LeMons – Sonoma Arse-Freeze-Apalooza

We filled our aptly named Expedition to the brim and began our journey to Sonoma Raceway. Team NachoFriend had foolishly decided to enter our 1985 Toyota Celica GT-S in another 24 Hours of LeMons Race – the 2016 Arse-Freeze-Apalooza. After dropping off dogs at their preferred resorts, my wife (team name – Nacho Bitch) and I left the comfort of Kenmore, WA on Wednesday, November 30, destined for Mount Shasta, California.

Though this is not a travel log, I highly recommend the Country Cousin Restaurant in Centralia, Washington for lunch. Opened In 1973, they have a bar, gift shop, adequate food and they apparently haven’t redecorated since opening. I constantly glanced at the door in hopes that Snowman from Smokey and the Bandit would walk in with his Basset Hound, Fred. Sadly, this did not happen, but it was amusing to eavesdrop on gossip from the Golden Girls behind us. One of them receives HANDWRITTEN thank you notes from her granddaughter, but sadly will not be invited to her wedding.

We arrived in Mount Shasta at 9:15 PM. One bit of advice… do not arrive in Mount Shasta at 9:15 at night. Ever. We checked in to our hotel and asked the woman at the front desk where we could get a bite to eat at this time of night. She responded that the town closes pretty early and that our choices were limited to Burger King, KFC or Taco Bell. “Okay, less than ideal, but we can make this work” I thought. We drove to town (this town is about two square blocks), to find all three of these fine dining establishments had closed. The grocery store, however was open until 10:00 and our luxury room had a microwave oven. Jumping on this opportunity, we grabbed a frozen lasagna, beverages, paper plates and Peanut Lovers Chex Snack Mix (good luck finding Peanut Lovers in Washington).

We reluctantly left the thriving metropolis known as Mount Shasta on Thursday morning to meet our rental RV at the track. I am not a camper, but we decided that we would try camping at the track in an RV in order to get the full LeMons experience. Also camping with us were our 13 year old daughter (Nacho Lil Bit…ch), 18 year old (Nacho Problem) and 26 year old (Nacho Muchacho) sons and the 26 year olds’ girlfriend and friend (the latter was one of our drivers, Nacho Bama). We found a 20’x40’ paddock spot and parked our RV and the Expedition. Dad arrived with the Celica in tow later that evening, after which we drove to Sonoma for dinner and to meet Nacho Lil Bit…ch and Nacho Problem, who had just flown in from Seattle. Also driving for us was Fed, who was christened “Nacho Name” by Nacho Bitch because she thought his name sounded like a made up racing name (it wasn’t). Fed had helped build an E30 that was in the race, but they lacked a driving spot for him. Their team reached out to us to inquire if we had a spot, so Fed was part of our team, which turned out to be fortuitous.

Our RV served us well. Best of all, Nacho Bitch was able to get it delivered to the track.

LeMons Fridays are for tech inspections. We hadn’t made any significant changes to the car since our last race, so we didn’t expect any major problems. The judge asked us to zip tie the positive battery terminal cover, put cotter pins in the belt clips and extend the exhaust further past the rear bumper. Then he asked the tallest driver to get in the car. We identified our 18 year old, Nacho Problem as the tallest driver. With his helmet on, at 6’2”, he was deemed too tall to fit within our roll cage. As we rolled the car into our paddock spot, we considered out options to make our driver fit. Could we surgically reduce his height? Probably not in time for the green flag the next day. After brainstorming, someone (not I) came up with the brilliant ideas to remove the pad from the seat and shim the front of the seat to lay it back more. We re-teched and the judges said we passed. We bribed the judges with three bottles of wine, since we were in wine country. Each judge chose a wine they felt most represented them – Tall Dark Stranger was in demand. We parked the car and headed to the Sonoma Plaza to watch the Washington Huskies win the Pac 12 football championship over Colorado.

Saturday morning, I sent Nacho Muchacho out on the track first, as a reward for having the fast lap in our previous race. His first stint lasted two hours, after which we refueled the car and sent Nacho Problem on his way. Nacho Muchacho reported that drivers at Sonoma were much more aggressive than those at The Ridge in August. With so many cars on the track, there was little room to maneuver. Drivers fought for every square inch. It was like rush hour on 405 between Bellevue and Renton, except that one need not pull over to exchange insurance information after bashing into a fellow driver.

The crowded starting grid getting filled up.

NachoFriend’s Saturday passed by largely without incident. In the paddocks, we were ready for a heroic fix of some sort, but our Celica refused to oblige. The only off-the-track time was spent on driver changes, filling the gas tank and one black flag for putting wheels off the track. Laps times improved throughout the day, indicating the 22RE engine was running strong. Handling was improved from the last race in August after replacing the front strut inserts and rear shocks with new Koni AGX adjustable units. Regrettably, they are only adjustable to four settings. I dialed them up to four, lamenting the incapability to crank them up to 11.

