2 Grand 2 Furious | $2000 Challenge coverage

David S.
By David S. Wallens
Apr 29, 2022 | $2000 Challenge | Posted in Features | From the April 2022 issue | Never miss an article

Photography Credit: Dave Green

What’s faster than the much-vaunted Tesla Model S Plaid? Not much.

Its manufacturer lists a 200 mph top speed along with a zero-to-60 time of just 1.99 seconds. Equally impressive is the super sedan’s 9.23-second quarter-mile time. We’ve simply come a long way from the days when a 13-second Mustang was considered quick. MSRP for the Tesla Plaid starts at $124,490.

At the 2021 running of the $2000 Challenge, our annual low-buck hoedown that places creativity before credit scores, Calvin Nelson pedaled his family’s Pontiac Sunbird down the quarter-mile in 9.06 seconds. Total expenditures to build the car: not quite $2000.

And, Calvin says, the car had more in it. “As we progressed through the night, we were gradually increasing the amount of power we were leaving with. Then the transbrake stopped working.” They later learned that the culprit was a $2 push button.

Despite the setback, the family team kept working to find more speed with each subsequent run. “Once you get over the terror of what you are doing, things slow down,” he continues. “You become ‘speed blind,’ as my dad calls it. Every time I run my new personal best, I remark at how slow it felt. 

The fastest pass was just that. The track was beginning to get so much dew on it that traction was an issue. It got a little squirrely in the first 330 feet, but I kept my foot in it and drove through it. It felt slow, going 150 mph, until I threw the parachute.”

But they didn’t win overall.

Top honors at the Grassroots Motorsports $2000 Challenge Presented by CRC Industries and Titan Fuel Tanks, held October 22-23 at Central Florida’s Gainesville Raceway, went to a once-discarded kit car body mounted on a shortened Ford sedan chassis–and that’s “Ford sedan” as in what you’d find beneath an old police car or taxi. The competition, again, featured autocross, drag racing and concours judging.

How to turn that seemingly offbeat creation into a winner when budget-capped at just two grand? You can flip ahead for the specifics–and also catch the details on our YouTube channel–but the $2000 Challenge is all about creativity and teamwork. 

Since the event’s debut back in 1999, it’s been about a community that works together to show the world that speed doesn’t have to cost money. One person might find the car, with another delivering the right amount of lightening. Then add the rest of the community cheering on, offering parts, and providing a sounding board. 

Then, to bring those ideas to fruition, add hours in the garage. Helpers always welcome.

1st: 3/4 Race, 1981 Bradley GT X71

  • 1st in autocross
  • 1st in radwood class
  • 2nd in concours

Photography Credit: Dave Green

Autocross time: 51.056 sec.
Drag E.T.: 13.076 sec.
Concours Score: 21.75 pts.
Budget spent: $1429.59

“Bradley GT free to good GRM home.”

That was the subject line of the post on the GRM forum–more leftovers from $2000 Challenge and forum regular Stampie. “I bought it for $80 and sold the T-top for more so this owes me nothing,” the listing said. Photos showed a leaf-covered kit car body just sitting out in the elements. “Free but I wouldn’t turn down a bottle of a good whiskey.”

Chris Kinnaman, aka gumby on the GRM forum, took the bait. “I tend to follow the ‘simplify and add lightness’ mentality, but when factoring for the budget aspect, our starting points aren’t always ideal,” he said in the opening post on his GRM forum build thread. “A proven inexpensive route to working suspension involves grabbing and modifying production-based stuff vs. designing 100% from scratch.”

His Bradley’s foundation was based on parts from a Ford Panther sedan–in this case, a 189,000-mile Mercury Grand Marquis purchased for $400. “Yeah, trade some weight for durability no doubt,” he admitted, “but budget car building is all about optimizing compromises.”

Chris’ crew–Chris Brake, Bob Miller, Greg Mayton and Jeff Kleiner–went to work. They shortened the sedan’s frame rails via Z-notching while constructing an NHRA-legal cage. 

The team retained the stock front suspension while adding threaded coil-overs. Then they offset the rear axle by narrowing one side and fitting a Ford Ranger axle shaft. That rear axle allowed the team to place the stock Grand Marquis engine to the right of the driver. 

The sedan’s fuel tank was simply hung off the back of the chassis. “This is the zero-budget option; baby fuel cells cost money, and so does the extra plumbing,” Chris explained in his build thread. “Since this tank is designed to stand up, hopefully it won’t have slosh issues with only 5gal inside.” The team also added Toyota Prius electric power steering and fitted a windshield from a mid-2000 Daytona Prototype racer: “Free racecar parts!” the post read. 

Eleven months after starting work, the car landed in Gainesville–where the graphics were applied in the host hotel’s parking lot. Mike Casino, one of the event’s pro drivers, wheeled the creation to the top time in the autocross, but the car didn’t feel too stable while crossing the finish line on the drag strip. At that point, the team decided to forgo any nitrous and just press pause. “We parked the car in one piece and called it a successful day,” Chris posted. “Ecstatic.”

