Pulling into the paddock area at New Jersey Motorsports park on a hot and sunny Friday in May, I took one look around at all the enclosed race trailers, I heard the sound of dozens of healthy motors screaming around the track logging test laps, and I thought “we’re boned.” To be fair, we were boned even if the competition was a gang of ten year olds on BMX bikes, because we were arriving with an extremely dubious 1991 Audi 100 that had not moved under its own power since a turbo motor, transmission, and driveshaft from a 200 was swapped over last fall. Not to mention that it still needed said driveshaft installed, an exhaust fabricated, the rollcage modified, a front bumper, the brakes bled, oil changed, and it all had to happen here, today, right now, in order to pass tech inspection and start racing first thing in the morning. Like I said, boned.
So did the plucky Brooklyn Bomb Squad defy the odds and get the old Audi in the race? It was pretty much the Miracle on Bud Ice, but yes, we did it. Did we win? Oh, hell no. There is a saying in motorsports, “In order to finish first, you must first finish.”
For those of you who don’t know, the 24 Hours of LeMons is endurance racing for cars you would ordinarily use as a place to hide murder victims and then push into a river. We are talking 20 year old Ford Tempos, rusted out Honda Civics, anything really as long as it was purchased for $500 or less, not including safety gear like a roll cage and good brakes. Decorations are highly encouraged. Bonus points for creativity.
Once you start looking closely, a lot of the cars probably cost quite a bit more. But you’ll see that even the most apocalyptically shitty race car out there has a lot of work put into it. You’ll easily spend much more on entrance fees, fuel, food, and beer for one weekend at LeMons than you’re supposed to spend on the car.
New Jersey Motorsports Park’s Thunderbolt track was the host for this race. It’s a 2.25 mile road course with 12 turns and a long half-mile straightaway. The 24 Hours of LeMons is not actually 24 hours of continuous racing, as the name would suggest, at least not anymore. Racing through the night would be needlessly stupid for amateurs, and we would be stupid enough to do it, too, if they would let us. It’s two separate days from 10am to 6pm, which is still a metric shit ton of time behind the wheel of a race car. I say it’s a good idea to take a break at night to drink a lot of beer. Or sleep. Mostly beer though.
The Brooklyn Bomb Squad this weekend was comprised of team captain Jay (the fella licking the grinder), team veteran Ethan (above, right), new guy Eugene (above, left) and myself. We set up shop between two teams with full on motorhomes and got to work. Within about an hour we made the place look like a south Jersey trailer park.
Jay miraculously fabbed up a required cross bar for the passenger side rollcage.
That’s Eugene installing the driveshaft. Earlier that week, Eugene and I tried to install the driveshaft in Brooklyn and realized that it was too short. We had the wrong one. A new one was procured and if it didn’t fit, we weren’t racing. It fit. Whew.
Ethan planning out the new exhaust. Ethan and Eugene are both mechanics by trade, but I’m not. They needed parts, not drum beats or photographs. So I got to know Millville rather well that day, running all over the place buying stuff.
I was also on burger duty. Which I also wasn’t that great at. Anyway, my plan was to impress everyone with my super amazing track skillz.
You might have noticed our dope paint job. Even though we literally hadn’t driven the car off the trailer since the engine swap to you know, see if it worked, the Brooklyn Bomb Squad did see fit to spend a whole day having local legend Brooklyn street artist Federico Massa do complete repaint of the car. Federico killed it. There’s no place to test a car like this in Brooklyn anyway, so you might as well make it look good.
I mentioned the shiny enclosed trailers earlier. Compared to this spotless Garage Mahal, our yard full of cardboard boxes, beer cans, and garbage looked like the result of a natural disaster that FEMA should be responding to. But we love having guys with big trailers around because they have parts. In general all the LeMons teams are really cool and everyone is willing to help out a team in need, especially if you have some cold beverages to trade. We definitely leaned on the community that night.
As night fell, Eugene welded in the crossbar on the rollcage. We were still hours from firing the motor.
I learned a few things that night, like how to turn a welder on and how it’s a Russian tradition that when you take one shot of Vodka, you actually take two. Don’t try this at home kids, we’re professionals. After 12 hours of straight thrashing, we actually fired the motor, admired the sound of the new exhaust, and backed the Audi onto the grass around 3am. We would just barely squeak past tech inspection thanks to all this hard work and despite our brand new wooden front bumper.
After rolling around in our sweaty sleeping bags for about four hours, we were here: Bullshit inspection. This was the part where the 24 Hours of LeMons Illuminati looked disapprovingly at the Audi motor that is definitely not the Audi motor they thought they would be seeing under the hood of an Audi 100. The word TURBO cast into the manifold was maybe a tip-off. We got spanked with 20 penalty laps for it. Or maybe, it was just because we were the jokers trying to pass inspection an hour before the race. Maybe it was the Black Sabbath at 3am. We don’t care though. We made the race.
Fun fact: before every LeMons race, founder Jay Lamm sings a spot-on Whitesnake medley to the crowd. He also tells the drivers not to be assholes. If you see someone duct taped to the top of their own car and being paraded around the paddock while being forced to shout apologies through a bullhorn, they were probably being an asshole. LeMons justice is swift and hilarious.
Eugene is taking the first stint. I’m already getting anxious and excited as hell to jump in and turn some laps in a couple hours.
When the green flag dropped, Jay, Ethan and I went up to the top of the timing tower to proudly watch the Audi mix it up with the other 150+ cars there. Except we only saw Eugene go by once. Suddenly Ethan shouted “he’s in the pits!” and we went running down the stairs.
It wasn’t good news. Our new turbo motor ran just fine while puttering around the parking lot, but Eugene learned that once the throttle was wide open and the motor went into boost it was not a happy camper. Our worst fears were confirmed with the discovery of water in the oil. Blown head gasket. After calling every parts store in the area and learning that no one had a head kit for our relatively esoteric 5 cylinder vintage Audi motor, we knew we were done for the weekend. We lasted only two or three laps, and after such a heroic effort the night before it was a pretty gutting defeat. But, precisely because of that epic 12 hour thrash to finish the car, in which I drank lots of cheap beer, got to know the guys better, and learned a lot about the Audi, the weekend still felt like it had meaning. We’ll be back. If anything it’s only strengthened my resolve to get on the track anywhere, anytime, any way this year.
Congratulations to the overall winner of A Class: the #71 Near-Orbital Space Monkeys from Boston, MA and their ’89 Mustang fox body. After Eugene split and Jay and Ethan hauled the Audi out of the paddock, I stayed at the track the rest of the day and shot the race from inside the track. Enjoy these photos of the Saturday action from LeMons in New Jersey, and thanks for reading.