Tuesday, March 18, 2014



Back road testing before taking the slow boat to Daytona in search of inky glory in 1905. (Photo courtesy of Bonhams)

Daytona Beach, Florida was the hot spot in the early 1900's. All the big dogs were running wild there. From Henry Ford to Louis Chevrolet, Daytona was overpopulated with nothing but heavies. On the outskirts of Paris, France, Pierre Alexandre Darracq had just sold his Gladiator Bicycle Company to fund his new Darracq Motor Car concern. Darracq believed newsprint was the key to promotion (bless his heart) and set out to prove it by taking a shot at the World Land Speed Record on Daytona Beach. A new 1904 Darracq roadster was stripped to the short hairs and fitted with a monster 1,550 cubic inch V-8, said to make an unprecedented 200 horsepower. After an epic journey to Daytona, the speedster met with endless tech and political challenges before finally being unleashed on the infamous hard sands. An eleventh hour 122.5 MPH blast garnered the precious ink that ultimately spiked sales to near-acceptable levels before Darracq's company went under in 1935. Such is the power of the printed word. For better or worse.

Even before Darracq managed to breach the elite Daytona good ol' boy club and make his lucky run, the beach had been pummeled by other Frenchmen, Brits, and Italians, in search of high velocity immortality. 

This French vehicle is said to be the first ever purpose-built landspeed racer. I believe it's electric. The words "Le Jamaise Contente" appeared beside the photo (Translation: "I'm comfortable in my jammies"). Why have you never seen it, or heard of this car before? For the same reason no one else has ever heard of it: It made its runs at Achilles, instead of Daytona. Case closed. (Photo found online) 

Personally, I don't believe the world's speed demons' efforts are any less credible if not documented in American ink. What matters to them is that they believe it. And so they came, from every latitude and longitude of the globe, hell bent on leaving their marks on Yankee record books. And they keep coming. Why?

That's what I set out to uncover in Racing to America. Why do you care? Because these gearheads with the racy accents have romanticized America's high performance pedigree to the point of providing a whole new perspective for we who have come to take it for granted. And because of their boundless desire, these colorful characters also remind us what "highspeed highjinks" really look like. Alas, we've become too smug to even recognize the fun under our noses anymore.

That stench you're noticing is yet another question mark: I'm aware that I stated just last week that this blog is commercial-free, then opened this week's post with a reference to a product I'm selling (Racing to America - The Global Homage to American Motorsports. Available at  https://www.createspace.com/4338903 and at http://www.amazon.com/Racing-America-Global.../dp/1490539778). How does that work? It's okay. I just checked the rule book and learned this is all part of God's plan.

I found this in the fine print: If I'm willing to do the legwork, God will notice. If I actually do some legwork, as a leap of faith (like risking alienating readers by using this blog to promote products), God will do the rest (like creating adequate sales activity in my given demographic to pay for more Bachelor Chow). That's my interpretation, anyway. (Image courtesy of piecomic.com.)

So there it is. Of course, you're free to choose whether or not to purchase this product, just like with those Garden of Eden apples. That's all between you and God of course, and none of my damn business. Hey, has anyone seen Baxter?


Just like you, I insist on having fun with any activity I indulge in. From writing to wrenching to wrath risking, it better be fun, or I'm just not interested. And from what I've seen, the most fun in Motorsports has to be the 24 Hours of LeMons series. This is obviously what I was born for, but I have yet to get involved. It will happen when it's meant to be. In the meantime, let's revisit last year's standout entry of the series, Florida's NSF Racing K-car wagon. 

According to Car and Driver magazine, the wagon traveled through 43 states and at least one Canadian province, and was crewed by nine different teams (comprising over 100 drivers) to compete in the 14 races of the annual series. It was towed 14,012 miles, highway driven for 12,194 miles, and raced for 4,678 miles. It went through seven engines and stranded drivers from the Mohave Desert (122 degrees) to Wyoming (-21 degrees). Why? This is the previous daily driver of NSF Racing pal and lifelong auto industry employee, "Detroit Betty". The Reliant never had a chance. It was predestined to serve as a race car upon Betty's passing. 

Before: Detroit Betty's '86 Plymouth Reliant station wagon. A perfectly sensible automobile. And she kept it in pristine condition.