Dominating on day 1.

At the end of the day, the team had run 122 laps in 6 hours, 44 minutes and 17 seconds. We stood in 83rd place out of 183 cars. Best lap of the day, at 2:24.005 was turned in by Nacho Muchacho. This seemed a significant improvement over our 48th place finish (out of 72 cars) at The Ridge. Post race, we set about to put on a new set of tires, as the old old set of Azenis had given it their all in pursuit of NachoFriend victory.

Then all Hell broke loose. Nacho Bama decided we needed a cold air intake. Nacho Muchacho and Nacho Problem agreed. They were all about cold air entering our engine. With temperatures ready to dip into the 30s, I questioned whether our engine was capable of warming air in the first place, but agreed to go along with their concept. Nacho Lil Bit…ch was tasked with obtaining a reciprocating saw and hole saw. Neighboring teams were kind enough to lend us their tools. Out of nowhere, duct tape and a Pringles can were incorporated into the project. A headlight was raised and disabled (eventually. There was a slight failure the first time we fired the car up and the headlight went back down), the hole saw sunk into it, the air filter housing was hacked with the sawzall, 24 Hours of LeMons duct tape flew from the roll like a marlin pulling line from a fishing reel, the Pringles can directed the air to the filter housing and next thing I know, we have cold air entering the engine. While it was disconcerting that our raised headlight now looked like a sphincter, the concept was sound.

New tires after day 1.
Contemplating the science behind hole saws.
This is how we capture all the cold airs.

We ventured to Velo Pizzeria in Napa that night. Our waitress indicated that one of her coworkers was a car enthusiast, so we did our best to encourage him to participate in the LeMons nonsense. Pizza was excellent and the wine was from Napa, so it was solid. Nacho Bama sadly had to return home for personal reasons, so we would be short one pizza eater and one driver. We missed his company and his contribution to the track   time, but I suspect he’ll be back racing with NachoFriend in the future.

One piece of trivia about me – I’ve always wanted to sleep in one of those ice hotels. Unbeknownst to me, my wife arranged for our RV to simulate this experience. More likely, none of us really knew how to keep the heat on at night. Inhabitants of rogue planets that wander the universe, never seeing sun, would have commented upon entering our RV that night, “It’s kind of chilly in here.” Throughout the night, we were awoken by air compressors, generators and the sound of work being performed by some team in order to save their weekend.

Day two on the track was much the same as day one – stops for driver changes and fuel, one black flag for a short expedition off the track, and lots of traffic and contact. While Nacho Bitch and I were eating lunch at the track café, Nacho Problem called her phone from the car, saying “I just got hit really hard”. She asked if he was coming off the track, if there was anything wrong with the car. “No, it seems ok”, he replied. She said “Well, then keep driving!” (the “Dumbass” at the end of the sentence was implied).

Nacho Muchacho ready for track time.

Nacho Name drove second on Sunday since he had to take someone to the airport in the afternoon. While at the wheel of our Celica, he witnessed his team’s BMW E30 skid across the grass and take out a Miata, ending the day of the E30. Our #664 Celica managed to avoid the carnage. Nacho Name got in some good consistent laps and avoided any black flags. We were grateful to have him on the team after Nacho Bama had to leave Saturday night. Nacho Problem old got in a clean lap, and the best lap of the race during his afternoon session.

Day 2 – our 22RE is still alive.

Nacho Muchacho came in after a two hour stint with a stiff neck, so we sent the 18 year old out to finish the race for us. The engine ran warm and there was a noticeable ticking sound from the engine bay, but the car would not quit. As the sun began to set, I received a text from Dad that the wing was falling off. We took the checkered and were surprised to see the wing was held on by only one support and were grateful that it didn’t completely fall off.

We unanimously declared the Sonoma race weekend successful. We finished 80th out of 187 cars entered, improving from our 48th out of 72 at The Ridge in August. We did have two black flags, one each day, for off-track excursions, but we never missed track time due to mechanical failure. The Celica held up well to the contact that occurred throughout the race, with no apparent body damage. We later discovered the ticking sound to be an exhaust leak between the exhaust manifold and the down pipe. This should be easy to fix.

Team NachoFriend’s plans to participate in three races next season – in May at Thunderhill in California, and The Ridge and Sonoma again. While it is tempting to replace the 22RE with something more robust, I expect that we will soldier on with this workhorse until it has nothing left to give. Projects for the off-season include aftermarket gauges, painting the roll cage, creating more head clearance, installing a removable steering wheel, exhaust work, relocating the battery to the rear of the car and making our sound system louder (we have another speaker to install).

Overall, I was very happy with our team’s season of racing. What started as a Father’s Day gift in June while vacationing in Maui, ended with two memorable experiences, new friends, and family memories to which we will add next season.