A stuck cone led to overheating , hence the mess. To fit the drag slicks, the team unceremoniously trimmed the bodywork in the paddock. The Challenge is all about adapting. Photography Credits: David S. Wallens (top), Dave Green

2nd: Big Datsun Energy, 1965 Datsun 1500 Roadster

Photography Credit: Dave Green

Autocross time: 52.211 sec.
Drag E.T.: 13.446 sec.
Concours Score: 21.25 pts.
Budget spent: $1746.98

Robbie Cutcliffe caused a lot of heads to explode when he showed up at the 2020 Challenge with a cast-off Datsun Roadster body perched atop a Formula 440 race car chassis, complete with the rubber-puck suspension and stock Honda CBR600 sportbike power. 

Upon returning from that event, he shared his plans for 2021 on our forum: “I want all the downforces!” He wanted to concentrate on under-car aero, he explained, meaning undertrays, tunnels, skirts and a flat bottom. The rest of the online community quickly jumped in with help, designs and advice–including how to make carbon-fiber wings at home. Online meetups to work out specifics were soon scheduled.

Then Robbie scored a roll of fiberglass cloth for $150. “This roll is 48 wide by almost 24 inches in diameter. It weighs 460 lbs.,” he posted. “I have roughly 4,800 square yards. Or almost enough to cover an entire football field.”

Then there was the body redo that pulled 140 pounds from the car; it involved stripping the old paint, adding fender flares and turning an old canoe into a fuselage. (Parts of the canoe also became inner fender liners.) Then it was all sprayed in satin clear. After 627 hours, the radically reworked Datsun was ready for 2021.

Lesson Learned

  • Sand edges so you don’t cut yourself.
  • Spend the money on a zip tie gun to properly tighten and cut cables. 
  • Rivets are quick to use and can join dissimilar metals.

Another unlikely mashup: a once-unloved Datsun body perched atop a formula car frame. $2000 Challenge rules require either a production body or frame. Then add creativity. David S. Wallens (top), Dave Green

3rd: Radcliffe Racing, 1995 Acura Integra GS-R

  • 1st in 200tw class
  • 3rd in autocross

Photography Credit: Dave Green

Autocross time: 51.652 sec.
Drag E.T.: 13.347 sec.
Concours Score: 18.75 pts.
Budget spent: $1995.12

John Narlis originally built this supercharged Integra, but a sheered supercharger pulley tensioner sent the car to the background as other projects took precedence. Upon John’s death, Andrew Norris bought the Integra. “The car looked like it had been under the ocean for 10 years,” Andrew explains. 

Andrew and the team unveiled the Integra in 2020–finishing 15th overall–but realized that tires are paramount. They originally ran race tires still sporting stickers yet build dates from eight years prior. For this showing, the team upgraded to fresh Falkens. 

Lesson Learned

  • Appliance epoxy paint is easy to use and leaves a durable finish. 
  • “I used an oxyacetylene torch to heat up the crushed spots on the bottom of the header red hot,” Andrew explains. “Then I hammered different-size sockets through the pipe to open them up. Not perfect, but a vast improvement.”

4th: Shelby Dodge Auto Club, 1996 Dodge Neon ACR

  • Phil Kime spirit of the event award
  • 1st in old guy class

Photograph Credit: Dave Green

Autocross time: 53.420 sec.
Drag E.T.: 12.463 sec.
Concours Score: 20.00 pts.
Budget spent: $1946.02

The Shelby Dodge Auto Club crew has been attending the Challenge since that first event in 1999, entering, as the name suggests, a long line of Chrysler products. What made this swapped Neon so fast? “Essentially, the classic big-engine, little-car formula,” answers the team’s Bill Cuttitta. 

“The factory Chrysler 2.4 turbo engines were somewhat underrated by the factory,” he continues, “and we did some tuning by cutting the exhaust system back as far as we dared to make it lean and mean. Judging by what was left of the spark plugs and the performance that wiped out the stock Neon clutch, it looks like it worked.”

They retained the stock Neon ACR suspension, adding 245mm Hoosiers on 15x9-inch wheels for the autocross. “We’d raced Neons in SCCA Showroom Stock and in other places when they were new, and a lot of that institutional knowledge transferred over to when we started running this car. It’s basically a darn good car to start with.”

Lesson Learned

  • “Build a first iteration as early as you can and test, test, test. We got the car together in June and took it to the Shelby Dodge Club’s National Convention, which included autocrossing and drag racing, and while it ran pretty well through the cones, the drag racing uncovered a whole host of issues that took some time to resolve; the extra time gave us the chance to think through what we were doing.”
  • Keep it simple so you’re not fighting the car.
  • Bring spares.

5th: PACC Racing, 1980 Pontiac Sunbird

  • 1st in Drags
  • 3rd in concours

Photography Credit: David S. Wallens

Autocross time: 57.997 sec.
Drag E.T.: 9.064 sec.
Concours Score: 21.50 pts.
Budget spent: $1981.31

The Nelson family knows how to build fast cars and has owned the $2000 Challenge’s quarter-mile competition since Andrew first joined us 17 years ago. This time they returned with their 9-second Sunbird. 

Don’t think such speed can be accomplished on a $2000 budget? The family will share their road map–and possibly even help with some fab or design work.

