24 Hours of Lemons Thunderhill 2024: The Ranchero is better than ever!

It’s taking a long time to get to a place like this. Our history at the 24 Hours of Lemons has ranged from fun but broken to much less fun and very broken. We always have fun, but the degree of that fun and the level of broken varies from race to race. At the most recent 24 Hours of Lemons Thunderhill, we had a whole lot of fun and very little broken—at least on one of the two cars that we brought.

Our team, which typically runs just two races per year now, is a two-car team. We have a 1962 Ford Ranchero and a 1966 MGB GT. Both have V8 power, and they couldn’t be more different from each other. In the nose of the MGB is a Buick 215, while the Ranchero sports an upgraded 302. From an initial glance, just eyeing up the cars side-by-side, I wouldn’t fault you for thinking the MGB is the quicker of the two out on track. Here’s the thing, though, you’re wrong because the Ranchero absolutely rips now.

Hooniverse co-founder Tim Odell has turned the Ranchero into something special. Sure, it’s taken us years of shredding straight six engines before we finally put proper V8 power in the car truck. But that power is in there now, and I’m here to tell you it’s an absolute riot. The Ranchero is basically an alt-universe Craftsman Truck if the series started at the same time as the stock cars originally did.

The engine pulls hard everywhere on the course. It has tons of torque, and the four-speed Toploader means you’re almost always in the right gear. At Thunderhill, Lemons runs the full five-mile course, which means there are only two spots where you would want to come down to second. But with this much torque, you could cut that to just one corner. But some of our team didn’t even bother and could take it in third and still have decent power off the corner to make moves on the ensuing West course straight.

This is our third race with the V8 in the Ranchero. After the first one, we knew we needed taller gears and some cool air moving to the brakes. Both of those issues were sorted. After the second race, we knew it was time for a proper set of tires on this thing. So before this most recent race, I rang up my friends at American Racing Wheels and my friends at Toyo Tires to see what we could do. The result is going from 205s over to the Toyo Proxes R1R in a 245-section width tire on 9″ wide wheels.

To say that’s an improvement is a dramatic understatement. The tires took the Lemons abuse beautifully. In fact, after setting a team fastest run time of 3:44 on Day 1, I was able to drop it to 3:42 on Day 2, even after we started tearing up the fronts a bit due to a hotter day on track.

Our final issue, in my eyes, is fixing the fuel cell. For some reason, we’re only getting about half of our 24-gallon cell. So we have to swap drivers after just hour and half stints. If we could stay out there longer, we could turn more laps, which is the main goal of a Lemons race. As it were, we still managed a 3rd place finish in Class C and an overall finish of 29th out of 106 entries. I’ve never felt better in the Ranchero and I can’t wait to see how it fairs at Buttonwillow later in the year.

As for the MGB, we had a handful of random issues. One of them involved the shifter literally snapping off in my hand while out on the course. That was a fun one! But that allowed us to call upon the help of the Sierra College Motorsports team, which is on-site for any welding needs. It’s college kids who are learning to weld, and it was awesome to see one such student easily fix our shifter lever for us.

Other issues involved losing the oil pressure regulator bolt, and then eventually, we somehow fried the gearbox. But that car will be back. It’s a blast to drive when it’s running at top tilt.

Two other quick Lemons notes;

  1. It was fun to see a team running a stock Chevy Bolt (minus safety features added on). When they needed to charge, they drove down the street to a Walmart and then went and got food. It wasn’t fast out there, but it was absolutely turning plenty of laps.
  2. This Ford thing looks crusty on the outside but absolutely amazing in the cabin and under the body. I expect this one to get faster and faster as it does more races.

Okay, one other note. My ride to and from the track was a Kia Carnival. I didn’t want to drive the full 10 hours each way to this one as I did the year prior, so I flew into Sacramento and snagged the Kia minivan. It was perfect for my needs, as it featured plenty of storage, and I could fold the rear seats to create a sleeping area. Sure, the tent on my Montero is far more comfortable, but this Kia worked out great.

All in all, it was a great weekend at the track. I wish we could do more Lemons races in a calendar year.

(Bonus, got to meet Doc Harrell and Scott Ith in person – cheers fellas!)

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