If you ever wonder whether you still care about your “ran when parked” race car that you haven’t had time to look at in months, go race someone else’s car of the same model. The single best thing I’ve ever done for my Porsche 944 was to go race someone else’s Porsche 944.
How did my race car end up sitting around for so long? Well, 2015 was filled with travel. Between racing in arrive-and-drive seats with other teams, having an out-of-state boyfriend and trips for Jalopnik, my Der Porschelump racing team’s Fisher-Price Puffalump Easter Bunny mascot got to see more action than my car.
My poor Porsche 944's muffler rotted off during the ChumpCar race it ran in February, and the car hadn’t been moved much since then. I didn’t have time to get my car over to a muffler shop, and even though it lived at a track, no one could fix the stupid thing at the track itself. I was working a lot of weekends, and I couldn’t get over to tinker with it much. Welding is far above my skill set, and since mufflers are budget-exempt for crapcan series, I might as well pay someone to do it right from the start.
Worse yet, that leaky muffler had been welded back together so many times that it was for-sure done this time. There wasn’t enough left of it to weld back together at this point, and I needed a new muffler entirely. I didn’t get around to buying one until July, and then it just kind of sat around waiting to be installed.
Plus, I was starting to feel as if picking up arrive-and-drive seats might be the way to go for me. I enjoy driving far more than I do wrenching, and I loved being able to show up, hop in a car, and not have to herd team cats all weekend. I even wrote that arrive-and-drive seats were “the best thing to happen to motor racing since the invention of the wheel.”
Naturally, when the Tetanus Racing team said that I could drive their 944 at November’s 24 Hours of LeMons Gator-O-Rama race at MSR-Houston, I was all over it. I love my 944, but I just hadn’t had time to deal with it. Fortunately, they said that they weren’t super competitive for a win on laps (which is great, because I’m slow), and that I’d be fine to race their car.
Tetanus’ 944 was reasonably well sorted. Until this race, it had usually been put in the 24 Hours of LeMons’ “Good” Class A. However, the combination of a giant hole getting blasted out of their engine mid-race last year and a few stints being taken by a driver who has more stuffed bunnies than driving ability this time probably convinced LeMons’ judges to move us to Class B (“Bad”).
My “Porschelump” 944 is not very well sorted, partially so I could stay in Class B, and partially because I have the mechanical skills of a frustrated toddler who is sick of this car’s crap.
Porschelump’s suspension is floatier than your aunt’s old Brougham-era Cadillac. I’ve been in only one vehicle that flops around more than my super-soft 944, and it was a buggy meant for desert racing. The car’s shift linkage is so loose that I really need to fix it before someone borks a shift. There’s considerable play in its manual steering rack. Even though it fires back up every time I leave it sitting for a while like a good, reliable pile, I know that I’ve been the idiot doing a lot of the work.
Driving the Tetanus 944 was a revelation. This is what my car could feel like if I fixed or tweaked a few things? Oh my goodness. This—this was magic.
I spent an entire weekend worrying less about missing shifts, as the shifter notched right into the gear I wanted it to go into without flopping to the other side if I turned the other direction.
The rear end—through some combination of the cheap eBay wing on its back, or perhaps the miracle of non-blown shocks—stayed planted to the ground. Neither of our cars had the heavy glass rear hatch anymore. The owner of this 944 was tall and had popped the roof up some to allow for a taller cage, so the hatch no longer really fit as it would when it was stock.
Mine has no roof because it’s pretty pleasant air-flow wise as an open car, and that big rear hatch is pretty heavy. Who needs air conditioning when you can just turn the car into a big air tunnel? Problem is, mine becomes a spin machine the second you get down to about half a tank of fuel. I need to figure out how to fix that, because it would be great to keep folks in the car longer.
The real, honest-to-goodness working suspension didn’t just keep the car from spinning out all the time. It kept it planted in turns.
The only thing I didn’t enjoy about their car were the all-season tires they were running. I could push this car so much harder if I just trusted the tires to behave, well, like the tires on the Porschelump. These had way less grip in comparison, and I really missed the Dunlop Z2 summer tires that were on my car.
I hadn’t driven Tetanus’ 944 before the test day, though, so I didn’t want to find out the limits of those tires during the race itself and end up getting black flagged for a spin. So, I went easy on the car, and we kept plugging away on the harder tires until the end of the race.
The weirdest thing happened as I plowed through lap after spectacular lap: I really needed to fix my car. I could have this! I could have this on stickier tires, and I could race it again! Apparently it wouldn’t put me out of Class B, either, as we definitely haven’t won anything with my heap, and it’s nowhere near the pace of an actual Class A car.