While we’ve seen the car at the $2000 Challenge before, not all was the same beneath the patinaed sheet metal. For one, its 5.3-liter GM engine was now fed by a bigger turbo–this one a BorgWarner S475 unit from a local tractor trailer repair shop. “A friend of ours searches through their junk pile and finds one with the least amount of shaft play and no oil on the turbine, and he sells them to us,” son and driver Calvin Nelson explains. “Just because the service shop is replacing a part, doesn’t mean that part has reached its usable life. It may be crusty, gross, and be darn near impossible to separate the turbine housing from the center cartridge, but that doesn’t mean it won’t make power.”

Then the family traded their old intercooler setup for methanol injection. “Intercoolers are heavy and center the weight very far forward in the vehicle,” Calvin continues. “We chose to try methanol injection as kind of an experiment. We always run ethanol, which is very detonation resistant, and adding methanol to the mix makes it even more detonation resistant.”

Is there an 8-second pass in the car? They tried once back home, with the car pulling a massive wheel stand the first time out. “Little wheel stands are fun,” Calvin notes. “Big wheel stands, not so much.

“The problem is if you let off too quickly, the car comes crashing down and breaks stuff. Right now, the car is sitting in my garage with a massive oil puddle under it, so you can guess how that went.”

6th: Nocones Garage, 1968 Subaru LMP360

  • Best engineered
  • Challengers’ choice
  • Rookie of the year
  • 3rd in concours

Photography Credit: Dave Green

Autocross time: 53.822 sec.
Drag E.T.: 15.969 sec.
Concours Score: 21.5 pts.
Budget spent: $1868.29

Before the WRX, the STI and even the SVX, Subaru offered the 360, its entry into the kei car field. Production of the 360cc commuter stretched from 1958 all the way into the 1970s. Consumer Reports rated the car Not Acceptable: “It was a pleasure to squirm out of the Subaru, slam the door and walk away.”

SVreX, a longtime member of the GRM community, offered a Subaru 360 shell via our forum for a buck. “Lost my storage,” the post read. “Too many projects.” Daniel Cummings made the 15-hour drive to retrieve it. 

“I’ve been watching the 20XX challenge coverage from afar for a number of years,” he opened in his 48-page build thread on the GRM forum. “It has always looked like fun and the low budget approach has always appealed to me.” Daniel, known as nocones on the forum, had already built a rotary-powered, box-flared MG Midget. 

He laid down a similar goal for this project: “Build something dumber than the MG is.” Soon after, he posted a sketch showing the Subaru body slammed and stretched over a custom frame. As the LMP360 name suggested, the build really would resemble a Le Mans Prototype. The car centers around a NASA-legal cage, and while it looks cool, Daniel stresses that this is a work in progress. 

Lesson Learned

  • Let the tools do the work. Don’t force that cutting disc.
  • Weld metal that comes from a known source. If welding conduit, for example, use American-made, zinc-free material. (Welding zinc can release very harmful fumes.)

7th: Courses Historique, 1923 Bugatti Type 32

  • Best theme

Photography Credit: David S. Wallens

Autocross time: 54.965 sec.
Drag E.T.: 14.854 sec.
Concours Score: 20.25 pts.
Budget spent: $1965.03

A prewar Bugatti at the $2000 Challenge? Okay, not really. Steve Stafford based his creation on a 1985 Corvette–a stalled project from a fellow Challenger. 

Steve explains the Bugatti bodywork: “As an aero engineer, the Type 32 is particularly bad, but it represents an early attempt to design race cars with aerodynamic insights.” In this case, he replaced the Corvette body with a skeleton formed in square aluminum tubing and then wrapped with industrial heat shrink–the kind typically used to winterize boats or protect machinery for transport. (He bought it via Amazon.)

8th: Mattelica the Celica, 2002 Toyota Celica GT-S

  • Editors’ choice
  • 1st in stock block class

Photography Credit: Dave Green

Autocross time: 52.702 sec.
Drag E.T.: 15.747 sec.
Concours Score: 15.75 pts.
Budget spent: $1716.30

Here’s a big motorsports achievement outside of the $2000 Challenge: Laura Harbour and Lauren Keach drove this very Celica to second and third, respectively, at last fall’s Tire Rack SCCA Solo Nationals. 

The Celica wasn’t new to competition, however, as TB Cahill ran it in the $2000 Challenge a year prior. Lora, a longtime Celica fan, bought the car from him for $900. Then she had to drive it home from Pennsylvania to Texas–only broke down twice, she notes. 

The goal was to return the Celica to the Challenge while building that competitive autocrosser. “Skip the cheap suspension efforts and go straight to the Konis,” Laura says. The suspension also received fresh bushings, eBay coil-over sleeves and Godspeed camber plates–in pink, she notes. 

The engine needed new gaskets, so it was dropped and resealed. The Cobra race seat was recovered, while the exterior paint was clay barred, buffed and corrected. Yokohama Advan A052 tires were then wrapped around Scion FR-S wheels. The final tally: 11 months of work to the tune of some 500 hours between Laura and Justin Harbour, her “senior chief lead fungenieer and wrench turner.”

