I’m back after 3 days of driving our ’86 BMW 325es, aka ‘Cheesy’ at 24 Hours of Lemons: Arse Freeze-a-Palooza. For those of you that aren’t familiar with 24 Hours of Lemons, it’s a 2 day race of $500 or less cars. A theme is required, which makes the race into a half parade, half jalopy competition. Teams attempt to out-theme and out-crappy each other with hilarious spoofs and old rust buckets.
This was our team’s 3rd race at a 24 Hours of Lemons event. Overall this was our best race for both our theme and performance. We learned quickly that a funny theme and a bright car are two highly valuable assets at Lemons, so this race we spent a majority of our time on our car’s decoration and costumes.
We had tossed around a few ideas and the idea of lifeguards seemed like a good one. Chris, one of my teammates suggested the name ‘Jaywatch’, a funny pairing of one of the judges name’s and the greatest TV show of all time. With that, we went all-out with our theme. Bright yellow paint, giant ‘Jaywatch’ logo, red light bar, ‘LIFEGUARD’ stenciling, rescue tubes and full-on lifeguard costumes. The judges and fans loved it and we could see our car from 1/2 mile away.
Cheesy’s performance was also top-notch this race. This time we chipped the engine, stiffened the suspension and adjusted the throttle body and kick-down switch (did I mention it’s an automatic?). That combination with sticky tires and great brake pads was a perfect setup. We were MUCH faster this race compared to previous ones. We could accelerate faster, brake later and carry much more speed through turns. We could also keep up with many of the leaders on the track through the corners.
All of our drivers had track experience (3 of us prior Lemons races), which was a huge asset. We knew how to race and the car was fast, the biggest hurdle was traffic with 170 cars on the track!
Woke up at about 7am in our RV at the track. Chris and I headed out for fuel and breakfast while Drew and Marshall prepped Cheesy for the open track day. Gassed up, checked tire pressure and Chris took the first stint. No problems on the track, car handled well, no more shaking and rattling than usual.
After Chris came back to the pit to change drivers Cheesy flat-out refused to start. Turn the key: nothing. After some troubleshooting our first diagnosis was a dead alternator. Called a parts store: $297 for a new one. Ouch. We talked to a few other teams running BMWs and got all sorts of suggestions from jumping the car on each pit-in to daisy-chaining 4 or 5 batteries together.
We called around to a few junkyards nearby and found one that might have a few BMWs in stock (they don’t keep inventory). Drew and I jumped in his M3 and took off as fast as possible for Bakersfield, 30 miles away. Meanwhile Chris and Marshall did further troubleshooting and discovered that we probably weren’t charging the battery at all during the last race because we pulled the instrument cluster. Oops. Apparently there are some electronics in it that regulate charging the battery. They quickly spliced some wires and connected the mechanism to our camera switch so when we charge the battery we run the camera and vice versa.
Drew and I made it to a junkyard a little after noon and scanned the lot as fast as possible for another mid-eighties 325. We were incredibly lucky to find one the back right corner that was in amazing condition with virtually every part still intact. Drew quickly yanked the alternator while I pulled out the fuel pump from the gas tank for a spare.
We booked it out of Bakersfield asap and headed back to the track. Drew and Chris put in the new alternator as fast as they could so we would have time for tech inspection and track day:
After that we headed to the safety and BS inspection. The safety inspector was super thorough compared to previous races. He saw a lot of brake fluid on the brake reservoir and almost didn’t pass us, but after some convincing him that we had fixed the leak he let us through.
BS inspection was a little less tense than before even though the judges hate BMWs. They loved our theme and since we brought documentation of the parts we fixed/replaced they were less suspicious of us cheating. Once they saw we had an automatic transmission and we gave them a nice bribe of bourbon they didn’t bother checking the car any more and gave us 0 penalty laps, yay!
After that we were back on the track around 3. I finished up the track day with Cheesy with no problems. Later that evening we swapped the front brake pads for new ones and called it a night.
During the night it rained so by Saturday morning the track was quite wet and had a lot of huge puddles in it. Jay (the organizer for the event) told us to not be stupid and take it easy out there during the drivers meeting in the morning. Drew took the first stint and was part of the 20 minute parade on the raceway under a yellow flag while all 170 cars slowly joined entered the track.
Once everyone was on the track the green flag was dropped and all hell broke loose. Try to imagine the sound of hundreds of engines with no or little exhaust revved to the limit. Then imagine many of them looking like this:
careening around corners, squealing tires, spinning off the track, etc. In short, it’s quite the spectacle.
Everyone’s first stint was flawless, no black flags and no mechanical problems. We learned the car uses 6-7 gallons/hour with the new ECU, so we went through far more fuel than assumed. The track ran out of 91 octane, so we had to pay $8/gallon for 100 octane, ouch.
