“Spank” Spangler: “It’s the people who drive fast versus the people who are out there in parade floats.”
We were talking to Escondido homeboy, San Marcos State alumnus, and San Marcos High School English teacher repurposed into a stay-at-home dad, Mike “Spank” Spangler, 42. Spank drives the 24 Hours of LeMons.
Said 24 Hours of LeMons runs a 22-race circuit that extends coast-to-coast. Several venues are the same ones NASCAR uses: Infineon Raceway, Texas World Raceway, Road America, and New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
No LeMons racecar can cost more than $500 (safety equipment is exempt). This insures people will cheat, which is built into the race, since there is an official B.S. Station where supreme court judges grade your cheat (was it imaginative?) and level penalties (car is docked one lap for every $10 spent over $500). Not to worry; judges accept bribes.
Awards include the People’s Curse trophy. Midway through the race, spectators vote for the car they hate the most. That car is removed from the track and destroyed by any means necessary; a backhoe works well, as onlookers hurrah.
You can see why Spank — a four-time winner of the Index of Effluency, the race’s most prestigious prize, given to the car judged most unlikely to finish — is a star on the circuit.
“The best thing about LeMons is that it can be anything to anybody. They found a way to attract people who want to go out and drive fast and race wheel-to-wheel. And they’ve also attracted people like myself, who are in it for the fun. It’s the people who drive fast versus people who are out there in parade floats.
“It’s still a race. There’s a race to complete a bunch of laps. And then there are the other trophies and awards. Simply surviving the event or pulling off something absurd is a competition. I compete in the absurd, because anybody can jump in a 90-something or 80-something Honda Civic and drive fast. I choose to find whatever shouldn’t be on a racetrack and try to race. The term race is used very loosely.
“I started with a Mini. I’m a self-taught Mini [BMW Mini Cooper] mechanic. I would fly, hitchhike, whatever, to Texas, Colorado, Oregon, and find an old Mini Cooper that may or may not run. I’d bring whatever parts or tools I needed and drive it home, fixing it along the way.
“Now that I have a son, I can’t go, ‘Hey, I’m going to take off Friday night. May or may not be back Monday morning.’ LeMons affords me that same adventure of will it or won’t it make it, but with a definitive start time and a definitive end time so I can get home to watch my son.
“LeMons is not the top shelf when it comes to available track dates. When you’re up against NASCAR...there’re only so many weekends in a year and that’s when the tracks make their money. Not all tracks choose to recognize LeMons as a legitimate organization that attracts quite a bit of competition.... So, LeMons has to wait until a track is available and keep the price down. Southern California dates are midsummer dates. Who wants to be in Bakersfield, racing a $500 piece of crap that you bought off of craigslist when it’s 130 degrees on the asphalt? Well, LeMons does because the price is right. I think they’re choosing to do a true 24[-hour race] at Buttonwillow because you have the nighttime hours, when it’s a bit cooler.
“Part of this is the creative fun of building these cars and seeing if they’ll last. I don’t really have a team. I have to have other drivers involved; you must have at last four drivers per car. For this event [Buttonwillow], I’m bringing two cars, so I’ll have eight drivers. I take ‘arrive-and-drives’ oftentimes.
“Anybody who wants to try LeMons and doesn’t have a car, doesn’t have a team, but wants to find a bunch of like-minded idiots, can go on the LeMons forum at 24hourslemons.com. There is a human resources section where you can post, ‘I’m looking for drivers,’ or, ‘I’m a driver looking for a team to drive for.’
“I have to find people who are willing to come out and pay their equal share. I don’t ask for any profit; it’s the average cost of the weekend divided by the number of drivers I have. It’s like they’re all my friends, except they’re strangers, never met them before, coming in to drive this car they’ve never seen before, which may or may not run the whole time.”
Want to give it a try? Buttonwillow, 250 carefree miles up I-5, is happening this weekend. Be there.