Lesson Learned

  • Roof and flashing polyurethane sealant can be used to fill and thus stiffen engine mounts.
  • Scion tC rear shock absorbers fit the Celica.

9th: FC Motorsports, 2004 Nissan 350Z

Photography Credit: Dave Green

Autocross time: 52.395 sec.
Drag E.T.: 15.188 sec.
Concours Score: 14.25 pts. 
Budget spent: $1891.81

Like more than a few Challenge builds, this one came from a fellow competitor who had tired of it–in this case, again, Stampie. Selling price was $500.

“I knew it needed an engine, but I didn’t realize the extent of the damage from the accident and neglect of maintenance,” entrant Chris Tootle explains. “I could have left all the damaged body panels off and cut out the rest. Personally, I love the look of the 350Z and had to bring it back to life.” 

A used engine was purchased for $200, while the suspension was sorted out. “Stampie had been replacing the front end with Infiniti G35 parts,” Chris continues. “I put them all on Facebook Marketplace and started over.”

Then, onto the bodywork. “Between a porta-power and the winch I have bolted to the floor to get cars up my steep driveway, the body was in acceptable shape.” Some body filler and home paint job made the car look presentable. Instead of gutting the interior, Chris retained the factory interior. “Usually I trash/sell all the interior pieces, but the 350Z has too many sharp parts to leave exposed.”

Lesson Learned

  • The 350Z was painted with single-stage enamel: $99 for a gallon, although the job only required about 2 quarts. 

10th: The Blockbusters, 1986 Pontiac Fiero

Photography Credit: Dave Green

Autocross time: 55.524 sec.
Drag E.T.: 14.047 sec.
Concours Score: 16.50 pts.
Budget spent: $1872.37

“We are a bunch of engineers from Schaeffler that got together to prove to the world that it’s not always the engineer’s fault,” writes the team’s Zachary Gnabah, “that some of us do actually know the difference between a clipboard and a wrench.”

Instead of going crazy with their Fiero, they went old school, he continues: “A popular swap in the early 2000s was to find a 3.4L out of a 1993-1995 Camaro. This is nearly a direct bolt in and everything externally works between the original V6 that came in the Fieros.”

Lesson Learned

  • “It only takes two wires to start the car; one for ignition, one for the starter. Done. A 3D-printed center gauge cluster was made with a switchboard to power everything.”

11th: Basura Blanco Racing, 2002 Toyota MR2 Spyder

  • 2nd in autocross

Photography Credit: David S. Wallens

Autocross time: 51.126 sec.
Drag E.T.: 15.649 sec.
Concours Score: 12.00 pts.
Budget spent: $1575.24

Ever since seeing an MR2 Spyder lay waste to an entire autocross field, Andy Surprenant has wanted one. And when he decided to look, one landed right in his lap–and for just $1500.

“It sure looked like shit,” he says, “but it ran well.” The car came with some goodies, too, like an exhaust header. At the same time, the carpet was missing, the seats were trashed, the soft top was junk, and the car wore three different colors. Andy removed some of the bodywork to save weight and installed coil-overs, while his wife rolled down the Rustoleum paint. The MR2 made its Challenge debut for 2020 and returned unchanged.

12th: Tyler Elfers, 2000 Honda Insight

Photography Credit: Dave Green

Autocross time: 54.599 sec.
Drag E.T.: 14.858 sec.
Concours Score: 14.75 pts.
Budget spent: $1527.36

The original plan seemed ambitious but within the spirit of Honda’s intent: Replace the Insight’s hybrid drive with the all-electric drivetrain from a Nissan Leaf. 

After a mock-up, the group’s Tyler Elfers admits, that route seemed too rich for the Challenge budget. Instead, the team grabbed the K-series engine from a wrecked 2004 Honda Civic Si. 3D-printed parts allowed the team to mate the manual shifter cables with the Insight’s gear selector. 

Lesson Learned

  • After a 3D-printed part failed, “a more robust plastic, NylonX, was used with a higher infill rate and a refined geometry to reduce stress concentration.”
  • “Many hours were spent diagnosing electrical issues and wiring components, but with the help of a wiring diagram, DVOM meter, a box of fuses and Häagen-Dazs ice cream, the wiring nightmares were put to bed.”

13th: The Bleeding Frogs, 1995 Ford Mustang GT

  • 1st in high school class

Photography Credit: Dave Green

Autocross time: 56.066 sec.
Drag E.T.: 14.208 sec.
Concours Score: 15.25 pts.
Budget spent: $1517.66

Seventeen-year-old Tyler Ortengren headed up one of our student teams. He’s been coming to the $2000 Challenge since he was 10. 

The team originally planned to bring a turbocharged Cavalier, but it dropped a rod on the dyno. Plan B was this $1000 Mustang advertised for parts and purchased just a month before the event. The car wouldn’t start but wore a lot of speed parts. 

“We found a picture of an orange Mustang that had the right look,” Tyler explains, “and we ordered the paint from eBay. The color is called Competition Orange.” They sprayed it with a Harbor Freight gun. “It has a lot of orange peel, but it was our first effort, and we know after spraying our first car we can do better.” The team also applied a wrap, another first: “It was a huge pain and took us 6 hours just to do the roof and hood. Wrap guys get a ton of money, and now we know why!”