During Drew’s second stint he was bumped from behind and it almost broke off the bumper, which ended up flapping in the wind. I was on radio and saw it hanging on by one or two screws and immediately told him to pit asap. Drew pitted, Chris and I drilled some screws through the bumper into the body panels and he was back on the track in about 10 minutes to finish up the day.
That evening we checked the standings and we were 58th place I think, which was not too shabby. We knew if we stayed consistent we’d move up as other teams had mechanical problems.
Later that night we toured the paddock with Cheesy, pouring other teams shots of Skittles vodka that Drew had made. Most teams were very appreciative of our free alcohol (who wouldn’t be?). Our last stop was at B Team Racing’s (aka the Pussy Wagen) garage, one of my favorite teams and a top 5 finisher in the past 3 races:
The B Team was amazingly friendly and allowed us to pour over their car and tech. They are super organized and have optimized every part of their car and process. Specialized jacking plates, huge gravity-fed fueling system, HAM radios, tuned engine and so many other optimizations. It was a great to learn from a team that has more experience than us. Hopefully we’ll be seen as competition in a few races!
After hanging out with the B Team we headed back to our paddock and got some sleep in preparation for day two.
Woke up early again because the start time was an hour earlier compared to Saturday. At the driver’s meeting Jay announced that they were adding ‘Lost Hill’, an especially tricky hill + corner to the track. And that they were reversing the direction of the race. This meant the past two days of experience with the old track configuration was practically worthless. Oh well, that’s Lemons for yah!
After the meeting I suited up and took the first stint for the day. Getting on the track was slow as usual, but after a few laps the green flag was dropped and we were off! The track was a little damp, but nothing terrible. I pushed myself harder this time because I was much more familiar with Cheesy’s abilities and passing other drivers on the track. Towards the end of my stint I actually passed the Pussy Wagen, which completely surprised me. I was ecstatic, they were in 5th place and I was faster!
Well, not quite. Turns out their driver was taking it easy to learn the track and I was far overconfident for my abilities. A few laps later I attempted to pass a car on the outside through a gradual right hand turn. Unfortunately that gradual turn ended in a much sharper left hand turn which I could not negotiate. I drove the left side of the car over the berm, which lifted both tires off the ground for a split second, making it impossible for me to turn safely. I decided a better option would be to drive off the track into the dirt and not make a fool of myself or spin the car.
Once I returned the track (slowly and much more cautiously), I headed to the judges pit for my punishment. Phil listened to my story about how I was overconfident and dumb and gave me a ‘automatic discount’ since we had an automatic transmission. I was off scott-free, thankfully. Jay, the head judge also got a chance to see our theme and really liked it. Overall I was pretty luck to not damage Cheesy and not get an embarrassing penalty.
After my time with the judges I headed back to our pit area to switch drivers. Chris was up next and was out on the track soon after my boneheaded mistake. The next few hours went by mostly uneventfully. On Drew’s last stint he was black flagged for going two wheels off (IIRC). Since our radios weren’t working very well I was quite surprised by him yelling at me to suit up when he came back to our pit after being ordered to switch drivers by the judges.
I suited up and headed out as fast as possible. After a lap or two I began to notice a severe engine power loss around 4k rpms. A lap later it consistently happened coming out of every single turn. I assumed fuel starvation and radioed in to the team that I was coming in for fuel and someone better suit up fast.
Once I got back to our pit area we fueled up Cheesy with over 13 gallons of fuel! With a 14 or 15 gallon tank we were definitely experiencing fuel starvation and thankfully not a mechanical failure. I hopped back in Cheesy and headed out to finish up my stint. Or so I thought.
Once I was back on the track with a full gas tank Cheesy was doing great. No more power loss. I raced hard and did my best to make up for lost time. After about 20 or 30 minutes I noticed white smoke pouring out of the back of the car. I first though it was from my tires, but after a few seconds realized it was definitely a problem. I slowed down and babied Cheesy all the way back to the pit.
When I arrived Cheesy was still belching white smoke from the exhaust. We opened the hood and confirmed our fears: a blown head gasket. Nothing too serious as the engine didn’t overheat, but it put us out of the race for good. The team was somewhat sad, but overall still upbeat considering how lucky we were. We only missed out on an hour or so of racing, so we still managed to finish 68th (I think, official results haven’t been posted).
Since we had an hour or two to kill we packed up a bit and headed to the observation tower to watch the race finish. Team F’ed Up won after losing the past five races by only a few laps. Needless to say they were beyond ecstatic.
We put back on our costumes for the award ceremony and were the subject of a few catcalls and photo opportunities. Good to know we were noticed! After the awards ceremony we packed up and headed out for the long drive home. We all felt great about our third race and had tons of ideas for how to improve next time. We should be at Infineon Raceway in March at 24 Hours of Lemons: Sears Pointless. See you on the track!