Friday, February 27, 2009

Noise! I can't stand the Noise!

"Wanna go for a ride?" I asked into the cell phone. I was already on the road, cruising around in a 10,000lb 27 foot Class C motorhome my parents just gave me, out of the blue.

“No. It’s late.” replied my-wont-be-spouse-for-many-years-girlfriend. In fact, she would not ride in it with me for many many, MANY years… LeMons Thunderhill Freezassapolooza 2008 would be her first in fact.

Brownie and I'm-not-budging-on-this-spouse/significant other eyed each other with suspicion for a very long time. She put up with a lot of my antics, but this was one thing she was firm on. She wanted nothing to do with brownie.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

No rest for the Obsessive

Pit Stop, The NEW Nut Tree at I-80, Dec 2008

Having just stopped for dinner after several hours of driving, my quick-to-the-restroom spouse and I each decided a visit the restroom was in order before deciding where to eat. I finished first thanks to a flock of elderly German ladies that swamped the female restroom as we arrived.

When she escaped the pit-stop, my much-relieved spouse found me standing at the entrance to the park, transfixed on the little train.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Homeward Bound

6:30 pm, I-80 West, 28 December 2008

Do you hear that?

“Hear what?” my droopy-eyed-spouse said.

That noise. It’s a “wha-ding, wha-ding, wha-ding” kind of noise…

Tuesday, February 24, 2009


Thunderhill Raceway, 28 December 08

Once again the second day of the race was even more entertaining than the first. The driving was more competitive and faster between yellow flags. There were quite a few Yellows, but few serious incidents. A Yugo ended up pointing it’s shoes to the dinosaur spirit in the sky, and the Faster Farms Plymouth did a barrel roll, but there were overall very few serious incidents.

Sidenote: There is a small group of individuals who know what REALLY happened to the Yugo, but have been sworn to secrecy. It’s a conspiracy of EPIC proportions.

Monday, February 23, 2009


Thunderhill Raceway, 28 December 08

The next morning we awoke, and my worried-for-my-life-spouse asked “Are you going to drive today?”

Sunday, February 22, 2009


The Silliness begins:

Once again the cars lined up and paraded out to the track. Slowly they circled waiting for the random green flag to drop. There were many familiar paint jobs, and a bunch of new ones as well. In all there must have been nearly 100 cars out there. The track itself was much more

Saturday, February 21, 2009


Thunderhill Raceway, 27 December 08

I was surprised by just how many people were at the driver’s meeting. There was a raise of hands to show how many had never done wheel-to-wheel racing before, and a large percentage of the hands went up. Cool. I’m in good company. (And I will probably be in good company for the next race too at this rate)

Now, I've done my fair share of canyon racing up in the Sierras as a younger, dumber lad, but never wheel to wheel on a real track.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Thunderhill or Bust!

I-5 to Willows

The drive up to Willows went great. Gwen even fell asleep to the drone of the mighty big block Dodge as it dutifully carried the two of us and all our junk north on the 4 ½ hour trip. Dinner once again consisted of our favorite road trip meal, Western Bacon Cheeseburgers. It’s become a ritual for us to stop by a nearby Carl’s Jr and pick up a couple of burgers to chew on while we hit the road.

After a couple hours I stopped at a truck stop to check all the tires, fluids and safety chains, then filled up with cheap gas. A few months earlier gas was threatening to cross the $5 mark per gallon, but thankfully had dropped to around $1.90 just in time for the trip. With a 40 gallon tank, I needed every penny I could save!

We pulled in late to the roadside Motel,

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Christmas 08

Stockings full of coal??

I got Brownie -the worlds best crappy old RV- all tuned up and running great, and we were ready for the trip to Willows. The trailer was rented for the smart car, our bags were packed, and hotel reservations were made. The wife was still unsure about this whole “30 year old RV thing”, so I promised her a hotel room in addition to bringing her smart car behind us.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The Homestretch

My second trip to Lou’s compound was more worrisome. He showed me the same projects and I got to hear the same stories, but the car…. Well the car was in awful shape! This time the sun was still up so I got to really see it in the light, and holy crap! I’m not sure any real progress was made on the car. For every previous idea he finished, he had several more new ones he was starting! And this was supposed to be a “Ready to Go” ride.

