Two Grand to Tango: The $2000 Challenge

By Scott Lear
May 4, 2019 | $2000 Challenge | Posted in Features | Never miss an article

Story by Scott R. Lear, Photography as Credited


Fast cars for low bucks: It’s been our mantra for decades. Think going fast takes mounds of cash? It doesn’t.

Low-buck racing has enjoyed a boom in popularity since the turn of the millennium–particularly in the endurance racing space–but our $2000 Challenge remains the original event. For nearly 20 years it has offered a unique format that rewards creativity, bargain hunting and clever engineering.

Total budget? As the name of the event suggests, just two grand (and change). We give our Challengers plenty of leeway for creativity, and personal labor is free. Build parties have become quite common. It’s supposed to be fun.

And these really are low-buck builds. These teams don’t need to invest thousands in a tow rig or refueling setup; open trailers remain the norm, and many cars arrive under their own power. It’s an event that keeps things simple–back to basics.


Budget Basics


The initial purchase price of a $2000 Challenge car must not exceed the budget cap. That figure is equal to the year of the event, meaning just $2018 for the 2018 running. Teams can recoup up to half that value by selling parts from the build.

Cars must pass basic safety inspections, so many safety items don’t count toward the budget: belts, harnesses, fire extinguishers, roll bar padding, wheel mounting hardware and, perhaps most significantly, four tires. Basic fluids and nitrous oxide refills are also budget exempt.

If you’ve already got a legal 24 Hours of Lemons car that meets the spirit of our rule set, it’s welcome to compete at the Challenge; just make sure you clear it with our staff first. If you’re nurturing even the slightest spark of interest in the $2000 Challenge, we strongly encourage you to join the conversation on our GRM forums at There you’ll find scores of Challengers as well as the GRM staff, and they’re always happy to help or answer questions. Low-buck cars and parts for sale can be found on the site, too.


Enhanced Autocross


Central Florida’s Gainesville Raceway’s drag strip was out of commission this year due to repaving, but its expansive parking lot was ready for the onslaught of our double-header autocross sessions. A fast pair of 50-second courses, designed by our own J. G. Pasterjak, were ample consolation for the longer hike to the concession stand.

“I had always been pushing for a more ‘real’ autocross course anyway, so this was a good opportunity to go ahead and do it,” J.G. said. The goal was to create courses worthy of a national-level SCCA event. (The afternoon course sported a long, arrow-straight acceleration corridor out of the box to emulate drag launch conditions, giving straight-line beasts a place to shine.)

As always, entrants could tap one of our elite professional hotshoes to autocross their cars, keeping the focus of the event on build quality rather than driving talent. The expert drivers were allowed to make multiple passes in a single car, but they still left teams with plenty of time to complete runs of their own–whether for fun or to try to best the pros. From left to right, our pro roster: Danny Shields, Alan McCrispin, John Thomas and Rob Lewis.


Judgement Day


Each year, our concours judging portion gives Challengers a chance to highlight the strengths of their builds and the work that went into them. Call it an adult version of show and tell.

Our panel of esteemed judges (from left to right: Brian Webber, Steve Stafford, Chris Brewer, Brian Walsh, John Hoopes) looks at two main criteria: innovation and execution. Where did the team forge new ground, and how neatly did they accomplish it?


Hotel Hotrods


During off-track hours, the parking lot of our host hotel becomes almost as busy as the raceway. Just outside the Best Western Gateway Grand in Gainesville is the last-chance garage for Challengers hoping to finalize their builds, and a few crazy folks even start their projects from scratch there in the hours before the green flag flies.

This year’s Parking Lot Build team prepped this Toyota MR2, striving to swap in the optional supercharged engine–a feat that’s not as easy as it sounds. (Spoiler alert: They may have actually made runs under power.)


Wagons Ho!


For several years now, the participants themselves have come up with a whimsical subclass, from aristocratic luxury cars to soccermobile minivans and pickups. This year we warmly welcomed wagons, and a few competitors were happy to showcase that sublime mix of spacious utility and uncompromised road manners.

The Yukon Ho team, however, went the extra mile by essentially wrapping a covered wagon around a C4 Corvette. They rolled into the paddock blasting the theme from “Rawhide,” and even made their first autocross run with the wooden panels, steel hoops and canvas cover in place.