Lesson Learned

  • Seats the wrong color? Spray paint them as needed. 
  • Make interior panels from thin plywood covered in old black carpet.
  • Removing the factory hood latch saved about 5 pounds.
  • If relocating the battery to the trunk, long jumper cables cost less than extended battery cables.

14th: FC Motorsports, 1994 Mazda Miata

Photography Credit: Dave Green

Autocross time: 54.784 sec.
Drag E.T.: 16.687 sec.
Concours Score: 16.75 pts.
Budget spent: $1875.91

Like so many good stories, this one starts with a parts car–a third Miata to donate parts to another two. Even though the Miata purchased for parts had been totaled during a police chase–just an innocent bystander–Chris Tootle decided to save it. 

He added a turbo, fabricating a downpipe from a piece of discarded fence post. “There was no time for real bodywork,” he says. “I had a choice of green, orange and black paint left over from other builds. Body was dented too bad for black.” He didn’t have quite enough paint to spray the Miata but notes that spray cans, bedliner and stickers covered the rest. 

This was the car’s third Challenge appearance, with Chris’s wife, Michelle Tootle, listed as the official entrant. The team reports that the car was sorted and running well before the event, but a clogged fuel vent kept stalling the engine during the big show.

15th: Cobra Kia, 2003 Mazda Miata

Photography Credit: Dave Green

Autocross time: 55.092 sec.
Drag E.T.: 14.468 sec.
Concours Score: 13.50 pts.
Budget spent: $1909.11

The team billed this as the “first battery car” in $2000 Challenge history. Electric power? No, just a black-and-copper paint job for the turbo Miata–like the team itself, a Challenge regular–courtesy of team member George Bieber.

16th: Spooky Racing, 2004 Chrysler Hellfire

Photography Credit: Dave Green

Autocross time: 57.435 sec.
Drag E.T.: 16.330 sec.
Concours Score: 14.50 pts.
Budget spent: $1749.53

Billy Allison believes this car was at one point both stolen and underwater–the key only fit the ignition, while fuses were corroded. The price was just $1500, however. Billy performed some basic maintenance but suffered “transmission and/or rear end failure at the eighth-mile” during the car’s only drag pass. 

17th: Last Minute Racing, 2008 Mini Cooper S

  • 1st in $1000 class

Photography Credit: Dave Green

Autocross time: 58.300 sec.
Drag E.T.: 15.549 sec.
Concours Score: 14.50 pts.
Budget spent: $1836.11

Kevin Flavin bought this Mini for just $900–credit multiple misfire codes and suspected timing chain issues. The issue was a burnt valve, so Kevin replaced the valve, reset the codes and put everything back together. Along the way, he also did the front brakes. The car finally hit the road the night before the event. “Flogged the car without mercy,” he says. “No issues.” He also didn’t sleep for two days, he adds.

18th: Bree Miller, 2002 Volkswagen GTI

Photography Credit: Dave Green

Autocross time: 56.958 sec.
Drag E.T.: 15.128 sec.
Concours Score: 12 pts.
Budget spent: $1113.00

Josh Miller has been attending the $2000 Challenge for years, bringing his kids since they were old enough to walk. “In 2020, we started the tradition of each kid doing a first build with me the year they turn 15. Jonathan entered his Vibe GT in 2020 when he turned 15, and 2021 was Bree’s year.”

They found the VR6-powered Golf GTI on the GRM forum. It was said to just need new coils, and the engine fired up with fresh replacements.

“When home, we finally gave the car a good inspection and found water in the oil,” Josh continues. “Bree got to learn how to do a leakdown test, compression test, cooling system pressure test, and pull and reinstall coils and plugs enough times that I’m sure she could do it eyes closed now. Fortunately all the numbers were good, and the culprit turned out to be the factory oil cooler deciding it was done cooling and would rather be making milkshakes.”

The car didn’t look too bad, but the hatch needed to be replaced, while the roof was a mess. “Hours of sanding, grinding and painting made the roof look survivable,” Josh notes. “Bree picked the livery using vinyl in colors from her synchronized swimming team and designs found on some older VW racers.” She then traded wheels with her brother to score his sticky tires.

19th: Crazy Coyote Racing, 1998 BMW 528i

Photography Credit: Dave Green

Autocross time: 56.987 sec.
Drag E.T.: 16.332 sec.
Concours Score: 12.75 pts.
Budget spent: $1875.00

Abby Hempy prepared this BMW sedan for the previous year’s Challenge, adding the river rocks to create her own art car of sorts. It was part of a plan to land a job in motorsports–and last we heard, she’s working at NASCAR’s R&D center. She sold the car via eBay for $1250.

Felix Nieto, a longtime BMW fan, purchased the car with hopes that it would help welcome his son into motorsports. “I had never heard of this event before,” he says of the $2000 Challenge, “but I was intrigued.” 

Felix and his son autocrossed the BMW over the summer. “We broke a couple of parts on the car, so my son and I repaired them.” Next, he says, his older teen girls want to get behind the wheel. “To be continued next year,” he says.