Added to that, he was now spending valuable time “Building” a second race car for the team, while the first one sat incomplete. He showed me what used to be the Red XJ12, that now had its trunk cut off. Um, Oh dear. What about finishing the other one first? Wasn’t car number 1 supposed to be ready from the last race? Oh boy. I asked about some of the more obvious safety items like the gas tank being in the rear seat with the radiator, no internal roll bar etc, and I got another lecture on how upside down the safety industry was. I’m sure he believed it too. But I sure wasn’t comfortable with the setup. He said he had more to do and it was a work in progress. I’d have to wait and see what he came up with, and what the tech inspectors said, but I wasn't holding my breath.

On the plus side, the car did finally run, and it almost sounded great. At least until Lou informed me it could blow at any moment. But hey, no problem if it does, he has a spare! (as he pointed to an engine sitting nearby on cardboard to keep it out of the mud). We can just put a new engine in it at the track. Oh, and he doubted the new engine was any good either. SAY WHAT??

Now I don’t mind thrashing and getting dirty to get something running again. Hell, it’s half the fun! But I do mind exercises in futility. I suddenly had a sick lump in my stomach that told me I wasn’t going racing after all. I remembered back to the scene I saw play out at Altamont, and I just knew. Barring a miracle, I was going up to WATCH others race. Shit.

I shook my head and said “I think you’re totally nuts”. He just shrugged it off and showed me his new progressive throttle linkage he had custom made for the car, and then some junkyard Chevy wheels he had the centers cut out of so they would fit. Then he reminded me he was flat broke and was stuck because he needed more sheet metal for the car.

He asked if I had access to a 1-ton truck that would be able to tow the trailer and the car inside of it, plus the extra engine and parts. I mentioned I had an RV I was bringing, but it would be towing the wife’s smart car I planned on using as a pit bike. Plus, the trailer alone probably weighed 6000 lbs or more, too much for my RV even without the car inside. He mentioned he was trying to buy a dedicated truck to tow with. Seems the owner of the large truck on the property was mad at him and would not let him use it.

Call me crazy, but claiming to be flat broke one moment, does not compute with buying a new truck the next.

When I got home my astutewhatswrong spouse asked “What’s wrong?”

I told her the story and she said “Oh baby, I’m sorry”. Then we both had a laugh. Ah well... Let's go get Brownie the RV out of storage.

Next: Christmas 08

Previous: The Backstretch

From The Begining - The Hook... (Part 1)

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The Backstretch

Nearly Christmas 2008

Lou and I spoke on the phone regularly, and he gave me updates both on the car and the team. Everything seemed to be going well, and I suspected he was either a lot better at building race cars than it appeared, or really believed what he was saying. Since I already gave him the money, I hoped maybe he knew what he was doing.

Lou invited me out to lunch one Saturday in Berkley to meet the other team members and a few other interesting car guys. That morning was pretty cold, and as a result the MGB did not want to start. Damn. This only happens when I’m around other car guys, and I’ve come to think of it as stage fright. Meanwhile the Datsun was sidelined with a leaky rear axle, which meant I had to borrow my in-law’s Honda to go meet a bunch of car nuts. What a bummer… 365 days a year of proudly (suffering) driving vintage cars, and now I gotta show up driving a Honda? Go figure.

I showed up at the Chinese restaurant just in time for fortune cookies and to meet fellow teammate Armand along with several other car enthusiasts. After introductions I was typically quiet and just listened to their stories and banter, while Lou alternated between reminding us of his world records, and breaking out in more limericks. They were quite creative even if they came at odd times, and he claims to have written them all himself.