  • ENTRANT: Circuit Motorsports
  • CAR: 1993 Subaru Justy Justang
  • CONCOURS SCORE: 22.00 pts.
  • A.M. AUTOCROSS TIME: 48.601 sec.
  • P.M. AUTOCROSS TIME: 47.418 sec.
  • BUDGET SPENT: $1849.53
  • ITEM OF INTEREST: eBay fender flares, $27.69

The Justang represents the rarely seen marriage between a 1999 Ford Mustang Cobra and a 1993 Subaru Justy. Perhaps it was love at first sight.

The car made its $2000 Challenge debut in 2015, with owner Tristan Sothern and the rest of the Circuit Motorsports team completing their initial build with just hours to spare.

The Mustang Cobra superstructure remained largely intact. The wheelbase hadn’t been altered–length was simply removed from its nose and tail. The Subaru body was then modified to fit, kind of like an altered-reality funny car. Box flares accommodated the increased track. The creation’s debut earned sixth overall and made strong showings in the concours and autocross. Plus, competitors dug the creation enough to give it the Challengers’ Choice award.


The team returned in 2016 and improved to fourth overall on the merit of FTD at the autocross, but their car’s mid-14-second quarter-mile was well off the pace of the top contenders. When the Circuit Motorsports crew was unable to source slicks in time, they decided to take a hiatus from the 2017 event.

Another reason for the lack of poke? As Tristan reminds us, the quad-cam engine is tired–really tired. The seller thought that the engine had blown up, hence the cheap price. In reality, only the clutch had exploded.

The car sat mothballed until just six weeks before this fall’s Challenge, when the announcement of a second autocross replacing the drags inspired them to take a shot. The event had finally come to their strengths.

Some work was done before the event, though. Excessive fuel sloshing would cut the power, so the team found a smaller fuel cell, one sporting intact foam.

The Justang ran well during a test autocross before the event. Still, the team decided that they needed more traction, so they went even crazier by mounting 275mm Hoosier A7 rubber at all four corners. The Cobra replica wheels came from a swap meet. To cover the even wider stance, fender flares were added to the fender flares.

The vibrant Martini-inspired livery helped them earn third in the concours, and the already agile 2692-pound Justang, bolstered by its new extra-wide rubber, was untouchable in both the a.m. and p.m. autocrosses. It outpaced its nearest competitors by almost half a second on each course. Turns out the union of a $550 Mustang Cobra and a $100 Justy is, with a bit of expert counseling, an unbeatable match.





  • ENTRANT: Georgia Tech Wreck Racing
  • CAR: 1986 BMW 5 Series
  • CONCOURS SCORE: 24.00 pts.
  • A.M. AUTOCROSS TIME: 49.476 sec.
  • P.M. AUTOCROSS TIME: 49.529 sec.
  • BUDGET SPENT: $1912.67
  • ITEM OF INTEREST: Android Nexus 7 tablet, $30.00

Since their debut with a VW Golf GTI at the $2004 Challenge, Georgia Tech Wreck Racing has been a staple of the event–they’ve even taken the overall win.

Just as student members come and go, the team’s projects have changed through the years. There have been some common themes, though. Wreck Racing cars are always up on power thanks to engine swaps, forced induction, or sometimes both. The team is also not afraid to bend metal to their will. Finally, when they can’t find a part that will do the job, they’ve got the engineering talent and fabrication facilities at their disposal to do some fairly amazing things.

This time, president Lawson Sumner and the 50-student-strong Wreck Racing team debuted an all-new creation, built around a shiny black E28-chassis BMW 5 Series sedan. Their $400 BMW was in driving condition as purchased, but they were more interested in the car’s relatively low mass and large engine bay. Motivation now comes from a Chevy 5.3-liter LS V8 twisting a Turbo-Hydramatic 400 transmission. Despite the big engine bay, they still had to cut out some of the hood to accommodate the tall V8. Their suspension design was biased toward drag racing, but the E36 BMW 3 Series front subframe and three-link solid rear axle setup still offered ample control of the broad Hoosier tires on C4 Corvette wheels. The front arrangement allowed the team to use a rack-and-pinion steering setup. It was clearly enough of a compromise, as the BMW took top-five finishes in both autocrosses.

Concours judges were impressed by the comprehensive engineering, welding and fabrication on display, from the many bespoke adapters and components to the classy Wreck Racing switch panel in the cockpit. Even though they saved the original paint, they still nearly pegged the concours score.

