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Bound for Glory

The 24 Hours of LeMons is infamous for its weird, ill-advised race cars. Volkswagen TDI-powered Porsche 911? Check. Slant-six powered E30 BMW? Yep. Ford Explorer themed like a Jurassic Park attraction? Naturally.

One of the weirdest yet is this 1959 Studebaker Silver Hawk, and NSF Racing drove it to an overall win. Yes, a Studebaker claimed first place over the rest of the miscreants.

Measuring Up

Unlike most race series, where the winner is the fastest car, LeMons is different. Sure, they give a trophy to the fastest car. But the real award–the one everybody wants to win-is called the Index of Effluency The name is a play on Le Mans Index of Thermal Efficiency, and the payout is huge: a sweet trophy, special patches, and $601 paid entirely in nickels.

LeMons judges choose the winner of this subjective award, but its criteria are clear: finish surprisingly well in a terrible car. Cars with shoddy engineering, bad reputations, wacky engine swaps, or years of neglect at the hands of previous owners are prime candidates. At least one of these descriptors applies to every car in a LeMons field, but few can proudly claim them all.

NSF Racings Studebaker is one of these special few, so it’s not surprising that it won the Index of Effluency at the 2015 24 Hours of LeMons ’Shine Country Classic at Barber Motorsports Park.

Different Approach

NSF Racing isn’t a team that takes the easy way out. Instead, they pride themselves on racing the weirdest and worst cars they can find. And they don’t rest on their laurels, either: Once a car has been to the track, odds are it will be replaced with something weirder for the next event.

We asked team member Katie Mitchell why they don’t build something fast, cheap, and reliable. Her answer: “Easy cars are no fun. We wouldn’t be talking to you if we ran an E30 BMW or a Miata; we’d just be another team with a cheap car.”

Fate seems to agree with them: The team started the series racing a cheap, reliable Honda CRX, and were rewarded with total failure.

Maybe there is a method to the NSF bunch’s madness.

Florida Man

Just where do you find a Studebaker cheap enough to take crapcan racing? Florida, of course.

NSF literally dragged the car out of a swamp after handing the Craigslist seller $800 for his “studebakrr.” It was rusty, the fuel tank was full of swamp gunk, the engine was seized, and the suspension was all original–worn kingpins and all. At least it had patina.

The team’s first modification was the engine: The original Studebaker unit was beyond repair, and they were already stretching their meager budget.

A Dodge motorhome came to the rescue, donating its 360-cubic-inch V8 to the cause. The NSF folks paired the small-block with a TorqueFlite 727 automatic transmission donated by their rusty Plymouth Fury (a previous Index of Effluency winner), then shoved the whole package into the Studebaker. The team claims that it was a fairly easy swap, and we believe them-there’s a ton of space under the Silver Hawks hood, even with the motorhome drivetrain in place.

What does this drivetrain weigh? “All of it,” they advise. “It’s really heavy.”

The team skipped stiffer springs, fresh bushings, and any other chassis modification to compensate for the new engine’s heft. At least they added disc brakes in the front to rein in the added power.

How much power? “We figure it makes somewhere around 240 horsepower, with tons of torque,” says NSFer Ron Vickers. “We try not to have more power than brakes.”

With the basics in place, the team moved on to safety. $400 was spent on roll cage tubing, which was welded in wherever the rust holes weren’t too big. A few patches add a measure of safety to the Studebaker’s rusty hulk. All four tires and wheels are different brands, and were bought on Craigslist for a few dollars each.

The team also added a larger aluminum radiator, in hopes of keeping their big V8 from overheating. Notably absent from the budget sheet was a new gas tank-the team figured that whatever gunk remained from the swamp would eventually work its way out.

Swamp Thing

What’s the view like from the driver’s seat of an Index of Effluency winner? Apparently, it looks a lot like the paddock. Thanks to the swamp-filled gas tank, NSF had to pit every few laps for the duration of the race as they constantly replaced fuel filters.

After a few filter changes, they got creative and started buying bigger filters meant for a diesel truck. When that didn’t work, they branched the fuel system into a few large filters plumbed in parallel. Did that work? Not entirely, but it did buy them a few more laps between changes.

Despite the frequent stops, the team claims that the car is a blast on track. It’s not fun because it’s a good car, it’s fun because it’s so awful. In member Billy Chatagnier’s words: “It drives very poorly, and it’s a very heavy car. It’s like sex without the cleanup.” We’re not quite sure what that means, but we watched the Studebaker wallow around Barber Motorsports Park for two days straight, and passed it in our Miata every few laps.

The Studebaker turned somewhat consistent times of around 2:20 a lap, and finished 56th out of 76 cars. That, along with the Index of Effluency win and a giant stack of nickels, was enough for NSF to declare the weekend a success.

What’s next for the Studebaker? Probably a new owner, says the team. They’ve already got plans for something even weirder, and they’re running out of room in the garage.

This article is from an old issue of Grassroots Motorsports. Get all the latest how-tos and stories for just $20 a year. Subscribe now.