Point being, I have this car! Tetanus has a later model, but that didn’t matter. Enough mechanical bits are shared between early and late base-model 944s that, well, I have this car!
I missed my 944. So, I went home and started working on fixing the stupid thing.
I needed to install a muffler and get the alignment fixed, as it had been eating tires at ChumpCar. The muffler finally happened in December. The alignment issue was actually due to a borked tie rod, so one new tie rod end later and it was back in business.
I started looking for track days to run with it, too—just to make sure I didn’t have any excuse to put off fixing my car. Sure enough, the National Auto Sport Association was doing a combination high performance driver’s education/race weekend in January, which gave me plenty of time to get all the major problems sorted. I’ve been kind of embarrassed at how slow I am driving MSR-Houston, and I’d never actually had any instruction there, so that worked out perfectly.
I ordered a driver’s seat that fit my small-ish butt and moved the existing, wider seat and my spare set of harnesses over to the passenger side.
All of that running around like a madwoman to make sure my car ran in time was worth it. I don’t think I’ve had as much fun in years as I did when I tracked my own stupid car again. This was exactly what I’d been missing in my life.
There’s something wonderful about bringing your LeMons car to a regular track weekend. Obviously, this rolling monument to beater life stands out among the HPDE set in particular, as it’s not exactly someone’s pride and joy GT3 that they’d like to learn how to drive hard for the first time.
You see, there’s often a gradual progression that track cars make into the a state of genteel beaterdom. You start off taping off vast expanses of front-end paint because you’re afraid to get a scratch on it. Maybe you wash your car beforehand because you want it to look extra nice. Then you gradually learn it’s OK to live with a couple of paint chips here and there from rocks flung up by sticky tires. Then maybe you decide that you’d rather have at least one nice car left to drive on the road, so you get a dedicated track toy, which slowly accumulates all the chips, dirt and dings you can get away with so long as the mechanicals are still OK.
The 944 is fully off the deep end of “that still runs?” but you’re all there to enjoy the track and flog what you’ve got. In that respect, it didn’t stand out at all. I started off the day with a shortened session because I’d forgotten to adjust my crotch belt when the new seat went in, but eventually, we found my problem: I’m way too timid.
Of course I’m timid. It’s my car. I’m responsible for fixing anything that breaks.
A few sessions in to the day, I started to get it: it’s my car. I should flog the crap out of this vehicle because that’s why I bought it. I have a nice, squeaky-clean Lancer sitting at home if I wrap this 944 around a wall. Goodness knows, I already know what to do when my 944 gets wrecked. I get over it, and get another 944. It sucks, but it’s not like I can’t just drive other peoples’ cars while I put mine back together.
It’s the same thing with any other fear. If you just stay at home all the time out of fear that something will happen, the terrorists have won. If you don’t do things because they’re scary, you’re going to miss out on the fun. If I don’t beat on my beater, that just ain’t right. Keep your foot in it—for America.
And so, I started to push my 944 at the prodding of the instructor in my right seat. The Porschelump slid around hilariously on its menagerie of old tires, some of which were from the first 944’s ill-fated race at Texas World Speedway. Technically, that set only had about an hour of race time on them, but they were also almost three years old—an epoch for summer tires. That’s when they start to become more hard than grippy. I also got used to the car’s body roll all over again. I smiled so much at running this goofy, floppy car that my face hurt.
My ran-when-parked special ran flawlessly until the afternoon of the second day, when a shudder appeared in left-hand turns. Several of us determined that a wheel bearing that had come loose, and the organizers parked me for the last couple sessions of the day so my wheel wouldn’t fall off.
I’d only brought minimal tools to work on the car this time since it wasn’t a full race weekend, so I didn’t have the usual box of replacements. I couldn’t be too mad, though. I literally almost drove a wheel off my car, and had the most fun that I’d had in ages.
Now I have to fix up my car. I didn’t wait to check about my wheel bearing. As soon as I was back from another round of trips and feeling well enough to bring my box of spare bearings down to the track, I had that loose bearing replaced. I puttered around a little in the 944 yesterday to check it out, and it’s better, but still a little wobbly somewhere. I also still need to keep an eye out for better suspension bits, too, I guess.
It’s weird—I care about my beater more now that I know what it could do if it ran properly. Now, if you’ll excuse me, it’s Bunny Day, and I need to go see what’s loose in the front of my bunny-themed car.