This group seems to tolerate Lou’s peculiarities, and may even be a little fond of it. It appears as if they have come to realize Lou is Lou and there is just no changing that. He and Armand invited me to meet up after “lunch” at his friend Eric’s shop, and then they left just before the rest of the group did. When Lou had gone, one person in the group (who turned out to be Chief Perp Jay Lamm) asked me point blank;

“So how much is Lou charging you guys to be on his team? And Let me guess, he gave you a money back guarantee”.

I kind of skirted his questions for a couple reasons, and I said “Well, all he really has is his word. I’ll just have to wait and see what that’s worth.”

Then he told me “I can’t guarantee you many laps on Lou’s team, but I can guarantee you lots of great stories, ha-ha-ha!!”

Crap. Well it’s too late now. And at least I’m hanging around fellow gear-heads for a change.

Back at Eric's shop he showed me some of the world's coolest toys. One that stood out the most was what appeared to be a fully restored 37-40 Studebaker Coupe Express(Think El Camino or Ranchero). But when he popped the hood, there was a Dick Landy full-boogie race Hemi pushing an estimated 1,000 HP! Holy CRAP!

Eric then started it up for us, and the sweet sound nearly melted my brain... all the hair stood up on the back of my neck, and I had the biggest shit eating grin on my face. I spent the good part of 45 minutes oogling the car, and crawling on my knees to check out all the stealthy engineering in this car. It was unreal.

When I got home I told my glazedovereyes-spouse all about it. She was happy for me and glad I had a good time. Could I take out the garbage?

I suggested we bring Brownie with us so we would have a home base, and a place to relax. To my stunned surprise she said “Sure, that’s a good idea.”

“What? Really?”

“Yeah. Do you think he will make it?”

Oh yeah baby… let me introduce you to my friend the Dodge 440...

That night I dreamed of Bonnie & Clyde type escapades, only this time we escaped with the help of a thousand smoking horses.

Next: The Homestretch

Previous: Time

From The Begining - The Hook... (Part 1)

Monday, February 16, 2009


Thanksgiving 08

Work was extremely pretty busy as expected. Between that, and the holidays there was little time to head up to Lou’s yard and check things out. Finally I had an unexpected half day off so I went over to see his race car and drop off my deposit.

When I showed up, I quickly realized things were not quite as I was expecting. There was a large collection of junk and unfinished projects stacked and strewn about. This was more what I would expect from an eccentric old hippy than a race car driver. But there were a few actual interesting projects sprinkled through the grounds. Talking to Lou it turns out he was indeed an old hippy from Arcata, a place I once knew well… oh the memories…. Yipes.

He showed me his “race car”, the same Exoskeleton Jag I saw from the Altamont race, with its trunk cut off and huge pipes welded into the bodywork around the perimeter. But the engine was partially disassembled, and Lou pointed out a dozen “improvements” he had made to the car, and another dozen he was in the middle of or plotting out.

He also showed me the second Jag he was about to build for the team, a nice old V12.

I asked if it was going to all be done in time for the race, and also asked if they actually let him race the car like it was… it seemed a bit… different… (Sing; One of these cars just ain’t like the others…). He assured me that he knew the guy who runs the race, who was a good friend of his, that his team was guaranteed a spot on the track, and that we wouldn’t be hassled through tech. I was more concerned if it was going to be safe, and he promised me it would be the safest car out there when he was done with it.

I also got a lecture on how wrong and upside down modern safety standards are. The man was obviously passionate about the subject, which surprised me considering...

It was quite dark by then, and there were no lights anywhere in the yard, so show and tell finally came to an end. He then offered to show me some interesting old race memorabilia. It was fun talking to him for a few hours that evening. He showed me a collection of copies of photos he had from his glory days, talked my ear off with old stories about racing and dirt bike riding, and occasionally broke out into limericks… often suddenly, and without warning.

When it came time to go, I was 50/50 about the whole deal. It could be a mistake, or it could be fun as hell. He seemed quite a likable guy, but there was only one way to find out. I left him just a deposit. I’d give him the rest as the time got closer.

When I got home, my sohowdiditgo-spouse asked “So, how did it go?”

