Why Our Thirteenth Place Class Finish In Sonoma Was a Rousing Success
We at NachoFriend Racing define success not by where we finish, but by how much fun was had. Yes, winning is fun, but so is laughing in the face of adversity as we stomp on its toes. Our team jokes that if we ever lead in the last hour of the race, we will have to sandbag for a second-place finish. The 24 Hours of LeMons judges will reward our class C victory by bumping our 1985 Toyota Celica GT-S into class B, where we wouldn’t stand a chance. The 22RE simply does not have enough power to compete in the next class up. The winner of B class at Sonoma had a fast lap time that was ten seconds faster than that of the Celica. Our presence in class C at least provides the hope that NachoFriend Racing could bring home a trophy as winner in class.
We arrived in Sonoma with a team of drivers consisting of Nash, Reagan, Andrew and Hunter. Nash is our 23-year-old. He often has the fast-lap of the race and usually accumulates the most black flags, though of late he has been driving clean. Reagan, our 18-year-old daughter, would be competing in her third LeMons race and we hoped she could improve from the three black flags that were waved at her on day one at Sonoma last April. Andrew is Nash’s friend. He is a fast, reliable driver that has been with us for a while. He is the most common victim of the car overheating. His parents come to all of the races that COVID allows, and his mom makes really good cookies. Hunter was our new guy, recruited by Andrew to race for us in this stupid endeavor. He works for JFC Racing and that credential was good enough for me.
We reserved a garage space at the track, just as we had at our last race here in April. Getting a garage space gives us the advantage of having an assigned spot for the trailer just outside of the garage. We organized our space so that all of the tools were in the garage with the car. The trailer was utilized as a VIP lounge area with a table set up with all of the food. The garage has power, so the generator in the trailer could be dedicated to warming the pulled pork nacho meat, nacho cheese and chili and charging phones. Our neighbors were a team of two Mark 3 Toyota Supras (one of which spent the entire Saturday in the garage being fixed by a diligent team member) and an Audi A6 on the other side, which also spent much of the weekend getting wrenched on. At the end of the garage, Stolen Trailer Racing campaigned their BMW E28, for whom acclaimed race car driver Randy Pobst and host of internet shows Jason Cammissa drove. After organizing our space, we passed tech inspection, garnering class C with no penalty laps, as we do, and ventured into the Sonoma Plaza for lunch.
Our first driver out on the grid Saturday morning was Reagan, adorned in her gray race suit and white helmet. This combination makes it easy to spot her in photos, as does her racing stance with her head tilted upward because she’s five feet tall and has a difficult time seeing out of a car set up for drivers measuring 6’2″. I scheduled her to drive for an hour, but she came in after only thirteen laps, complaining of a loud noise from the rear. Removal of the right rear wheel revealed a brake pad clip rubbing against the rotor. I removed the offending clip and we told Andrew to go race.
Andrew came in shortly complaining of a rear end noise. Inspection of the rear end revealed no anomalies, so we told Andrew to quite whining and start racing. Shortly thereafter, we saw Andrew in the garage again. He explained that he had to slow for traffic in front of him and a BMW E46 driver behind him ignored our brake lights and smashed into the back of the Celica. He needed some time to recover fr
om that. A quick inspection of the car showed a buckled left quarter panel, a pushed-in bumper and a broken taillight. Shutting the hatch requires enough force that it is inevitable that the glass will shatter one day when we slam it shut. The car was no longer pretty, but it was still suitable to race. Truth be told, it fit in better with its LeMons competitors thanks to the wavy quarter panel.
We strapped Hunter, the new guy, into the Celica and wished him luck. Apparently the car was unaffected by the ramming (maybe better for it?) because Hunter went out and ran forty-one laps, the longest stint of the whole race, with a fast lap of 2:22.226. At some point on Saturday, it might have been during Hunter’s outing, we decided that instead of fueling at the hot pits, we would fuel at Sonoma Raceway’s fuel pumps. This would allow us to fuel without having a fully suited team member point a fire extinguisher at the team member dumping fuel into the Celica. Instead, we could pull up to the pumps, get the driver out of the car, fill from a real fuel pump and strap in our new driver. This seemed to save us a not insignificant amount of time.