The team’s multi-year projects tend to only grow stronger with time, and they’ve already got the idea to add a turbo from a Caterpillar dump truck. Expect this BMW to be in the hunt for an overall win in coming years.




  • ENTRANT: Rack and Minion Racing
  • CAR: 1992 Mazda Miata
  • CONCOURS SCORE: 15.80 pts.
  • A.M. AUTOCROSS TIME: 49.283 sec.
  • P.M. AUTOCROSS TIME: 48.057 sec.
  • BUDGET SPENT: $1795.00
  • ITEM OF INTEREST: front subframe, $30.00

Miatas represented nearly a quarter of the field, although this one may not fully count: Much of the factory sheet metal had been chopped away. The team started by paying too much ($500) for a rusty car. On the plus side, it did have some decent coil-overs and a pair of 323 GTX cams. Despite its spartan appearance, this entry had all the necessary bits for street legality. The kart even survived a 55 mph impact with a deer just one week before the event.


With so much of the stock sheet metal cut or air-chiseled away, the robust custom cage ($700) inherited much of the stress-bearing duty. This creation weighed 1743 pounds on our scales and was, not surprisingly, a strong autocross contender–even on aged, relatively hard BFGoodrich Rival S street tires. A lesson the team learned when removing the windscreen: “Just going full gorilla isn’t safe or a good idea.”




  • EDITORS: Valella Motion Sports
  • CAR: 1995 Toyota Tercel
  • CONCOURS SCORE: 18.40 pts.
  • A.M. AUTOCROSS TIME: 50.216 sec.
  • P.M. AUTOCROSS TIME: 49.841 sec.
  • BUDGET SPENT: $1956.34
  • ITEM OF INTEREST: Triumph motorcycle individual throttle bodies, $50.99

Adrian Valella got hooked on autocross at his first Challenge in 2014, driving a Toyota Echo that lifted its inside-rear wheel several inches off the ground in tight corners. He’s been prepping this Corolla for several years as a dual-purpose Challenge and Street Prepared autocrosser ever since he found it on the side of the road for $250. He spent $405 getting the 1.5-liter block rebuilt, replacing various bearings and polishing the crankshaft.

A set of ITBs from a motorcycle was a cool eBay find, and MegaSquirt manages the combustion event. Adrian had to concoct most of the suspension himself, mixing Honda Civic springs, camber plates and a trick rear anti-roll bar that can be stiffened or softened as needed.

The final result is light at 1850 pounds, punchy enough with 110 horses, and highly agile on Spec Miata takeoff tires. Adrian earned Editors’ Choice for his clear passion, attention to detail, and the fact that his car reliably serves double duty as an autocross contender and occasional daily driver.




  • ENTRANT: KOSH Racing
  • CAR: 1995 Mazda Miata Pickup (Tetanus)
  • CONCOURS SCORE: 19.80 pts.
  • A.M. AUTOCROSS TIME: 51.510 sec.
  • P.M. AUTOCROSS TIME: 50.886 sec.
  • BUDGET SPENT: $1285.90
  • ITEM OF INTEREST: Radio Flyer wagon, $15.00

Steve Swiger and Rob Ebersol created this Miata-based rat-rod as a rolling amalgam of repurposed hardware and garage fabrication. A scavenger hunt for recycled items would list a Radio Flyer wagon chopped and sectioned into a grille shell; a grille itself formed from a found shopping cart; a shipping pallet turned into the pickup bed; and a vintage 1925 glass doorknob put into use as a shift knob. Several old file cabinets were cut up and turned into body panels.

The whitewalls? Painted by hand. Slowly. The tailgate reconfigures into a spoiler. The Jaguar ECU running FreeEMS management software for the 1999 Miata 1.8-liter engine was the team’s biggest single expense at $320.

Sticky rubber on 15×8 autocross wheels helped the 1700-pound creation dance through the cones to a top-five finish in the car’s third year of competition.




  • ENTRANT: CARib Motoring Club
  • CAR: 1986 Porsche 944
  • CONCOURS SCORE: 19.80 pts.
  • A.M. AUTOCROSS TIME: 51.870 sec.
  • P.M. AUTOCROSS TIME: 51.324 sec.
  • BUDGET SPENT: $1823.17
  • ITEM OF INTEREST: Mazda 13B rotary engine w/harness, $300.00

CARib Motoring Club decided to swap out the original Porsche engine for something lighter and more rev-happy: a 13B rotary from an early RX-7. Although both engines were of the naturally aspirated variety, the team popped in a $125 turbo. About $200 in suspension upgrades plus the svelte 2300-pound fighting weight made this Porsche a strong contender in both autocrosses. Side note: This crew can deliver some of the finest jerk chicken on the planet.



