Click for part one.
We arrived at Thunderhill in Willows, California at a reasonable time Friday morning. My only concern with tech was if our fire suppression system would pass, and only because it had never been through tech before. Our drivers arrived this morning after driving all night. We had our usual drivers – me, our kids Max (28) and Nash (20) and their friends Brandon and Andrew. Also contributing were Brandon’s wife Natalie (in charge of the engine during pit stops), Max’s fiancé Maylin (in charge of nachos, judge visibility and social media), and one girlfriend each for Nash and Andrew. We tasked our fifteen year old daughter with keep the fuel jugs full. Our team wore yellow t-shirts with the design shown below. And yes, the knife the nacho guy usually wields has been replaced by a bunny because our daughter can’t wear attire displaying cartoon weapons.
We breezed through tech inspection without incident. They saw the fire suppression system was there and appeared to be plumbed and that was good enough. For BS inspection (where they assign class and, if any, penalty laps) we bribed the judges with a picnic basket since it was Memorial Day Weekend. Our basket included Long Island Iced Tea, Mike’s Hard Lemonade and foods appropriate for a picnic. We gave them some of our merch (t-shirts) as well. We were assigned to C class, as usual, by Judge Steve, who is a big fan… such a big fan that he indicated that he had gotten paint on his favorite NachoFriend sweatshirt that we gave him a couple of years ago at Sonoma. He asked if he could get another. He will, because we are not below sucking up to the judges.
After tech, Brandon (as he always does) began looking at the car and the next thing I knew he had removed the alternator. Our alternator tends to get loose during races. We can apply all the Loctite in the world, secure it with three locking nuts and torque it to 200 ft/lbs, but it loosens up regardless. I suppose one could get mad about having to fix the alternator mount, but it’s part of what makes LeMons fun – a member of the team finds something that needs fixing and fixes it. We stand by the motto “If it ain’t broke, it will be.” By the end of Friday the alternator was securely mounted and we were ready to race. I gave it 4 hours of racing, tops, until the alternator came loose again.
After our time at the track Friday, the team went out for our traditional Friday Mexican dinner. Our restaurant of choice was Casa Ramos, where we dined on fine Mexican fair, enjoyed cocktails and spilled water on our driver Andrew (well, he spilled on himself once and then my mom drenched him once more to ensure he had sufficiently cooled off). My daughter identified someone from Nitro Circus at the restaurant, Hayley Swanson, and took a selfie with her. Hayley was racing in a Miata painted to look like a potato.
I was first up on race day, eager to do some parade laps on a track that was new to me. There are a couple of spots on the five-mile Thunderhill course where one’s path is blind. As the car crests the hill, the driver of our car is completely ignorant of whether the track goes straight, left or right. The best a driver can hope for is that he is behind one of the vans whose roof will lead the way safely down the hill. The first couple of times around the track can be treacherous, until the proper line is learned. One potential pitfall of following the line of the car in front is that they might have no idea where where they are going either.
While parading around the track in the Celica, I noticed the pin was still in the fire system, meaning that it couldn’t be actuated by the handle in reach of the driver. I knew if I raced with that pin in place, I would definitely need to use the fire system, so I pulled back into the paddock after one lap and advised my connfused team that we should probably remove the pin from the fire extinguisher. After our briefest pit stop in history, I headed back out onto the track and joined the race.
I completed one hour in the Celica, according to the car’s digital timer. The weather was clear, it was a cool morning and I was able to keep my stint clean. Max, our oldest, then followed up with another clean hour. This is when things started to go wrong. On this clear, sunny, dry Saturday our team managed to get black-flagged five times for going off of the track. We kept the nacho supply line flowing to the judges in hopes of staying on their good side. After the fifth black flag of the day, Judge Steve called our team over and talked to us about driving within our limits and the limits of the car. We were parked for quite a while and ended the day in sixth place in class. I estimated that we would have been in third place, absent the black flags.
Outside of the black flags, we had a solid day, just like Pete Carroll had a great day during the Super Bowl except for choosing to throw it from the 1. Driver changes were fast, monitoring and filling fluids was done efficiently and, thanks to our new Hunsaker QuickFill Dump Cans, refueling was faster than ever. Mechanically, the car performed well. We had advanced the timing before the race and the engine responded to this with crisper acceleration. After Saturday’s racing, Brandon and Max did a quick front alignment to give the car a bit of toe out. I was optimistic that we had learned the track well enough on day one to stay on it for day two.
The Saturday night potluck at Thunderhill was quite a spectacle. There was plenty of wine, we brought our pulled pork nachos, a DJ spun tunes. I had the opportunity to talk to Jeff Glucker, of Hooniverse fame. He was part of the Huevos Rancheros team, in a Ford Ranchero. I told him I witnessed their car fly off the track on the first lap and he sheepishly admitted “Yeah, that was me.” Some of the unique paddock vehicles were a jetski on wheels and a canoe mounted to a frame, powered by an engine of some sort. We hung out with a Celica team from the Bay Area that has helped us by providing parts through the years. They are running a V8 from the Lexus LS400 and are significantly faster than our 22RE-equipped Celica, though somewhat less reliable.
We arrived Sunday morning to a damp track. Though we’d never raced LeMons in the rain, we were somewhat confident that this would give us a home field advantage, since we are all from the Seattle area. I was a bit less confident, remembering that our team went off-roading five times during the previous day’s perfect weather. We fired up the nachos, sent our first driver out and eventually retreated into the trailer with our camp chairs in order to stay dry.
Drivers went out for their prescribed time this day and came back to the paddock without one black flag. It was one of our best days of racing since we started doing this. Despite being at a disadvantage in power, we managed to stay in 6th place. It quit raining in the afternoon, during which time Nash managed to record our fastest lap of the race. We encountered no mechanical issues, just the usual 1 quart of oil per hour consumption rate, which apparently is normal for a 22RE engine that’s being exercised rigorously.
We took the checkered flag in 6th place in C class. The class C winner was a Lotus Elan with a Chevy small block. This car always runs fast laps and always breaks, so it was nice to see them stay together and win one.
Our team marched off to the post-race awards ceremony. Much to our surprise, Judge Steve announced that, despite five black flags in one day, NachoFriend Racing had won the Judges’ Choice trophy. It was all about the nachos. Our pulled pork was rubbbed, smoked for several hours, braised overnight in beer, pulled apart and then seared on a hot griddle to give it some crust. It was finished with the braising liquid to keep it moist. Combine that tasty pork with traditional nacho cheese sauce, restaurant style tortillas, and chili… it’s a combination that’s tough to beat.
Our next race will be closer to home, at The Ridge Motorsports Park in Shelton, WA. We’ve been working on the car and look forward to seeing if all of that effort results in faster lap times. Or fewer black flags. Honestly, the latter would be fine.