steered my car out onto the pit lane and decided to see this new track.


The track layout. What this doesn't show is the dramatic elevation changes... beatific bovine!

Continue reading “Another Lemons Race. Another Track. Another Team. Another Car.”

The Clowntown Roadshow runs a 24 Hour Race!

The Clowncar on the Pit Straight at Buttonwillow.

Buttonwillow last December (The 2011 Arsefreezeapalooza)
Infineon in March (The Sears Pointless)
and now, Buttonwillow again for the 2012 Arsesweatapalooza.

The Clowntown Roadshow completed our third Lemons race, and our very first true 24 Hour event. We did “good” in that we all had two shifts at the wheel, and didn’t irreparably break the car. We made a bunch of mistakes, but also did some things right, and all had a ton of fun.

Donald Webster, known Clown, in our office for the weekend.

I flew down to the Bay Area last wednesday, and spent Thursday at Facebook HQ attending some meetings before hopping in our team tow vehicle – an un-airconditioned early 90s Ford F250 with utility bed, and driving south for Buttonwillow, which is near Bakersfield in SoCentralCal. Yes, it was HOT. Insult to injury was the 100+ minutes I spent in stop-and-go traffic due to some construction on I-5 about halfway there. I survived (barely) and enjoyed the combination of the best Carne Asada (I’ve had since La Hacienda in Arlington, WA) and the worst Motel 6 (ever on the planet) in the non-town of Buttonwillow, California. Friday was a practice day, and we had too much fun lapping the track, then put the car through Tech & BS Inspection – passing both easily. We enjoyed a team dinner at a small Italian place in Shafter, CA. Since I noted the place was owned an run by some Thais I ordered a Pad Se Ew off the back page of the menu and was blown away by how good it was. Pro Tip: If you dine at Giovannis in Shafter, go for the Thai!

Going through tech & BS inspection - our Head Clown Matt Kulka watches the Judges look for cheats on our stock beater E30.

Saturday at 10 am the race started. We ran the #15 config for the terminally curious. I volunteered to take the first shift to avoid the heat of the afternoon. Unlike previous Lemons races where the start is laps and laps of full-course Yellow the green flag flew on my second or third circuit of the track. At the start I was a few cars behind the infamous Rolling Chicane Limousine, this race in the guise of the Titanic. Thankfully I was able to pass it just past the start-finish line.

The Clowncar passes the Titanic on the pit straight. Yours Truly at the wheel. Photo by Donald Webster. Hey! Isn't that Kate Winslet?

Our little ’89 BMW 325i E30 wasn’t the fastest car on the track though. The field contained several faster cars, mostly BMW 3 & 5 series machines, along with a few fast oddballs like a 4th generation 300ZX and the Model T GT, which you can see passing me below:

Continue reading “The Clowntown Roadshow runs a 24 Hour Race!”

Chuck Goes Racing: The 24 Hours of LeMons.

The Clowntown Roadshow at the 2011 Arsefreezeapalooza at Buttonwillow last weekend.

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:

  1. Finish
  2. get to know the car and each other
  3. Learn what we need to keep the car running and race efficiently
  4. Finish in the top half
  5. 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.

If you’d like to follow along more closely, see photos and movies, “like” us on Facebook.