After: Instantly obsolete. Much better.

After gutting, caging, and patriotizing the car, NSF towed to Eagles Canyon Raceway in Texas, where the K-wagon debuted at the Heaps in the Heart of Texas race. It was here that the wagon's image freakishly morphed from Norman Rockwell to Ralph Steadman. It finished 21st out of 32 entries. From this inauspicious false start (the 2.2 banger blew to smithereens), the wagon became the feelgood story of the 2013 Motorsports season. NSF handed it off to the all-female Rosie the Riveter team at the South Carolina Southern Discomfort race, who soon passed the keys to Sputnik Racing's team at the following There Goes the Neighborhood race in New York, and so on - with a shared LeMons-community goal of racing the Reliant at every event in the 2013 series under different team banners. "K it Forward!" became the season mantra. Go to http://blog.caranddriver.com/the-tale-of-the-k-it-fwd-plymouth-reliant-part-1/ for the whole epic saga. Grassroots Motorsports magazine (highly recommended!) also carries in depth coverage of the series.

Bon Voyage! Let the games begin...

Rosie Riveter Kim Harmon grenaded the freshly rebuilt 2.2 at the season opener. Note perfect paint on block. Sweet!

Acquiring replacement wrecking yard engines became routine maintenance early in the series. By season's end, this exercise was performed during lunch breaks.

Back in action at the Cure for Gingivitis race. The K's best finish of the season: 38th place, out of 63 entrants.

The Rosies at the Southern Discomfort race.

Another late night, another engine swap.

The ceremonial Handing Over of The Keys ritual was also perfected over the course of the grueling season.

K-It-Forward homage paint scheme at Michigan's Gingerman Raceway. Note snow on Lemon-Aid Racing's BMW and the K-wagon. Welcome to Michigan.

"The car didn't run very well, or for very long stretches, but it ran." That's saying something in this dog-pee-on-dog series.

Ignoring fuel and electrical gremlins at the There Goes the Neighborhood race in New York.

In the end (utilizing the seventh oil-spewing engine and a welded balljoint), Detroit Betty was canonized, Lee Iaccoca was vaguely remembered, and America relapsed into a nasty case of K-car fever. The 2014 24 Hours of LeMons series promises more of the same. Don't miss it! 

Some other overachievers from the 2013 season. This is where the fun is. (Photos courtesy of Car and Driver Magazine)



Global tensions approached volatile levels last week, as fabricators worldwide anxiously awaited the final design of my Model A's rear spring perch. Sparks flew last Sunday, but the masterpiece remains unfinished. Here's what we can show you, for now...

I arrived at Dr. Lockjaw's Custom Metal shop to find that he had drilled out my pilot holes for the U-bolts and shaped the 3/8" perch in his hydraulic press to hug the Model T spring! What a great surprise! Doc is the awesomest hero ever.

We sliced the perch open with a cutoff wheel, bent it to fit, and filled the gap with a couple miles of MIG wire.

Doc went over it with the TIG...

... The welds were ground down and we checked the fit...

... and the passionate debate on 1/4" side gusset design ensued. Things got ugly and we went our separate ways. We haven't spoken since. Could this silent standoff mark the fizzling of a project that began in 1996? Will our heroes make their impossible deadline? Is a long term friendship worth sacrificing to win an argument over aesthetic dogma? On that, Doc and I agree: You bet your ass it is! Bottom line: I'm right and he's wrong. Tune in next week for the latest developments in this intense drama. Meanwhile, note that this is a true suicide perch, with the spring mounted over the perch. (Scotty shots)



Tis the season. Our local track (Champion Raceway) is now open. Screaming tortured tires and uncapped headers can be heard echoing throughout downtown, every night of the week. I'll be dusting off the camera to shoot squirrels in their natural habitat soon. And my bones are starting to thaw. 

Something for the younger set this week. A guy known to me only as Bosco, works out of this '73 Mac rollaway. No pretentious cuteness here, just another box with a work ethic, helping to make the world a better place. Thank you for your service! (Photo by Bosco)



While the SGE cartoon archives are legendary, this is my go-to piece for a quick pick-me-up. I'm a simple man with simple needs. (Image via Motormouth Ray)