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Comments

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HapDL
HapDL New Reader
3/2/17 8:28 a.m.

One of the things that has always attracted me to racing was the preparation of the cars. They were meticulously crafted and looked after, almost works of art. Precision and fastidious care were evident everywhere and details were not overlooked. When I look at crapcan racing cars, I just can't give a, well, a crap. They are just way too ugly and unappealing to be even remotely interesting. But that's just me, to each his own I guess, but even a dirt track stock car makes these things look terrible by contrast.

ultraclyde
ultraclyde UberDork
3/2/17 8:37 a.m.

In reply to HapDL:

sure, but you have the opportunity to DRIVE a crapcan racer and actually be on track instead of just paying for tickets to watch and WISH you were on track.

Tyler H
Tyler H UltraDork
3/2/17 8:41 a.m.
HapDL wrote: One of the things that has always attracted me to racing was the preparation of the cars. They were meticulously crafted and looked after, almost works of art. Precision and fastidious care were evident everywhere and details were not overlooked. When I look at crapcan racing cars, I just can't give a, well, a crap. They are just way too ugly and unappealing to be even remotely interesting. But that's just me, to each his own I guess, but even a dirt track stock car makes these things look terrible by contrast.

I agree, but you might want to look past the sheetmetal. There is a lot of talent at these events, both under the hood and behind the wheel.

dean1484
dean1484 MegaDork
3/2/17 11:54 a.m.
HapDL wrote: One of the things that has always attracted me to racing was the preparation of the cars. They were meticulously crafted and looked after, almost works of art. Precision and fastidious care were evident everywhere and details were not overlooked. When I look at crapcan racing cars, I just can't give a, well, a crap. They are just way too ugly and unappealing to be even remotely interesting. But that's just me, to each his own I guess, but even a dirt track stock car makes these things look terrible by contrast.

Racing has never a beauty contest it is about winning. If you want a beauty contest go to Pebble Beach.

Rupert
Rupert Dork
3/7/17 9:35 a.m.

Love the Studs! I wish I still had my old '53 Starliner Coupe. And the supercharged Avanti, not the Avanti II, was a ball to drive.

Keith Tanner
Keith Tanner MegaDork
3/7/17 9:39 a.m.
dean1484 wrote:
HapDL wrote: One of the things that has always attracted me to racing was the preparation of the cars. They were meticulously crafted and looked after, almost works of art. Precision and fastidious care were evident everywhere and details were not overlooked. When I look at crapcan racing cars, I just can't give a, well, a crap. They are just way too ugly and unappealing to be even remotely interesting. But that's just me, to each his own I guess, but even a dirt track stock car makes these things look terrible by contrast.

Racing has never a beauty contest it is about winning. If you want a beauty contest go to Pebble Beach.

It's about attention to detail - every detail. It's no coincidence that winning teams usually have the best prepared cars.

I'm tired of the celebration of cars that look neglected and abused. Although I do love the creativity it takes to put an oddball like this on track.

Klayfish
Klayfish UberDork
3/7/17 9:40 a.m.
HapDL wrote: One of the things that has always attracted me to racing was the preparation of the cars. They were meticulously crafted and looked after, almost works of art. Precision and fastidious care were evident everywhere and details were not overlooked. When I look at crapcan racing cars, I just can't give a, well, a crap. They are just way too ugly and unappealing to be even remotely interesting. But that's just me, to each his own I guess, but even a dirt track stock car makes these things look terrible by contrast.

If pretty paint and shiny chrome is what attracts you to racing, then you definitely don't want to come to a LeMons race. And believe me, many LeMons cars are meticulously crafted, very much so. Who cares how they look, it's all about how they drive.

dculberson
dculberson PowerDork
3/7/17 9:46 a.m.

There are plenty of "pretty" cars at Lemons races. They actually don't usually win. The truly wretched looking ones don't, either - unless it's a judge's choice award or something.

sosp197
sosp197 New Reader
3/7/17 9:50 a.m.

It's a Studebaker Hawk, gotta love it. Amazing how little rust it has after sitting in a swamp, maybe photoshop (nah). I think $800 was a decent buy.

The_Jed
The_Jed PowerDork
3/7/17 10:27 a.m.

I like the looks of that car. I had always mistakenly assumed the 289 found in the Studes was a Ford 289.

1988RedT2
1988RedT2 UltimaDork
3/7/17 11:08 a.m.
Internethero
Internethero New Reader
3/7/17 12:10 p.m.

I had a 57 Golden Hawk, blower and all. Back "in the day" it was quite a car. Sho nuf wish I still had it. Had a 54 Commander coupe back when I was a kid and that was fun also but with limited space to "be a teenager". Can't afford a Hawk now and don't have enough room even if I could, what with all the LBC's I now have. SOMEDAY MAYBE. 5.0 Triumph TR8's can also be fun

sosp197
sosp197 New Reader
3/7/17 9:13 p.m.

I had a '53 coupe V8, '55 Commander coupe V8 and a '55 coupe 6cyl, the V8's are a lot more fun. If I shoved the '73 B out I'd have enough room for one.

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