  • ENTRANT: MX-5.0
  • CAR: 1992 Mazda Miata
  • CONCOURS SCORE: 14.40 pts.
  • A.M. AUTOCROSS TIME: 49.609 sec.
  • P.M. AUTOCROSS TIME: 48.349 sec.
  • BUDGET SPENT: $1988.68
  • ITEM OF INTEREST: Monster Miata swap kit w/carbed 302 and T-5, $650.00

This is one of several Ford 5.0-liter V8 projects in this team’s stable, which also includes a Lemons-ready, 5.0-powered, first-gen Mazda RX-7. Most of the swap hardware for this entry came from a Monster Miata kit found on the forum. Then they fabricated a simple subframe and mated the engine to a Thunderbird rear end. The car ran for the first time at our $2016 Challenge and sat relatively unchanged since then.

In 2018, the team decided to see how it would fare on a second go. Their autocross runs were stout, but a hole in the radiator required some attention in the form of a quick JB Weld patch. The fix held well enough for the Miata to complete its afternoon runs. The team earned a solid top-10 finish despite their low concours score, although it’s fair to say that they knew the concours wouldn’t be their strongest suit.




  • ENTRANT: Generations Racing
  • CAR: 1981 Mazda RX-7
  • CONCOURS SCORE: 18.20 pts.
  • A.M. AUTOCROSS TIME: 51.540 sec.
  • P.M. AUTOCROSS TIME: 50.808 sec.
  • BUDGET SPENT: $2013.81
  • ITEM OF INTEREST: aluminum sheet for air intake and spoiler, $14.95

After a solid debut last year and plenty of educational moments along the way–including how to navigate an autocross course–these high school students returned for a second go. The car was a wrecked racing machine when they started, requiring new body panels that they either conjured from scratch metal or repurposed from other sources. An inverted Toyota Camry rear bumper, for example, makes up the back of their creation. The taillights now reside in the exhaust cutouts.

The team focused on the exterior this time by redoing the paint, while a new exhaust system dialed back the 12A’s racket a bit. Raul Garcia served as the mentor and passed on his knowledge to the trio of under-18 proteges: Danielle Gabel, Tyson Russell and Quinton Weibe.




  • ENTRANT: Not Kids Racing
  • CAR: 1995 Mazda Miata
  • CONCOURS SCORE: 15.60 pts.
  • A.M. AUTOCROSS TIME: 50.373 sec.
  • P.M. AUTOCROSS TIME: 49.723 sec.
  • BUDGET SPENT: $1788.14
  • ITEM OF INTEREST: parts car, $100.00

The high school quartet of Hunter Foreman, Alaina McCrispin, Jake Jennings and Russell Lunsford started with a stock $1000 Miata that had a bad clutch and a rusted-out fuel tank. After degreasing the bellhousing and installing a performance clutch, they grabbed the best bits from their parts car.

A set of 225mm-wide Nittos gave the Miata enough grip for a pair of strong autocross results, and the student labor plus ample Bondo earned them enough concours points to break into the top 10 on their debut attempt. Their enthusiasm during the event was unmistakable, and while this particular car was destined for regular autocross duty, we expect this won’t be the team’s last Challenge build.




  • ENTRANT: Shawnee Creek Racing
  • CAR: 1996 Chevrolet Lumina APV-R
  • CONCOURS SCORE: 22.40 pts.
  • A.M. AUTOCROSS TIME: 54.921 sec.
  • P.M. AUTOCROSS TIME: 52.996 sec.
  • BUDGET SPENT: $1927.42
  • ITEM OF INTEREST: Pontiac G6 GTP Coupe, $1148.00

Originally constructed for our Grocery Getter class in the $2016 Challenge, Sean Wagoner and family returned with their fascinating mashup of Pontiac G6 underpinnings topped with the swept-aero van body of a Lumina APV.

The original plan was to install G6 parts on the Lumina, but the van’s composite panels hid an alarming quantity of floor and chassis rust thanks to 270,000 Michigan miles. (One of the rear wheel arches had dissolved completely, including the rear strut mount.)

