This is a story about the life of a car. It is indeed a special little car to deserve its own page. From street car to race car to parts car and back to race car it has served several of us nobly over the years. Most of this story focuses on the last stage in a race called '24 hours of LeMons' but to appreciate the ending you need to a brief history from the beginning.
Car 325 has had a rough life. It was badly wrecked no less than three times. Originally a team member's daily driver and occasional track toy but that ended when a mishap during a drifting competition at Summit Point in 2003 sent it up and over a tire barrier.
Too damaged to be restored to street car status, ownership changed hands to another team member to repair and convert it to a racecar. It was rebuilt entirely by our hands based off the knowledge of its older car 54 brethren and was reborn as number 325, a SpecE30 . It had some small mishaps while still climbing the learning curve of racing but the second near fatal blow was from outside the team while a 'pro' driver was renting it during a VIR enduro. On his inlap of all things.
We thought it was a write off since it had bent the front frame rails, but the great guys at BimmerWorld used their experience and connections to straighten 325 once again. With shiny new paint that hid our driveway paint job, it soldiered on for more.
The third and final wreck that ended its racing career was at Summit Point Hyperfest. After leading most of the race from pole, a battle for first on the penultimate lap resulted in a light contact while approaching the high speed 'chute'. Exiting the track at an estimated 70mph and pirouetting into the tire wall crushed both ends of the car and tore off the front suspension. Luckily everyone was able to walk away from the incident except number 325.
After hauling the the car home and consulting with the experts at BimmerWorld again the prognosis was terminal. Both the cage and passenger side frame were severely bent and it was better to start from scratch. Old 325 had become a parts car.
Almost a year had passed when we were easily goaded into entering the '24 hours of LeMons', a race mocking the historic French '24 hours of LeMans' but with $500 beaters instead of real race cars. What a perfect final farewell to honor old 325. After doing some tinkering and verifying the motor wasn't obviously damaged the real work began. Converting back from its SpecE30 configuration was relatively easy as the only real changes allowed in those rules are suspension which was already either torn off or bent. Luckily Vic is a giant parts packrat and we had almost all the stock bits except the springs. Anything that could be hammered back into shape was. Anything that couldn't was cut off, welded together, or made from scratch. Even the bent front strut housing that was ripped off the car was cut and welded back together! The springs turned out to be the biggest headache. Apparently for $10 the junk yard doesn't work very hard to ensure you have a matched pair. Five springs later we had two that were the same.'Aligning' the car was by far the most entertaining process. It involved the use of a big chain, bigger pickup truck, and even bigger maple tree. A few of hours of carefully planned running starts and wheel spinning tug of war later the suspension pickup points were at least in the correct general area.
After replacing safety items that were allowed under the rules (brakes, wheels, and tires) and mere week before the Lemons event, the car turned its wheels again for the first time in over a year. At the autocross it blew an oil line after only three out of four runs but didn't make any new terrible noises, braked in a reasonably straight line, and didn't instantly overheat so it was deemed a success. What better than a couple minutes of driving to positively guarantee the next 13 hours of required durability? After some last minute preparations, we loaded up the car and crew and headed off.
Any trip down to Carolina Motorsports Park isn't complete without a stop at 'South of the Border' to buy amazing cheap crap. It has sort of become tradition so we bought a few more giant sombreros, 'discount' fireworks, and about 150 mini bumper stickers. What would anyone do with 150 bumper stickers you ask? We have NO idea.
We rolled into CMP late Friday evening and set up camp besides the Beer Tech and Malt Liquor Tech cars whom we know both from racing even though they run back of the pack. They are man loving losers they are. They even flashed us their frank and beans before we even got out of the truck! To erase that from our brains, the drinking started immediately as we unloaded the cars. Yes, cars, as in plural. Knowing that the odds of an e30 holding together were slim since we don't have a perfect record of finishing 3hr enduros when the car is an actual race car, we brought a spare. Didn't everybody? The closest matching parts donor in our fleet just happened to be car 54, the old but very shiny, recently repainted, SpecE30 that happens to look nearly identical to 325. Its just not wrecked. Oh, and its worth over 20x more too but it has all the same parts from relays to radiators when we'll need them. The shiny fast looking cars really drew some attention. Our story varied depending on the apparent gullibility of the bystander ranging from 'Yeah, thats our 2nd entry' to 'We're going to swap cars and drive the fast one Sunday afternoon.' (As an aside, car 54 is one of the first three SpecE30s ever and helped start the series.)