20th: Emergency Backup Saturn, 2002 Saturn SC2

Photography Credit: David S. Wallens

Autocross time: 56.339 sec.
Drag E.T.: 16.813 sec.
Concours Score: 12.00 pts.
Budget spent: $1532.78

Travis Turner simply needed a new daily driver. His Fiat Spider–one of the Miata-based cars–just wasn’t working out. Then this Saturn popped up on the GRM forum: $1900 OBO. Sold. 

“It’s the last true Saturn,” Travis explains, “the final year of the S-series before GM muddled up the short-lived, unique division.” This one wore the one-year-only burnt orange and came with a full set of replacement body panels in the correct color–plus the period-correct body kit. 

“It’s got 222K miles,” he continues, “but the owner’s father was a 15-plus-year Saturn technician who cared for it very well. It’s also lowered on Eibach springs and KYB shocks.” The car even came with the 15-inch wheels and a “basement full of spare parts,” some of which were sold to put money back into the budget. 

21st: Old Dudes Racing, 2003 Mini Cooper S

Photography Credit: Dave Green

Autocross time: 58.127 sec.
Drag E.T.: 17.151 sec.
Concours Score: 14.25 pts. 
Budget spent: $1918.29

Like many others, Casper Pigott planned to bring something else to Gainesville for the big show–in his case, an MGB powered by a turbocharged Chevy V6. “However,” he admits, “the budget quickly got out of control.” So he looked at his “daily beater,” a $1500 Mini. “Hell, it’s kind of fast and corners okay,” he says. “What the heck, give it a go.” 

Lesson Learned

  • To stiffen the factory engine mounts, fill the voids with 3M windshield urethane.

22nd: Blueline Motorsports, 2006 Honda Civic

  • 1st in parking lot class

Photography Credit: Dave Green

Autocross time: 58.210 sec.
Drag E.T.: 16.811 sec.
Concours Score: 13.00 pts.
Budget spent: $1898.00

Jeremy Randolph has been attending the $2000 Challenge since the very first one back in 1999, and lately he’s been organizing the event’s last-minute parking lot builds. This time, he planned to enter a crashed 2000 Audi TT purchased for $650. But it didn’t work out. “Mainly because I suck at bodywork,” he admits. “I used all of the normal tools one would find in a modern body shop–you know, jack handles, wood pieces and used Honda scissor jacks. Unfortunately, despite these high-tech implements, I was unable to get the hatch to close.”

Then he found the Honda. “The Civic drove great and, other than having crappy paint and a filthy interior, it seemed like it would make an excellent candidate for rallycross/Challenge glory.” But that interior was really filthy, he notes. “The seats were nasty. I felt like I needed a tetanus shot every time I moved the car.” Jeremy and his crew sprayed the fresh moss green satin paint–nine cans at $4.99 each from Ace Hardware–and fitted some used Falkens. 

Lesson Learned

  • Dirty seats? Pressure wash them. 

23rd: Trigonia Racing, 1995 BMW 325i

  • 2nd in drags

Photography Credit: Dave Green

Autocross time: 62.324 sec.
Drag E.T.: 12.342 sec.
Concours Score: 12.50 pts.
Budget spent: $2000.00

How to repower an E36 BMW? Swap in an LS–or, more specifically, the truck variant from a 2006 GMC Envoy bought via a Black Friday sale at the local LKQ salvage yard. Car owner Matt Maulfair then added a camshaft “with some gnarly lobes” plus a used GT45 turbo. To top it off, “Steve donated a mystery TH400” that had been sitting for 23 years. 

Just before the event, though, Matt accidentally boosted the engine past 30 psi and lifted off a head. A 320,000-mile engine from a Chevy Express van was quickly installed.

Lesson Learned

  • At least make the show. It’s faster at the event than sitting on jack stands.

24th: Zebra Butt Racing, 1985 Buick Riviera

Photography Credit: Tom Suddard

Autocross time: 60.080 sec.
Drag E.T.: 16.641 sec.
Concours Score: 14.25 pts.
Budget spent: $920.51

GRM’s Tom Suddard had previously prepared this Riviera for a Gambler 500–so much luxury–before selling it to Michael Stamps, aka Stampie. The new owner replaced the injection with a carburetor, gutted the interior, and reset the ride height to something more suitable for tarmac. Then he added sticky Hankooks on wide Bart Racing steelies.

25th: Hoser Racing, 1987 Nissan 300ZX

  • 1st in college class

Photography Credit: Dave Green

Autocross time: 58.819 sec.
Drag E.T.: 16.824 sec.
Concours Score: 13.00 pts.
Budget spent: $456.76

“It all started one fateful day as my father was scrolling through the Grassroots forums and stumbled across something,” Christopher Smith recalls. “He called me up into his office and started explaining that this one guy, Dave, was giving away these cars to high school- and college-aged people who would take them to the Challenge.” Christopher was sold on the 300ZX: “That is one sexy car.”

Christopher and his dad retrieved the car from Georgia and towed it home to Pennsylvania. Now the work could begin. “I learned so much on this car because it seemed like there was one problem after another.” One example: They deduced that compression was bad on two cylinders. “Head gaskets aren’t bad,” Christopher says he told himself. “It should only take me a few hours.” A few months later, he finally finished that task. 

