Spotlight on Ohlone:
Racing for LeMons: life in the trash lane

By Kyle Stephens, Staff writer.

Thursday, September 24, 2009—Reprinted from Monitor.

“Crap can racing”—sport of the few, the brave. One such competition, The 24 Hours of LeMons Race, held at Thunderhill Raceway, a ways west of Chico on Nov. 22-23, will feature an Ohlone student and computer science major Andrew “Max” Stephens, in a race of endurance, and eclecticism.

Three young men and car engine. Max Stephens, Stéphane Bagneris and Boris Berenberg and their LeMons Race entry car's engine out for servicing. —Photo courtesy of Max Stephens.

To give an idea of the mood of the LeMons race, know that the FAQ section of its website is translated as “Frequently Asinine Quips.” In the rules themselves, it is stated that the judges are not above bribery and other coercion, and chances are if it’s not caught, it goes. Safety is a chief concern nonetheless though, for both drivers and spectators, all in the name of everyone having a good, safe time.

The race is one of endurance; the most laps done around the 2.86 mile course 24 hours’ time. The race is split between two, 12 segments, as 24 hour races are very taxing for race participants, spectators and the event staff.

Entries in the LeMons must be cars worth $500 or less (safety precautions don’t count towards this total), as ascertained by judges on the day of the race. Cars that are deemed worth more than that may be penalized with negative laps towards their total.

Stephens first heard of the race through an online gaming community he’s associated with, the Mower’s Clan, and further discussed it with fellow group member Stéphane Bagneris. Bagneris, with Stephens would form the crew, “Pear Harbor Racing,” along with another gaming group member, Boris Berenberg. “It’s definitely a conversation starter,” said Stephens “’I race crap-cans,’ what do you do?”

Car. The car in question, a 1981 Datsun 200SX, bought for a mere $300. Despite being long unused, it still runs. —Photo courtesy of Max Stephens.

Their entry is a blue, 1981 Datsun Silvia S110 (also known as a 200SX), though plans are in place to paint the car like a Japanese WWII fighter plane, the Mitzubishi A6M Zero, in dis-honor of its Japanese heritage. While Datsuns are actually made by Nissan, this is not a race to be taken too seriously, as Stephens noted. Bagneris described the race simply as “a retarded episode of Top Gear,” Top Gear being a British TV program about cars, often with a quirky theme.

When the vehicle was first auditioned before being purchased, it didn’t even start. It was eventually started with subsequent hot wiring. Stephens described the ride to the crew’s impromptu garage to be “like riding a boat,” because the car’s suspension was busted. Soon, the oil was changed, as was the air filter and spark plugs. To replace the nonfunctional key ignition, a switch panel was installed, not unlike a professional racecar.

The race has a minimum of safety requirements to be met, such as secure, non-leaking fuel tanks and a roll cage. Cars racing during hotter times of the year have been known to overheat and even catch of fire, and even in the colder climate of the LeMons race (held in November remember), the various hazards of driving junker cars remain. Stephens said when he was last at the track, despite wearing “a t-shirt, long sleeve shirt, a sweater, snowboard jacket, scarf and hat,” he still was shivering.

Performance (and appearance) enhancing upgrades, such as what Stephens called a “rice-y” muffler (bought on the cheap at half off day at the junkyard), and aluminum wheels have been implemented. In the works right now is an engine enhancing procedure called a “port and polish.” Originally suggested as a joke by team consultant and auto enthusiast Bryan Tregear, a port and polish involved widening the air intakes in an engine and smoothing these ducts down, both for the sake of enhanced airflow, ergo performance. At present though, this has slowed work on the car down, as the engine needs to be removed and disassembled for work to be done on it.

Both Stephens and Bagneris said preparing for the race has allowed for and made them a lot more knowledgeable about automotive matters, while having a lot of fun too. The crap can racing format has proven ideal for this, because the car is a minimal investment and the race itself isn’t serious enough to make preparing the car a difficult ordeal. Winning the race itself is a mixed blessing: the prize is $1,500, in nickels (about 330 pounds).

For more information about the race, please conssult their website, http://www.24hoursoflemons.com/.

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