The remainder of the night was spent quoting "Talladega Nights" and trash-talking with BeerTech and Malt Liquor Tech. They both brought E30's but they thought that sissy 325e and 318i versions would do the trick. BeerTech honored our team with a couple of strategically placed mailbox stickers and paint on the trunk and rear of their car. We call them BeerWreck. They call us SaladBar. It's always good for a laugh. Also, their homage to Vic loving Carter stems from Vic being repeatedly DQ'd by the Spec E30 dictator (Carter). Vic doesn't really love Carter. We returned the favor to BeerTech by rocking blue tuxedo T-shirts dedicated to them.
The real drawback of wearing sombreros all night is that you're expected to drink tequila all night. After waking up a bit bleary eyed Saturday morning we took the car to tech. The judges were immediately on guard about the NASA racing stickers on the side and the fact the car was an 'i'. They kept saying 'this is going to be fast'. Yeah, thats the idea right? Even though they agreed with us that it currently had little value, we had no documentation of its original value. In our best Carlos Mencia imitation we say 'we are mex-i-can we have no doc-u-ments.' A lot of laughs but no mercy. We were penalized 20 laps. Each penalty lap is 'worth' $10, so basically they were saying they thought we spent $700. Not even close but there is no appeal or whining (both are in the rules!) Its all in good fun anyway so we took our penalty and tech sticker and headed back to finally align the front end of the car (why NOT wait until the last minute?) The ladies also took the opportunity to roam the paddock and tag most cars with South of the Border stickers. Surely they wouldn't make the connection to Team Salazar!
The start of the race was by far the funniest part of the whole weekend. There were about 15 minutes of 'parade' laps under full course yellow before the start to familiarize new drivers with the course. Well, the organizers had installed a one car width chicane on the front straight to keep speeds down. They don't want to be liable for people killing themselves after all. This caused a huge bottleneck with ~80 cars on a 1 mile course and the cars stacked up past the last corner. They picked a car number at random and dropped the green flag on that car. Having done enduros before we had radios (as did many other teams) and as we've done dozens of times before, when we saw the green drop radioed "green green green" to Vic. All of the yellows had been dropped and he put the hammer down catching most everyone offguard. We suspect he passed ~20 cars in that first 3/4 lap but can't tell for sure because lap counting doesn't start until passing the start/finish the first time after the green. Coming off the turn onto the straight he passes a whole line of cars and drops into an open slot - not very unlike the required process of merging onto the DC beltway in rush hour. No one is going to politely let you in but some poor sod is always underpowered or caught sleeping and leaves a gap. The statistics tell the rest of the story:
Is now a bad time to mention Vic qualified on pole and won the Saturday NASA race at CMP last year? In this same car (albeit straight & in full SpecE30 trim)? Yeah, we thought so...
Our passing didn't go unnoticed by the non-racers and within a few laps all the cars are trying it. Well, all the fast cars. Because of the immense traffic it was a simple drag race from the onramp to the open gap, oh, I meant the last corner to the chicane. The cars with oomph could pull it off, the cars without are forced to stay in line. It must be like what poor prius drivers have to suffer through daily. Though we would like to take credit, all the racers did it from the start too but we were just the most obvious.
The rest of Saturday's racing continues on very much like the first 10 minutes. We continue to pass everything in sight. Now it wasn't without drama. We were black flagged twice for on course contact. Each time you have to serve a 30 minute penalty and throw a dart at the penalty board. Vic was tared and feathered for getting tapped in the rear by Malt Liquor Tech (no damage to either, they served no penalty) and Han had a piranha welded to the hood of the car for a light hit in the rear by a Mercedes (no damage to either, both cars served penalties.) Stephen's and Dave's driving were squeaky clean. To be honest, Vic and the "pink pig" truck tapped door-to-door early in the race but both got away with it. Some teams had far more overlooked but the fast cars were 'on the radar'.