New plan: The team realized that the wheel-bases of the two vehicles were within half an inch of each other, so the van received a full chassisectomy. Its body was dropped over the Pontiac G6 chassis. Sean then welded away.

The van originally wore a Storm Trooper look. This time, Sean paid homage toanother Pontiac effort by adapting the livery found on the old Stevenson Motorsports GXP.R race cars once seen at Daytona and elsewhere. He retained the original white gelcoat and used a home theater projector to cast the stars and eagle design onto the van’s flanks before stenciling in the elements. Once the base colors were down, he hand-pinstriped everything.




ENTRANT: Team Stampie

CAR: 2002 Infiniti Q45

CONCOURS SCORE: 18.80 pts.

A.M. AUTOCROSS TIME: 53.777 sec.

P.M. AUTOCROSS TIME: 51.684 sec.


ITEM OF INTEREST: Infiniti Q45, $50.00

When Michael “Stampie” Stamps and his team secured this one for the $2016 Challenge, it had been keyed and smashed, but the running 340-horsepower V8 offered hope. While stripping the car, they found a crisp $20 bill under the driver’s seat, another one buried deeper in the interior, and several small baggies of actual crack cocaine hidden in the headliner. To cover the sins of its previous life, Team Stampie coated the body with roll-on bed liner.

For 2018, they got serious. To make the car look better, they stripped off the bed liner and repainted the car. They also replaced the 2.73:1 open differential with a 3.57:1 limited-slip grabbed from a 350Z. “When researching that, the only thing we could find was one guy who said he did it but wouldn’t tell how,” Stampie told us. “We made sure we wrote it up in our build thread so others could do it also.”


Then they shed about 500 pounds of mass from the car. “We removed any computers and modules not needed,” he continued. “That includes all traction-control computers and sensors. The dashboard is lit up more than a Land Rover.” The team also deleted the sunroof, removed the entire power steering and a/c systems, and gutted the interior, doors and bumpers. The windows were replaced with Lexan, while the side mirrors were tossed. Running a lawnmower battery saved another 20 pounds. Stampie’s 10-year-old son, Asa, found and removed the NVH weights.

“I approached Pete Gossett and through texts hashed out a total suspension rebuild from $2017,” Stampie said. “We drilled the front strut towers and moved the struts inboard for about 3.5 degrees of camber. I’m proud that we brought a knife to a gun fight and still beat, if I remember correctly, four out of nine Miatas there in dynamic [scoring].”




  • ENTRANT: Cobra Kai Speed Shoppe
  • CAR: 2003 Mazda Miata
  • CONCOURS SCORE: 12.00 pts.
  • A.M. AUTOCROSS TIME: 50.353 sec.
  • P.M. AUTOCROSS TIME: 49.454 sec.
  • BUDGET SPENT: $966.78
  • ITEM OF INTEREST: ugly used hood, $100.00

Those strong top-10 finishes in both autocrosses are proof that a nearly stock Miata on a fresh set of Hoosier autocross tires and some new KYB dampers is no slouch around the cones. This $500 find had been wrecked in a previous life, and apart from installing a less-bent (but still kinda gross) hood, some secondhand bushings and a rebuilt shifter, Cobra Kai hit the easy button on this year’s project. With more than a grand left in the budget, they were thinking about a turbo for next time.



  • ENTRANT: Yukon Ho
  • CAR: 1994 Chevrolet Corvette covered wagon
  • CONCOURS SCORE: 18.60 pts.
  • A.M. AUTOCROSS TIME: 55.749 sec.
  • P.M. AUTOCROSS TIME: 51.974 sec.
  • BUDGET SPENT: $1628.77
  • ITEM OF INTEREST: cedar siding, $61.32

When Jeremy Randolph and David Perez set their sights on the special Wagon class, they didn’t picture the usual vehicle. Jeremy realized that his ideal wagon was the Conestoga variety, with oxen up front, an arched canvas top, and the ever-looming threat of dysentery.

Their initial plan was to revive a crashed C5 Corvette, but a friend offered a ratty but operational C4 Vette at just the right time. EMT conduit hangers, a 12×15-foot drop cloth and big swaths of plywood and cedar transformed the Corvette. Still, the conversion was easily removable, preserving whatever remained of the Corvette’s resale value while also providing building materials for Jeremey’s new backyard shed. The Studebaker badging was a nod to that company’s start in the covered wagon business.

