Readers have queried the Box as to how Escondido’s Mike “Spank” Spangler, 24 Hours of LeMons racing star and recent Sporting Box profilee, did in the nonstop 24-hour enduro at Buttonwillow Raceway Park. Those with impaired short-term memory should know that 24 Hours of LeMons runs a 22-race circuit showcasing the worst of the worst; no car can cost more than $500 (safety equipment is exempt). The LeMons spirit is captured most beautifully for me with this year’s Judges’ Choice winner at Buttonwillow, a ten-passenger 1996 Lincoln Town Car limo masquerading as the Titanic.
The race was held in balmy summertime San Joaquin Valley on June 30 and July 1. I called Spank and asked how it went.
“I brought the Austin America and the Corvegge [a 1985 Corvette joined with an Oldsmobile diesel engine that runs on vegetable oil]. The America ran pretty trouble-free for the entire 24 hours. The Corvegge was, unfortunately, more typical.
“The [Corvegge] left my place without ever having been driven. I was given confidence by the fact that it started and ran for 30 seconds. That was enough to spur me on and bring it to the track.
“Unfortunately, tech inspection is on Friday from noon until 5 p.m. I left my place at 8 a.m. on Friday and somebody else, who was towing half of the [Corvegge] parts, left his place at 8:30. I arrived by noon; he didn’t arrive until 7 p.m. because of tow problems. So, I couldn’t begin to try to make the Corvegge move under its own power until 7 p.m., long after tech inspection closed. We worked all night, Friday night, and then continued on Saturday. The race started at 10:00 a.m. and I was still working on it. Wasn’t until 10:30 p.m., more than 12 hours after the race began, that I was able to take the Corvegge over to tech inspection. Of course, there was nobody at tech; they had closed long ago.
“I had to find people to inspect it and then get permission to take it out on the track. The first time it moved under its own power was from our paddock space to tech inspection. I took it out for its first lap and as I started the second lap it stalled and would not restart.
“So, we got towed off the track. All of our previous work, starting it and everything, drained the batteries. We put the battery on charge and made some other adjustments so it wouldn’t stall.
“The entire time the America [Spank’s other car] was having minor issues — coming in, getting fixed, changing drivers, going back out. While we were working on the Corvegge, we had to maintain the other car and keep it operational. Up to that point, I’d slept three hours in two days. Many of us decided to sleep for two or three hours. I woke up around 3:30 a.m., gave myself an hour and a half cleaning up the work space to make sure I was fully awake and then took it back out as dawn was coming up over the track. I drove five laps on diesel fuel to heat up the car, then dumped in ten gallons of straight vegetable oil and ran the rest of the race without troubles. It’s the world’s slowest Corvette. It’s not the first diesel Corvette, but I think it’s pretty safe to say it’s probably the world’s first Corvette powered off of straight vegetable oil.
“There were eight of us there. My wife came to watch, and she brought my son. One of the other teams we usually pit next to has a chow line for everybody. We all contribute to that. The car that was next to us was a 1959 Humber Super Snipe. They won the Index of Effluency, which is the top prize, the one I’m most proud of and have won a couple of times. The owner was good enough to loan tools as we needed.
“It’s a big communal effort. Just like in life, everybody has their own clique, people they hang out with. The paddock space isn’t much different. You have the cars who are there as parade floats and to have a good time and have one set of goals: to simply get the car [on the track] or keep the car running, and then, at the other end, you have people who are quasi-professional racers, who are out there for the speed and the thrill of the event. Like band geeks and jocks. They all show up at the same sporting event, but they don’t necessarily intermingle.”
Spank did not go home without glory. The Corvegge won the Racer Most Resembling a Piece of Agricultural Equipment award.