The 24 Hours of LeMons series is utterly fascinating. The premise of racing $500 cars in an endurance race to win $1500 in nickels seems like it would hold zero appeal to anyone, yet many many people field teams to compete in these shows of automotive lunacy. This is the story of how I got started in this unlikely series.
My father and I started racing at our local asphalt circle track, progressing year by year though the classes. After ten years, countless hours, blood, and sweat we started winding down our racing commitment. We were approaching exhaustion in regards to racing and wanted to tone down our schedule. The prospect of devoting 22 weekends and nearly that many weekdays to another season of racing was less and less appealing. As this reality was setting in, I read about the 24 hours of LeMons series in Sport Compact Car magazine. It sounded like an automotive adventure and the schedule was pretty sporadic, so we could still fulfill our racing desires while keeping our annual time commitment low. This sounded like a good fit, so we built a car. We drew on our experience and built what we were comfortable with, a GMC G-Body car. They are the entry level cars at the circle track and closely model the LeMons rules, with minor changes we could adapt a car and go endurance racing. We called a racing buddy who ran a junkyard and located a police impound Buick Regal as a base to begin with.
Follow to the next page to see how this POS was transformed from a police impound project into an endurance racecar.
Our first step was to strip all the things we wouldn’t need for racing. The interior, seats, and stock v6 engine were all removed. This gave us a blank slate on which to start construction.
We also found a few parts we could sell off and use towards our $500 budget. The car must have had a previous life as a donk because there were lift spindles for a S10 truck on the front and adjustable control arms that were extremely long in the rear. The proceeds from the sale of these parts funded a larger aluminum radiator that would be vital during the long and arduous hours of racing and the small block chevy that would power the Buick.
As we had a bunch of experience utilizing small block Chevys as powerplants in all of our circle track cars, we figured that was a good choice for our endurance racer. A stock 350 small block should be potent enough to fend off Saturns and BMW E30s. The HEI ignition system the 350 uses was also desirable as it is extremely easy to wire and would make electrical troubleshooting at the track very simple. We figured we didn’t need anything that would require an electrical engineering degree to repair, as we’d most likely be diagnosing problems after midnight. For shifting duties, we used an automatic transmission. A slush box would be less suspicious to the LeMons judges and it would be far easier to drive without having to row gears. A large transmission cooler in front of the radiator as an added insurance policy was the only modification done to the transmission. The motor dropped in without too much fanfare.
As mentioned previously, the wiring was kept pretty simple. A ford solenoid was utilized to make wiring the alternator and starter easier and to move any track side wiring troubleshooting that would need to be done from under the car into the drivers compartment. Additional lighting was added to augment the stock headlights, as the tracks we planned to race at did not have lighting during the night portions. The battery was also relocated to its new home behind the driver as a safety precaution and to help with weight distribution.
The car was starting to shape up nicely. The power train and wiring were sorted, but the exterior needed a little attention. We added a lexan spoiler to the trunk to provide down force without impeding visibility. The road course layout we would be navigating was 2.5 miles long with a rather speedy back straight, so we wanted to avoid any dangerous high speed handling characteristics that a lack of a spoiler might entail.
After all that was completed, the final piece of the puzzle needed to be addressed. The roll cage. It is an extremely critical portion of the car, as the LeMons officials may exercise leeway in regards to complying with the $500 limit but have zero tolerance when safety is involved. That’s a very understandable position, as piloting a rusty pile of cobbled together parts on a race track is pretty dangerous. A stout roll cage transforms the aged structure of these cars into something that will protect the driver. Our roll cage was sourced from a mail order catalog that sold a prebent selection of bars that would fit our car. One of the reasons we chose our Buick was we knew it was widely used on circle tracks around the nation and would prevent us from having a costly custom roll cage installed. With a wire feed welder, chop saw, grinder, and lots of time we constructed our cage. One feature we added to the mail order kit was to weld in steel plates to help tie the frame to the body of the car. Unlike most cars in the LeMons series that sport a unibody construction, our car had a full frame. We capitalized on this feature and welded the main roll bar structures directly to the frame and then welded the steel plates around the roll bar where it passed through the car body. This added both structural rigidity and tied the body to the frame of the car, lessening body roll that the 20 year old body mounts weren’t stopping. Add some roll bar padding, an aluminum racing seat, and a 5 point harness and you have a complete Lemons endurance race car.