After an initial autocross run in full Conestoga trim (minus the front panel so they could at least see a few feet ahead), they started removing wooden panels. As the Vette shed hundreds of pounds of superfluous wood and excessive width, its times dropped accordingly.




  • ENTRANT: South Atlanta Speed Shop
  • CAR: 1980 Datsun 210
  • CONCOURS SCORE: 19.40 pts.
  • A.M. AUTOCROSS TIME: 56.950 sec.
  • P.M. AUTOCROSS TIME: 52.427 sec.
  • BUDGET SPENT: $1500.75
  • ITEM OF INTEREST: Nissan 350Z limited-slip differential, $125.00

Travis Turner described his team’s “Datsaniti” as 50 percent Datsun, 50 percent Infiniti and 50 percent insanity, and we say the math checks out. The wagon itself ate just $180 of the budget, but the moving bits, including the drivetrain and suspension, came from $1100 worth of Infiniti G35.

They transplanted the Infiniti’s entire front clip into the nose of the Datsun, trimming as they went until everything matched up. The G35’s rear independent suspension was similarly grafted into position; the dampers were too tall, though, so dirt track units were used instead.

The GRM community came together to help with the build in a thrash that included 15 people. All five computers from the Infiniti made the jump to the wagon, and steel from a filing cabinet made great filler material for the fender flares.




  • ENTRANT: Cut and Rig Garages
  • CAR: 1999 Saab 9-3
  • CONCOURS SCORE: 15.80 pts.
  • A.M. AUTOCROSS TIME: 53.527 sec.
  • P.M. AUTOCROSS TIME: 51.899 sec.
  • BUDGET SPENT: $1427.14
  • ITEM OF INTEREST: iron channel for rear swaybar, $2.00

This Saab served as a daily driver for team lead Robbie Cutcliffe for most of 2017, but when his primary Challenge effort stalled out, he decided to turn the Swede into a Ute for that year’s special truck class. The crew put out word on the GRM forums and had a metal rearranging party, but the freshly profiled Saab broke on the drive down.

Naturally, just a day later, that seemingly impossible problem turned out to be simply a bad fuel ground, so the Saab waited an extra year for the $2018 Challenge to roll around. Robbie noted that these cars can take a ton of boost, and a used TD04-15T turbine increased this build’s pressure from the stock 13-ish psi to nearly 20.




  • ENTRANT: Good Times Racing
  • CAR: 1991 Infiniti Q45
  • CONCOURS SCORE: 16.80 pts.
  • A.M. AUTOCROSS TIME: 53.248 sec.
  • P.M. AUTOCROSS TIME: 54.495 sec.
  • BUDGET SPENT: $1532.57
  • ITEM OF INTEREST: pool noodles (found in trash can), $0.00

Andrew Neuman and team hoped to join the Wagon class with a Mazda Protege5, but closer inspection revealed so much rust that they abandoned that plan soon after getting the car on jack stands. They reverted to their Infiniti, which served them well in 2016’s Aristocrat class and again as a converted ute for 2017’s Pickup Truck special class.

They repainted the car to match the Good Time Ice delivery vans. Andrew’s family has been in the ice business since 1872, when Civil War veteran Henry Lenhart Neuman started delivering the stuff in conjunction with his ice cream business. (Find their ice and party planning tips at

Andrew upgraded the Infiniti’s performance, too, stiffening the springs and adding adjustable control arms up front. He replaced a seized tensioner pulley but reported that the transmission was slipping like crazy.




  • ENTRANT: The Knuckleheads
  • CAR: 1999 Honda Civic
  • CONCOURS SCORE: 13.80 pts.
  • A.M. AUTOCROSS TIME: 53.098 sec.
  • P.M. AUTOCROSS TIME: 51.156 sec.
  • BUDGET SPENT: $1956.05
  • ITEM OF INTEREST: KYB dampers front and rear, $306.06

Mark Long and Dalton Meiller drove their Civic 1100 miles from New York to the Challenge. Earlier in the year, their $750 Honda experienced 21 wheel-to-wheel ice races with the Adirondack Motor Enthusiast Club; Mark finished fifth in the Street Legal 2WD championship. He already replaced the automatic transmission with a stick, and he’s planning to upgrade to a Quaife limited-slip differential for the 2019 ice racing season.