I told her, “Well… the guy sure is eccentric” and described the evening. At the end she laughed and said “Do you realize you used the word “Eccentric” about 7 times?”

Huh. Well that about sums it up.

“Do you think he is for real?”

“Hmmm… well, I don’t know. We will just have to see. I only gave him half though. Just in case.”

"Good thinking" she replied. But I know what she was really thinking.

Next: The Backstretch

Previous: Do or Die

From The Begining - The Hook... (Part 1)

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Do or Die

The entry submission Deadline was rapidly approaching for Thunderhill Freezassapolooza 2008. I had talked to at least half a dozen folks over the last 6 months who expressed interest or enthusiasm in racing with me, and scoured Craigslist for suitable crap cans to go racing in. At last I had found the perfect ride, a mid 80’s Porsche 944 that ran great but had electrical problems and hadn’t been registered in years, all for 300 bucks. Perfect.

I wrote emails and placed calls to my tentative teammates saying “Here we go, Do or die! Time to pony up and let’s go racing!” Most everyone’s enthusiasm died when it became apparent this was actually going to take some time and money. People suddenly got busy, emails and phone calls went unanswered. It soon was pretty obvious the only serious member was me, although I was not totally surprised. The deadline came and the deadline passed… and I was suddenly STILL without a team or car. Sonofa….

Slightly annoyed, I went back on Craigslist to get my fix surfing for even more car parts to keep my existing car parts company, and while I was there I did a search for 24 Hours of Lemons. Lo and behold, someone posted they were searching for team members! I called the number immediately and spoke to an older gentleman who said he had a race car “Ready to go” for a reasonable cost, but he needed drivers and tires.

He identified himself as Lou Brero Jr, son of the famous race car driver by the same name. He also said he had a fully outfitted race trailer he would be bringing to the race, and possibly a second car he was building that was even faster than the one he ran at Altamont. I asked which car was his, and he said he ran a Jaguar XJ6 with a perimeter tube frame outside the car.

“Hey! The Exoskeleton Jaguar! I saw you there. I almost said Hi but you looked pretty busy. What was the problem with the car?”

I got an earful on the beauty of Jaguar engineering, but I never did find out what happened with the car. I did get a mini history lesson on early Jaguar racing though. Then he told me he lived about an hour north of my location which deflated my sails a bit. There was no way I would be able to help out in person on any regular basis, and I hate being someone whose involvement starts and ends with a checkbook and pen. I’m more of a “Hands on” kind of guy. This is also my busy season so time would be tight.

He assured me it would not be a problem, but he did need to fill the seats on the team pretty quickly and was asking for half as a deposit. He could cut some of the total cost in exchange for parts and tires. “Count me in” I said. “Where do I bring my deposit?”

And thus my involvement began with the infamous Lou Brero Jr, son of the Famous race car driver Lou Brero. A quick internet search showed he had been involved with Jaguar and a certain Ferrari. The names Snell, Moss, Shelby all popped up in searches including his name. And I was to be on his team…

Whoah… Far out man.

“Honey,” I called to rollingeyes-spouse in the other room, “I think I might have hit the jackpot with this guy. Or maybe he’s a whack-job and I’m headed for trouble, I dunno. Either way I’m going racing!”

Next: Time

Previous: The Sinker... (Part 3)

From The Begining - The Hook... (Part 1)

Friday, February 13, 2009

The Sinker (Part 3)

Altamont Raceway, LeMons 10 May 2008, 11:00 am

Holy cow. This is serious nonsense.

I walked through the pits checking out the various teams, chuckling at the different themes, taking photos and tried not to get run over. There were velvet clad pimps with feathered hats and platform shoes, a porcupine quill topped BMW, and a Rooster tailed Nissan. Here, a pirate driven Miata, there a mannequin & sex doll adorned Mustang.