Nash relieved Hunter from driving duties after we sent my wife to pick him up at the house. As a graduate student at the University of Washington (go Dawgs!), he had a final to complete and was unable to attend that morning’s $#!)fest. I texted him “Andrew got smacked hard. Car is a bit crumpled. Andrew is fine. Hunter on the track”, so I’m sure he was expecting the worst. Nash completed thirty-two laps and had our fastest lap of the race – a 2:19.005. By this time, NachoFriend Racing was out of contention for a class victory due to our several visits to the paddock, but we focused on maximizing driver time on the track. Nash came in to fill up at the pumps, complaining that he ran out of fuel more quickly than usual. That’s when we noticed a fuel leak from somewhere in the engine bay. Further inspection in the garage revealed that a weld securing the fuel filter to its bracket had torn and it was leaking. Fortunately we had a spare filter and spent the next half hour (thanks, Toyota, for making this task such a pain in the ass) installing it in the car. The job complete, Andrew was ready to pilot the Celica to the end of the day, garnering twelve laps with a fast time of 2:25.934.
The kids stayed at the track for Saturday’s potluck, while my wife and I headed back to the house to relax. Our nachos were a big hit at the Potluck, which was hosted by the Ranger Road team. Ranger Road is a nonprofit charity that offers veterans with and without disabilities the opportunity to participate in activities such as racing in the 24 Hours of LeMons. To volunteer or donate, go to https://rangerroad.org. Their team has been campaigning an orange GTI with hand controls and we last raced against them at Oregon Raceway Park. On Sunday, some of their team came to our trailer for delicious nachos.
Sunday morning’s fog caused a delay to the start of the race. The scheduled 9:00 start turned into 10:00 before our driver, Reagan, was on the track. During this driving stint, she got her fastest lap of the race, a 2:30.297. She also managed to destroy our air dam (aka the silver tongue, aka the ankle slicer). Contact with a cone in the middle of the track caused significant damage to the air dam. She had no choice but to ram it, as there were cars to the left and right of her. We had fashioned this air dam out parts acquired from a hardware store when the Celica was overheating at a previous race. We had to remove it, but cooling did not suffer due to its absence. We’ll work on a new one before the next race.
Hunter followed Reagan with forty solid laps and recorded the fastest lap of the day at 2:19.062. When he came in to fuel at the pumps, the car would not start after being filled. I suspected a faulty starter on its twelfth race had given up, so we push-started the car and sent Nash out onto the track. The hightlight of his drive was witnessing a Honda blow up its transmission due to its driver refusing to upshift (video below. Warning – language is salty). Thirty-three laps later, he returned to our garage with steam gushing from under the hood. This was the lowlight of his time on the track. He said the car was overheating (thank you, Captain Obvious). We lifted the hood and saw steam coming from the radiator core and the bottom tank. After letting it cool for a bit, I noticed that the water pump belt was loose. This is the same belt that runs the alternator and would explain why the car wouldn’t start. The alternator wasn’t providing sufficient charge to the battery and wasn’t turning the water pump, We adjusted the alternator, tightened the bolts, filled the radiator with water, burped the system and sent Andrew out for the last run of the race. He completed twenty-nine laps and achieved his fastest lap of the race at 2:22.142. We took the checkered flag finishing in thirteenth place in class out of thirty-three cars, and sixty-seventh out of one hundred forty-seven overall.
The 2021 Arse-Freezapalooza was a rewarding experience. We introduced a new driver who proved to be reliable, fast and an ace mechanic. We overcame mechanical challenges. We even had some luck with having a spare fuel filter on-hand to replace the leaking unit, and the radiator holding pressure once it cooled. We did miss our two regular drivers, Max and Brandon, and their wives, but I take some comfort in knowing they will be back with NachoFriend Racing another day. Our next race, to which we have already been accepted, will be the 2022 Pacific Northworst Grand Prix at Oregon Raceway Park in July. We’ll have a bare-bones team for that race, bringing only the drivers who raced at Sonoma. Preparation shall begin immediately. Follow our journey, as always, at needmorecars.com.