26th: JCW Performance, 1987 Mazda RX-7

Photography Credit: David S. Wallens

Autocross time: 63.325 sec.
Drag E.T.: 14.900 sec.
Concours Score: 15.00 pts.
Budget spent: $1833.59

Jonathan Whitaker’s LS-powered RX-7 finished fifth the year before and looked like a contender for top honors. During its one pre-Challenge test session, it ran a blistering 10.1-second quarter-mile at 139 mph. Then, in Gainesville, the car fought Jonathan the entire time, “eventually losing two rods and seizing the motor on the one and only drag pass.”

Lesson Learned

  • Always bleed coolant from the highest point in the system, even if that means jacking up one end of the car.

27th: John Avery, 2000 Subaru Impreza RS

Photography Credit: Dave Green

Autocross time: 59.722 sec.
Drag E.T.: 17.320 sec.
Concours Score: 13.50 pts.
Budget spent: $948.53

Easy, low-buck fun: $500 plus auction fees for the bone-stock Subaru. Then add some coil-overs and brake work.

28th: Good Times Racing, 2003 Infiniti G35

Photography Credit: Dave Green

Autocross time: 60.105 sec.
Drag E.T.: 16.797 sec.
Concours Score: 13.00 pts.
Budget spent: $1934.31

A month before the event, Andrew Neuman, a regular at the $2000 Challenge, won the Infiniti via a Copart auction. The car was wrecked, so he needed to replace much of the front end. “After a few minutes of working on the actual car, I realized what a rusty POS this car really was,” he admits, so I abandoned all ideas of turning my salvage title into a rebuild title to drive the car to the event.”

He installed some used coil-overs and planned to paint the car at the event’s host hotel the night before the big show. That’s when he realized that painter’s tape could be used to duplicate Falken’s iconic teal-and-green livery–a six-pack of blue tape plus two rolls of green. During the Challenge, however, a belt pulley broke, with the resulting calamity taking out the radiator. “I hate this car,” he tells us. 

29th: Ad Lib Racing, 1993 Ford Escort

Photography Credit: Dave Green

Autocross time: 59.561 sec.
Drag E.T.: 16.908 sec.
Concours Score: 11.25 pts.
Budget spent: $967.47

“I’ll be honest,” Curtis Mittong says, “there’s not much in the way of engineering going on here. It’s just about getting 2.1 degrees of negative camber up front, maximizing caster and toe all the way around.” The car came from Dave Zajano, another forum cornerstone, and the price was free–well, traded for a four-pack of craft beer–as it hadn’t been driven in years. Curtis says now that a baseline has been set, the real prep can begin.

30th: Grandpa Grenade, 2002 Buick Century

Photography Credit: Dave Green

Concours Score: 61.331 sec.
Drag E.T.: 16.970 sec.
Autocross time: 12.00 pts.
Budget spent: $1772.74

This was my grandpa’s car, says 17-year-old entrant Matthew McFarland. “He bought it new in 2002. I just got my license in July and did my first autocross in it two weeks later.

“We came [to the Challenge] as spectators in 2019 and realized this car would be eligible this year, so decided it would be fun to enter. It was last-minute, so it only got a muffler and stripes. We drove it down from New Jersey and brought the title in case it won’t get us back. We included plane tickets home in our budget as backup.”

Lesson Learned

  • “We decided it needed to be loud and have racing stripes, so we ordered a Cherry Bomb muffler and K&N drop-in filter from Amazon and got racing stripes from AutoZone.”

31st: The Buddy Project, Inc., 1996 Pontiac Firebird

Photography Credit: Dave Green

Autocross time: 64.560 sec.
Drag E.T.: 16.405 sec.
Concours Score: 11.75 pts.
Budget spent: $1291.16

“I have autism and wanted to race since I was a small child,” says Eric D. Zimmerman. “Due to the location where I grew up and my disability, I was unable to realize my dream of racing until I was in my late 20s.” But now he’s making up for lost time, running mini stocks as well as sim racing. 

“I made a specific plan to run the event in 2021 because my best friend, Shawn, who passed away on March 25, 2021, was a huge fan of the GRM $2000 Challenge,” Eric explains. “To honor Shawn, we made it a point to compete.”

Eric and crew entered a V6-powered, 396,000-mile Firebird. “That is a lot of miles, but the 3.8 GM engines are tanks,” he adds. “They just don’t break.” Follow Eric’s work at racing4autism.org and thebuddyproject.org.

32nd: Spahn Racing, 1995 Chevrolet S10

Photography Credit: Dave Green

Autocross time: 62.818 sec.
Drag E.T.: 16.405 sec.
Concours Score: 11.75 pts.
Budget spent: $824.28

Patrick Spahn bought the truck about 10 weeks before the Challenge. The V6 remained stock, the interior was gutted, and Dunlop 200tw tires were fitted onto the stock wheels.