To give a general idea how lopsided the racing was by the drop of the checkered flag on Saturday the spec miata completed the most laps with 274. With one penalty and 6.5 hours on course averages to a 1:25.4 lap time including all the rain, pitstops, and yellows. A Gen1 RX7, who would go on to be the eventual winner, completed 267 on Saturday for an average of 1:34.4. In only 6 hours on course we had completed 254 laps for an average of 1:25.0. 9.4s/lap faster than the RX7 meant on average we were LAPPING most of the field every 10 laps. Our four licensed race drivers were not passed by a single car. When we drove much of the rain session in 3rd gear was the only way the spec miata could even keep up.
Yeah... We were fucked.
Thanks to the Salazar spouses and friends, we were treated to tasty steak fajitas and more tequila on Saturday night. The partying carried on late and included a pinata at the 'Quattro Libre' pits full of mini-bottles of tequila, bike-jumping over fire-pits, and plenty of lobbying to get OTHER cars crushed. At one point, the Mercedes team that tangled with us stopped by to award an early trophy. They felt that our driving deserved commemoration and bestowed us with a 4-pack of douches. The best we could do to return the favor was to give them an 'Old Chub'. After making sure that everyone was feeling refreshed, we taped our trophies to the racecar.
Once Sunday rolled around and we started sobering up, we realized that Team Salazar might not get to finish this race. Our racing had irked some people. It was hard to miss some of the grumbling going about. Cheater motor this, unsportsmanlike passing that. Some teams missed the no whining rule. Imagine... Trying to be the fastest... At a race. The horror! Just to play it safe we decided to give all three remaining drivers a stint in the car before the announcement of the People's Curse award. Bill started the day off with a stellar performance. He not only held his own, but he set the Salazar fastest time of the weekend. He got out of the car with his adrenaline level at 11. Ching followed and ran a solid session for us. He did get lightly hit by our friends in the Mercedes again (no penalty). Retaliation for hitting us the day before? By then, the votes for the Prople's Curse had to be in so we saved the best for last. Alex, a seasoned racer, jumped in for the final morning stint. Even in his own racecar, Alex can be a terror behind the wheel. In a $500 beater we were glad everone else blinked first when playing chicken approaching the chicane. Watching him slice through the field and ABUSING the tires was great. We did not yet know that his last lap would be 325's last.
The race broke for lunch and shortly after the announcement was made. We were voted as the winner of the People's Curse award. Not only did we take the majority of the votes but Jay Lamm, the organizer of Lemons, informed us that we had the largest margin of victory EVER. It wasn't even close. He gave us 30 minutes to strip the car of safety equipment and wheels. We joked about dropping the motor but since it was turning the coolant a nasty brown and had been beat on like a BeerTech step-mom it wasn't worth the trouble (or in the spirit of the rule). Plus, we figured we could always get whatever was left after the Lemons guys hammered on the car a little bit. Some of the People's curses in the past actually weren't that bad. We knew that at least one team had still finished the race after getting hammered.
Not so for us. The Kumatsu operator was a competitor and the crushing was apocalyptic.
Yes it was a little sad to see the car crushed but it was also a perversely proud moment for all of Salazar. That little busted up, crooked as hell, almost completely stock, 145rwhp, number 325 was the fastest car there and gave a hell of a performance in its final, and possibly finest, hours. Death by the sword was far more honorable than being stripped and rusting away in a junkyard. Vic has always said 'checker or wrecker baby.'
Overall the entire team had unbelievable fun and would do it again. Even the Curse was fantastic to watch live. The LeMons concept is a great idea. If you have EVER wanted to try racing, even if you've never driven a car on track, this is the event for you. Be forewarned - you'll get hooked. Plus, we managed to piss off a record number of people by merely racing - does it get any better? Yes, actually it does. One of our rookies, the one who set our fastest time, is hooked in a big way and now looking for a track car. THAT is as good as it gets folks. The slow ass Beer Tech and Malt Liquor Tech guys are always fun to party with and most of the cars showed brilliant creativity. Even the mistress, fiancee, and wife said they'd come back. Though, its almost sobering to think what a team could do if someone actually approached it GRM $200X challenge style and built a proper $500 racecar. Problem is, we would have to build two cars. They can't crush them both...
Damn you Salazar!