Have You Ever Dreamed of Racing? Build a $500 Race Car

Ever since I saw my first 1972 Pontiac Trans Am with a 455 HO engine I have wanted to drive a “race” car.  My neighbor was going to school at UCLA and used the new Trans Am to pull his boat.  Passing buy I said “cool car”.  He told me all about it, I was nine.  I went home that night and told my dad about the “race car” up the street and that he should get one.  He laughed a little since he had just bought the new Cadillac Brougham, and our next door neighbor one up-ed him by getting a gently used Rolls Royce of some kind.  Better yet, he convinced the state of California his license plate MR BS was ok since BS were his initials.  It didn’t hurt that he was an attorney.

Shortly after that conversation with my dad, we passed the TransAm, and he laughed at me saying “that car is ugly, it needs some chrome man, geez look at that boring thing”.  Eventually my dad took me to a car show in East LA.  Not the safest place in town, but chrome was all the rage.  The early lowriders and hot rodders were pimping their rides to no end.  The only cars that impressed me were the fast cars with the big motors.   My dad was big into the 70’s version of “Bling”, a “Rat Pack” wanna be its’ finest form.

After seeing all the cars with metallic multi-layer paint, small tires and chrome wheels , I went to my neighbors and asked why he didn’t get cool chrome wheels.  At nine years old I got the lesson of a lifetime.  We started with an lesson in metallurgy, magnesium wheels are lighter than chrome over steel so your car can go faster.  Next was physics, newtons law, force = mass x acceleration so you need bigger tires for better g-forces.  I think we finished with his favorite “There is no replacement for displacement”.

Later that week I went to my grandfathers, and talked cars.  I think it was the happiest I ever saw him.  We went out to the garage and he pulled out the cover of a car magazine.  Tattered and torn the cover had a picture of my younger grandfather and his motorcycle and hot rod.  My grandfather had four daughters and none of them are into cars.  No one appreciated what he had done.  We went for a ride in his Opel GT and he continued my neighbors car classes.  We talked about the rolling efficiency of drum brakes vs. the then newer disc brakes.  We talked about horsepower and displacement as it related to the weight of the car and told me that really the power to weight ratio was the key, not total displacement.

He took me to his friends garage and they introduced me to a car with a Paxton Supercharger and explained how relative displacement could be increased by forcing more air into the engine.  It was the best time I ever had with my grandfather.  We both got a butt chewing when we got home making it all the better.  Neither of us told anyone we left, and in 1973 none of us could afford a mobile phone.

I have dreamed of racing a car on a track in a real race ever since then.  I have gone to drag races, NASCAR races, American Le Mans races, GT races, autocross races and go kart races.  I even went to Porsche Driving School and the Richard Petty Experience to fulfill my fantasy of being a race car driver.  Then I found it.

One day going to work I stumbled on a little blurb about the 24 Hours of Lemons.  The article said “Get a $500 car and race”.  Man could I do that!  After finding the website and learning one of the “24 Hours of LeMons races” was just an hour from my house, I knew I was in.  Building the car and the team was slightly more challenging than I expected and that is another story.

When we finally got the team to the track and the car on the track, it was like my dream of being a race car driver was fulfilled.  I imagined my grandfather being there watching our 1993 rusted out Cavalier running around the track.  Even though I was up until 3:30 AM getting the car ready, I was awake, alert and smiling every time the car made another lap.  My wife made a comment as the cavalier flew by at 60 miles an hour with the tires squealing around the turn that I looked the happiest and most relaxed I had been since we moved from California.  I figured it was the lack of sleep and delirium at the time.

After the fourth driver finished his time in the car, I suited up and jumped in.  It was like nothing I ever felt before.  Flying jets in the Air Force was a blast, but this was clearly different.  As I pushed the pedal to the floor at the end of the pit lane and tried to time my merge into traffic all I could think was, “a little more displacement would be nice now”.  I made the merge and got so focused on the track that I missed my time window and drove into the next drivers time.  Since radios weren’t in the first budget, all we had was a cardboard sign with a spray painted 53 on it to communicate it was time to pit.  Yup, 53 was the last number available, go figure.

When I pitted my mom took a picture that my wife calls my “Cheshire Cat” smile.  She said I hadn’t smiled like that in years, and I should keep racing.  The rest of the weekend was everything a “LeMons” race is about, we were bumped, scraped, blacked flagged and caused a yellow flag.  We were entered in the “passing during yellow” parade where they pull you from the track and drive you around the paddocks and stands with a bullhorn as the race continues.  The worst fine was the spare tire.  We had to bolt a tire to the roof and the cavalier was noticeably slower.

What You get for Passing on a Yello
AirBrake Tire as a penalty fine for passing under Yellow

If you want to test your dream of driving a race car, this is a great place to try it.  All of the leadership required for team building, hassles of car ownership and nuttiness of a New Orleans Mardi Gras are rolled into one weekend.  We get to do it twice a year in Houston.  Clearing the mind both on the track, and at the Saturday night parties is a great way to solve the worlds problems and move your life forward.  Running a car in the 24 Hours of LeMons convinced me to make some changes in how I approach people, life and business.  What dream can you fulfill or what hobby can you pick up that lets you look at life from a different angle?  Get focused – and let life be great!


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