33rd: Jackets Racing, 1957 Nash Metropolitan

Photography Credit: David S. Wallens

Autocross time: 72.161 sec.
Drag E.T.: 18.032 sec.
Concours Score: 20.75 pts.
Budget spent: $1930.33

“The dream was simple,” the Cedarville University team wrote in its build book. “Use engineering knowledge and advanced equipment to make something that would test our abilities as engineers and that we could call our own.

“Other competitive spaces in the collegiate world were dulled with strenuous regulations and budgets that allowed deep pockets to buy victory, and they were devoid of the things that make competing great–fun. In the $2000 Challenge, we have the opportunity to innovate, experiment, build and compete in a space where thinking outside the box is encouraged, and the budget limitation forces us to engineer–not buy–our solutions.”

The team’s build started in 2020, with the inaugural members finding and then restoring the Nash body–previously it was used as a stage prop. The rejuvenated body then housed a custom tube-frame chassis developed via CAD engineering–51 design revisions–and featuring kinematically optimized suspension. 

Power then came from a Honda D-series driveline. “Then we freaking put it in the back of the car to achieve better handling and drag strip traction, and prepped it for a turbo.” While not the fastest entry, it scored near the top of the field in the concours judging.

34th: FFZ Racing, 2002 Dodge Dakota

Photography Credit: Dave Green

Autocross time: 77.379 sec.
Drag E.T.: 15.486 sec.
Concours Score: 13.50 pts.
Budget spent: $1328.22

It’s a long-proven formula: big engine inside a little vehicle. In this case, David Carnecchia stuck the Dodge Dakota body atop a 1997 Ram 1500 frame. Then he powered it with a 454-cubic-inch Chevy backed by a Turbo 400 transmission. Zoomie headers straight out of the 1966 NHRA U.S. Nationals topped it all off.

35th: Wreck Racing, 2001 Chevrolet S10 Xtreme

  • 1st in concours
  • Most spectacular failure

Photography Credit: Dave Green

Autocross time: 56.331 sec.
Drag E.T.: n/a
Concours Score: 22.00 pts.
Budget spent: $1959.30

Georgia Tech’s Wreck Racing has been a Challenge regular since 2004, meaning the team itself is now more or less old enough to actually go to college. Despite a constantly rotating crew, the plan has remained similar: Go big or go home. 

This time the team swung for the fences with a Chevy S10 powered by a mid-mounted, J-series Acura V6 engine. To aid weight distribution, they took molds of the stock nose and created a composite replacement. Beneath that nose: a custom push/pullrod suspension using Acura knuckles.

But shortly after work began, covid. When classes were called off, the team was booted from its campus workspace. “We continued development best we could using 3D scans, pre-taken measurements and virtual CAD tools,” the team wrote in its build book.

After finishing 17th in the morning’s autocross runs, the team headed to the drag strip. The team’s driver lined up at the tree for his first run and popped the clutch for a burnout, breaking an axle in the process. 

36th: The Italian Job, 2004 Mini Cooper S

Photography Credit: Dave Green

Autocross time: 67.458 sec.
Drag E.T.: n/a
Concours Score: 14.00 pts.
Budget spent: $1994.62

“The sorry-looking little Mini Cooper bouncing on the end of the forklift tongs in the dusty gravel lot looked rather forlorn,” Donald Christman says of his $1653 score. “Grassroots Motorsports magazine has taught and preached ‘the detail and cleanup’ to see just what kind of score was accomplished. A couple of hours of scrubbing in the driveway revealed near-perfect paint, a lightly worn interior, and what appeared to be a well-loved vehicle prior to its crash and resulting total loss by the insurance company.” The goal, then, he explains, was to make the car as nice as possible within the budget and time constrains. 

Lesson Learned

  • Careful shopping at Tire Rack produced a set of 2018 production Bridgestone Potenza max performance summer tires with a UTQG rating of 140 for $401 with a $70 Bridgestone mail-in rebate.

37th: MIstiff Racing, 1958 Austin-Healey Sprite

Photography Credit: David S. Wallens

Autocross time: 194.732 sec.
Drag E.T.: n/a
Concours Score: 13.75 pts.
Budget spent: $1926.78

The Facebook ad appeared on our forum: Challenge Bugeye, anyone? “That’s not an A-series,” another forum member noted. Someone had already fitted a 350 Chevy into the Sprite. Emblazoned across the decklid: Riggamort. 

Doug Learnard rose to the challenge and picked it up–a full year before the event. After 11 months, work finally began, bringing the engine to life, adding safety gear, and getting the brakes to work. Teething issues, including overheating, limited Doug to just one autocross run–barely.

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View comments on the GRM forums
Andy Neuman
Andy Neuman SuperDork
3/2/22 2:04 p.m.

I stand by everything I said about my car.


Some rust,



edit: Than you guys for putting on this event. For some reason just the little snippet we get in the magazine makes the event special to me. 

GameboyRMH GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
3/2/22 5:03 p.m.

Man I really missed out last year!

I remember Steve Stafford was spitballing that Bugatti idea in one of our GRMer happy hour chats including the idea of using a framework and heatshrink, and now there it is!

Great title BTW laugh

Keith Tanner
Keith Tanner GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
4/29/22 1:54 p.m.

Headline of the year.

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