Track time—as true track dawgs, we're constantly after it, hunting down seat time like hungry wolves. And recently, thanks to Team Peak, we participated in our first 24 Hours of LeMons race at Autobahn Country Club in Joliet, Illinois.
Feeling like a race car driver, I loaded my gear and flew to Autobahn, located in Joliet, Illinois, that's about 40 minutes south of Chicago. I arrived at the track eager to meet the crew and to get a look at the Fox GT we'd be racing. This LeMons event, titled "Doin' Time In Joliet," was not actually 24 hours long, but rather a 14.5 hour enduro, spread over two days and consisting of 9 hours of competition on Saturday and 5.5 on Sunday. We'd be racing on the ACC South Circuit, which is 2.1 miles in length, with 15 turns and a nice 1,850-foot straight. It's a technical track that we ran not too long ago.
"Peak signed on this season as an official sponsor of the 24 Hours of LeMons series, providing product rebate discounts to LeMons competitors and running three online sweepstake programs—with the grand prize of each being an all-expense-paid trip to a 24 Hours of Lemons race weekend," said Josh Russell, Peak promotor. "The winners also receive a spot as driver on (Peak's) LeMons team to race in the Peak Marketing Tools '89 Mustang 5.0L GT alongside a Peak-sponsored pro driver or celebrity guest. The promotions have paired prize-winners with teammates like Traxxas TORC Series Off-Road racer and former motocross champion Ricky Johnson and Peak NHRA Top Fuel dragster pilot TJ Zizzo," Russell added.
The prizewinner at Autobahn was Jack Wilson from Eloy, Arizona, who came along with his wife, Sondra. Jack owns Performance Bearing, manufacturers of custom ceramic bearings for racing applications.
"At age 70, Jack also happens to be a lifelong racer, having driven in off-road, motorcycle, sprint car, midget, dirt modified, and SCCA. But this was his first LeMons racing experience, having entered the sweepstakes because he thought it ‘sure sounded like a lot of fun,'" said Russell. Also driving was Bryan Emrich and Brian Bohlander of Peak, NHRA Top Fuel driver TJ Zizzo, and your humble scribe.
With five drivers, we'd get plenty of seat time and enjoy the camaraderie of enduring two long days of racing, along with all the challenges of competing in a mostly stock Mustang for 14.5 hours. As you can imagine, making the car last for 14.5 hours would be just as challenging as moving through the pack. "Getting Peak professional drivers involved with low-buck, grassroots racing is a perfect match to the passion and lifestyle of Peak's wrench-spinning, do-it-yourself kind of customer," added Bryan Emrich, senior vice president of marketing for Peak.
Equally important to our success was Crew Chief Bart Nelson, mechanic and race strategist Eric Debord, and our chef, Robert "Chef Bob" Kasinecz.
Zizzo never had any previous road racing experience, and it had been years since Wilson was on a road course, but you would have never known it after watching them wheel the GT. Wilson had spent his adulthood wheeling sprint cars and other race machines, and we figured if Zizzo could handle 10,000 hp in his dragster, then our 225hp '89 GT should be a breeze. And it was, as Zizzo was smooth, and his lap times dropped with every session.
"Our low-buck Fox 5.0 is pretty quick and well sorted out, plus it is reasonably light and balanced," said Russell. "We run it with 17-inch wheels with Nitto NT555 tires, a Craig's List-purchased 5.0L with cam/headers/exhaust, 73mm MAF, 24-lb/hr injectors and a Tremec T5. Brakes are mid-'80s 73mm SVO calipers in the front, Thunderbird Turbo Coupe discs in the rear, and it has race pads all around. It's fun to drive and it gives you a great sense of American pride to freight train the imports in the long straights."
On Friday, we got the car teched in, mingled with the crew, and even got some track time. Knowing how fragile stock parts can be, we went about our practice carefully, only taking a half-dozen laps (each) to feel the car and get a sense of the track.
The LeMons series is a true home for budget-minded racers. I saw a wide array of vehicles with some wacky themes. Oldtimers would say it's a throwback to a simpler era. There was a fun, laid-back energy to the event; virtually everyone I came across was pleasant and clearly having fun. There was no sense of having to perform for sponsors or worry about winning big bucks. In the drivers meeting, officials made it clear that anyone can be flagged or penalized at any time for "BS" or simply driving like a moron.
"LeMons loves coming to Autobahn Country Club because hey—it's a country club, and we're definitely not country-club material. It's sort of like Caddyshack, minus the gopher and plus about 8,000 gallons of gas," said Jay Lamm, the chief perpetrator of LeMons.