There were a couple of really beautiful vehicles, and MANY cobbled clunkers that looked as if they couldn’t even run, let alone be let loose on a track. Added to the mix was a sprinkling of large tire squealing Mopars just to make things interesting. People everywhere where trying to breath enough life into their “vehicles” long enough to make the start of the race. “This is nuts!” I thought.

Now, I've seen some crazy stuff before... I’ve participated in Clamper initiations, lived among hippies in the mountains, (the type who still live in multicolored converted school buses deep in the woods), and been through the Navy Shellback ceremony, long before they became the kinder and gentler Navy. I have seen things on foreign shores that would cause a college student take up the cloth and make a biker blush…

"Satisfactory!" --->

But THIS was the largest collection of nuts in one place that I had ever seen. And there was GASOLINE involved. These people, most of whom were not allowed to play with sharp objects as children, were now here gathered to play with a mind bending assortment of jalopies crafted from the deepest darkest recesses of their minds, or recently pulled from a drainage ditch; sometimes it was hard to tell.

The cars lined up then paraded out of the pits and onto the track. For a moment I thought I should beat my feet before the cops showed up. Then as the cars slowly circled the track it became mesmerizing as a parade of bad paint, feathers, pirates and gun sights crisscrossed the infield. Slowly the track filled with energy; a coffecan muffler barked off to the left, brakes would squeal out on the right. The pack started to get punchy, and then the green flag dropped at random and ALL HELL broke loose!

(Great Video from team "Driving While Awsome").

At first it looked like a fast paced bumper car ride. Then it slowly became a long course destruction derby. Bumpers went everywhere minus the cars that brought them there. Hondas swarmed around the Mopars like feeder fish in front of a great white. Volvos and BMWs sparred with each other as if engaged in an ancient Viking-Germanic battle. The hairs on my arms stood straight up while my eyes and nose filled with smoke from burning engines and screaming tires. I was transfixed like a dog obsessed with a tennis ball. Or in this case, 100 burning tennis balls. After a few hours my eyes hurt from not blinking, and I decided to take a break and walk around the pits some more.

In one pit I saw what looked like it used to be a Jaguar with an Exoskeleton roll cage attached to the outside parked in the pits. A few team members were milling about, and I thought about offering my help if they needed it. After all, it was a British car, and I know Sir Lucas, Prince of Darkness. He is no friend of mine either. (Brit-car joke)

I started to say “Well THERE’S your Problem” as I pointed generally at the car as a whole, but noticed the faces on this team were obviously not having any fun and decided to STFU (i.e. shut the fuck up). An elder gentleman whom appeared to be the team captain was hyper-focused on solving some problem and did not notice me. I decided to move along.

That’s when I ran into my Datsun friend/nemesis Jesse standing near a Volvo in a drivers fire-suit. “WTF are YOU doing here” I chided. “I’m here with the Jalopnik V8 Volvo team, getting ready to get out on the track” he said.

“What? Really? Wow!” (Translation: I hate you)

“Yeah, they asked me to help drive the V8 Volvo. Pretty cool huh?”

Jesse and I both have early Datsuns 410/411s, and regularly run into each other at shows and such. He and I travel different roads to the same destinations, one bumpier than the other.

I pulled a dead rare Datsun out of a pile of junk then heroically bring it back to life, and get stuck in the back row of car shows for my efforts. He leaves his faded Datsun parked on the street and gets featured in Jalopnik. I clean and detail the snot out of mine and get a second place ribbon for stock 510 at Blackhawk (Um, only 1 stock 510 showed up and they gave me a left over ribbon). He washed and waxed his Datsun for the first time ever, and gets an “Outstanding Car” trophy at J-style.

Yeah, I’m jealous. Perpetually. And now he’s got a ticket on the coolest carnival ride on the planet. My eyes narrowed… “Good for you Jesse… you lucky dog…”

That’s it. The final straw. I’m gonna be at the next race at Thunderhill… I don’t care WHAT it takes, even if I have to sell Brownie the RV.

Game on, Jesse… game on.

Next: Do or Die

Previous: The Sinker (Part 3)

From The Begining: The Hook... (Part 1)