The Car Fails Us

24 Hours of LeMons Pacific Northworst Grand Prix

A whiskey sour sat poised off my right elbow. I ignored the video poker machine that was mounted in the bar’s counter. Cigarette smoke wafted into the “non-smoking” area. One of the Golden Girls, I think the oldest but never watched the show, seated to my left rocked back and forth in excitement as her video screen was in the midst of counting her winnings on the last play. She tugged my shirt sleeve and exclaimed “I won the jackpot!”, before confessing that the jackpot was thirty cents and that she didn’t like to gamble. before she proceeded to gamble for the next thirty minutes. Every five minutes she would look around and wonder audibly “Where’s that grandson of mine?” I caught the eye of the bartender, gestured to my drink and received a reassuring nod, as he reached for a shaker.

Earlier this day, I completed the short (in distance, long in time) drive from home to Shelton, Washington for the 24 Hours of LeMons Pacific Northworst Grand Prix. My team, NachoFriend Racing, was poised to campaign our 1985 Toyota Celica GT-S. My first stop, after arriving in Shelton, was Wal-Mart. I needed water and snacks for the team, bribes for the 24 Hours of LeMons judges, nacho provisions (nacho cheese sauce, chili, and tortillas) and wine for my hotel room. Our 20 year old son, Nash, was set to arrive with the car later that evening and, after shopping, I decided to pass the time at the casino bar of the hotel I booked. It struck me that the people in Wal-Mart are the exact same people in the Little Creek Casino in Shelton, Washington.

LeMons Friday is for tech inspection of the car, assignment of class, judge bribes (to prevent penalty laps), driver equipment inspection and obtaining the transponder (aka the “lap-counter-thingy”). The theme for our team t-shirt was “I’ve Got To Be a Nacho Man” because it amused me. I had wanted to create this t-shirt for a while. Apparently my millennial-aged team has no idea who the Village People are and have never heard “Macho Man”. I found a YouTube video of the People performing the song back in the day and they all said “Ohhhhh, it’s a song…” I just shook my head and pondered if perhaps I really am getting that old.

Young people have no idea what this means.

We sailed through tech inspection with no issues and went to BS inspection where we expected to be, and were, assigned to C class with no penalty laps. We bribed the judges with beverages and promises of nacho delivery all weekend. Judge Steve got a replacement hoodie, as the NachoFriend hoodie we had given him a couple of years earlier got paint on it. Happy to receive his new hoodie, he advised us that C class sucked at this race and we were the odds-on favorite to win. With that knowledge in hand, we headed back to our paddock spot.

Waiting to do battle with the 986 and C3.

Adding to our chances of victory were the improvements we had made to the car. We got together for a couple of team work parties, installed new poly bushings, new shifter bushings, new brake pads front and rear and then had an alignment performed by Group 2 Motorsports in Seattle (the first alignment performed since the Celica was acquired). Parked amongst the Alfa Romeos, BMWs, Porsches and Mercedes Benzs at Group 2, the Celica legitimately classed the place up. Well, at the very least people found it amusing.

Truly the gem of the cars Group 2 Motorsports this day.

We finished inspection day with the team dinner at a local Mexican restaurant, as per tradition, and I headed to the hotel to rest up for the racing. The next day of racing, it turned out, was brief. We sent our first two drivers out for two hour stints, after which NachoFriend stood 10 laps ahead in first place for C class. Our third driver, Andrew, came back into the paddock because the temperature gauge was reading alarmingly high. Opening the hood, we noticed steam shooting out of the overflow tank. Parking the car, we found a small hose under the intake had come loose. After a trip to the auto parts store, we replaced this small 90 degree hose, filled the radiator back up and finished the day 30 laps down and in 2nd place.

We fought overheating the rest of the weekend. The car was losing coolant. The procedure we adopted was to cover the radiator with ice, put a towel over the radiator cap. SLOWLY loosen the cap and fill the radiator back up with water. This worked fairly well on day two. All of the drivers got laps in with just an hourly refill of the radiator. We had no idea where this water was going. The oil looked fine, no milkshake in that yard. The exhaust had no telltale signs of white smoke. The hoses all appeared to be dry.

Pursued by a small block V8 Lotus.

From a performance standpoint, the car was the best it had ever been. Each driver was turning personal best laps at The Ridge. The improvements we made to the car definitely paid off with lower lap times. Unfortunately, the time we lost replacing the hose put us back so far that we couldn’t recover and finished 2nd in class, which is still our best finish as a team. The drivers performed flawlessly. After the train wreck that was Thunderhill, we recovered at The Ridge with no black flags during the weekend of racing. It was the car that less us down, for once, and not the drivers.

A post-race inspection of the car in Seattle revealed that the EGR plate on the back of the head was leaking coolant. I believe the water would leak just slowly enough to not be noticeable on the track, and then when the water level would get too low, it would be impossible to diagnose because there wouldn’t be enough water to leak from this area. As a fix, we are eliminating the EGR system and installing block plates over the EGR passages and in back of the head, where we found the leak. After the fix we will pressure test the cooling system and cross our fingers that the fix worked.