  • ENTRANT: Challenged Mini Salvage
  • CAR: 2003 Mini Cooper
  • CONCOURS SCORE: 13.20 pts.
  • A.M. AUTOCROSS TIME: 52.989 sec.
  • P.M. AUTOCROSS TIME: 51.612 sec.
  • BUDGET SPENT: $1930.27
  • ITEM OF INTEREST: trailer hitch, $89.58

Keith Edwards and his wife are Mini fanatics. Even though they already own twofirst-gen Coopers, they were compelled to rescue this machine for $1500. Paperwork told of an exciting history, which included flood damage and a punctured engine block from water ingestion in 2006. Repair receipts showed the car took a hit on the left-front a few years later.

Keith bought the car in 2016, added a hitch for his small teardrop trailer, and started using it for long-haul trips. The odometer reads in excess of 216,000 miles and climbing. Even in stock trim (apart from shock tower reinforcement plates and a set of used 205mm Hoosier Spec Miata tires) the car posted solid autocross times, a testament to the nimble nature of these early Minis.




  • ENTRANT: Knick Brothers Racing
  • CAR: 2005 Mazda RX-8
  • CONCOURS SCORE: 13.00 pts.
  • A.M. AUTOCROSS TIME: 51.971 sec.
  • P.M. AUTOCROSS TIME: 53.085 sec.
  • BUDGET SPENT: $2005.32
  • ITEM OF INTEREST: various powdercoats, calculated per lb. at mil thickness and 70 percent transfer efficiency, $14.64

This same RX-8 served as two entries at the event so that each of the Knick brothers could get the same seat time in it. (Spoiler alert: Randall Knick set the faster times.)

Öhlins springs and Koni Sport dampers sharpened the car’s reflexes, while a 4.77:1 final drive gave it a bit more thrust out of the corners. A previous owner had blown the engine’s apex seals, but the brothers found a Renesis rotary at the junkyard for $117 and rebuilt it from the rotors up.

The seven-month build also included lots of rust repair, paint refreshing and detailing, but the duo still ran short on time: They had to spray the bumpers in the hotel parking lot and let them dry in their room.




  • ENTRANT: Basura Blanco Racing
  • CAR: 1997 Mazda Miata
  • CONCOURS SCORE: 12.00 pts.
  • A.M. AUTOCROSS TIME: 52.507 sec.
  • P.M. AUTOCROSS TIME: 51.577 sec.
  • BUDGET SPENT: $1979.99
  • ITEM OF INTEREST: junkyard roll bar, $45.00

Andy Surprenant bought this Miata several years ago, complete with the ultra-valuable hardtop in place, for just $1500. Selling the car’s BBS wheels and soft top recouped $500. Most of the remaining budget went toward $500 V-Maxx coil-overs.

In the years since, the Miata reliably slogged through the muck at rallycrosses, carved cones at autocrosses, churned out laps at track days, and even ran the Bay Bottom Crawl at Florida’s Sugarloaf Key.




ENTRANT: Garage Goat Racing

CAR: 2003 Ford Focus SVT

CONCOURS SCORE: 14.40 pts.

A.M. AUTOCROSS TIME: 53.452 sec.

P.M. AUTOCROSS TIME: 54.396 sec.


ITEM OF INTEREST: front and rear brake rotors, $147.78

Steven Beasley, who comes from a motorcycle racing background, wanted to give his son Clayton a sound foundation for driving. First Clayton was sent to a Tire Rack Street Survival school. Then the pair started autocrossing together, but the family Honda Fit hit its limits fairly quickly.

Inspired by a GRM article about buying cars from insurance auctions, Steven said he couldn’t believe his luck when they scored on their first attempt, winning a Focus SVT with a salvage title for just $463. They’ve since upgraded the 2-liter Zetec with a cold-air intake, patched up the fender with Bondo, and fitted new wheels plus a 22mm rear anti-roll bar.




  • ENTRANT: Lugo & Biscoe Garage
  • CAR: 2003 Audi A4 quattro
  • CONCOURS SCORE: 14.00 pts.
  • A.M. AUTOCROSS TIME: 55.390 sec.
  • P.M. AUTOCROSS TIME: 53.619 sec.
  • BUDGET SPENT: $833.24
  • ITEM OF INTEREST: Muffler Man fixed the evil noise, $260.00

Juan Lugo left a note on an abandoned Porsche 928: Want to sell it? Someone else saw that note and called Juan with a question: Want to buy my Audi?

The Audi, the seller explained, was making a screaming death knell loud enough tocurdle milk. Soon after taking possession of the Audi, Juan found the culprit: The car’s new exhaust system was violently rubbing against an axle.

After that easy fix, Juan performed some basic maintenance, including replacing a fan control module. The Audi GTO found on our August 2018 cover influenced the graphics.




  • ENTRANT: Plan B Racing
  • CAR: 2001 Mazda Miata
  • CONCOURS SCORE: 13.00 pts.
  • A.M. AUTOCROSS TIME: 53.825 sec.
  • P.M. AUTOCROSS TIME: 54.449 sec.
  • BUDGET SPENT: $1489.44
  • ITEM OF INTEREST: wooden Nardi shift knob, $100.00 recoup

Mike Cornish nabbed this $900 Miata from Philadelphia in early 2017 and decided to create a Challenge car that could also serve as a toy for the remaining 51 weekends of the year. He called the car fairly stock apart from a front suspension rework, poly bushings, fresh brakes, tie-rod ends and hoses. Functional air conditioning, a good stereo, and inherently excellent driving manners make this NB-chassis Miata ready for fun rain or shine. Mike was particularly pleased with the fresh set of Riken Raptor ZR tires.




  • ENTRANT: (Still) Too KYUte
  • CAR: 1982 Dodge Rampage
  • CONCOURS SCORE: 16.20 pts.
  • A.M. AUTOCROSS TIME: 58.021 sec.
  • P.M. AUTOCROSS TIME: 55.397 sec.
  • BUDGET SPENT: $1847.76
  • ITEM OF INTEREST: lawn tractor battery, $47.78

The Too KYUte Dodge Rampage returned, although grand plans to dramatically upgrade the car didn’t fully materialize. Instead the team scrapped the useless rear shock absorbers in favor of adjustable air shocks; replaced the front struts; and even got it something close to aligned. A couple weeks before the event, the Rampage received a Shelby-style paint job, and the team was hopeful for a bump in power from an improved intercooler and cold-air intake.




  • ENTRANT: James McEwen
  • CAR: 2000 Mazda Miata
  • CONCOURS SCORE: 13.00 pts.
  • A.M. AUTOCROSS TIME: 54.038 sec.
  • P.M. AUTOCROSS TIME: 55.508 sec.
  • BUDGET SPENT: $1963.98
  • ITEM OF INTEREST: 1999 BMW 528i Touring wagon, $950.00

James started with a BMW wagon in limp mode, but after spending time and money getting the Bavarian box in good running condition, he realized that he simply didn’t have the desire to finish it. GRM forum regular Dusterbd13 had a 2000 Miata with a rebuilt title plus a trunk full of spares and was eager to trade.

James painted the wheels, thoroughly wet-sanded the blue finish, and added black stripes with vibrant green highlights. The Challenge was his first-ever autocross experience, but he knew enough to equip sticky Hoosier tires. He drove to the event with the top down for extra room, as the Miata was packed to the brim.




  • ENTRANT: Birthday Boyz
  • CAR: 1994 Mazda Miata
  • CONCOURS SCORE: 14.20 pts.
  • A.M. AUTOCROSS TIME: 56.649 sec.
  • P.M. AUTOCROSS TIME: 56.013 sec.
  • BUDGET SPENT: $1253.24
  • ITEM OF INTEREST: 6.5-in. Boss Audio speaker set, $20.99

High schooler Christopher Smith acquired a $1000 Miata from his older brother just 32 days before the event. The flat-black car was in a deep state of neglect, so Chris and team focused on disassembly and cleaning, going so far as to remove the front fenders and bumper to clear out the pounds of accumulated gunk.

Chris and his dad used “Forza Motorsport” to conjure up a new paint scheme, then executed the vision with abundant sanding, masking and cans of spray paint that Chris wasn’t even old enough to purchase by himself. Best of all, Chris finished the event with a clean, running Miata that will become his daily driver when he turns 16.




  • ENTRANT: Avery Motors
  • CAR: 2004 Toyota Corolla Matrix XR-S
  • CONCOURS SCORE: 13.20 pts.
  • A.M. AUTOCROSS TIME: 56.450 sec.
  • P.M. AUTOCROSS TIME: 56.066 sec.
  • BUDGET SPENT: $1829.97
  • ITEM OF INTEREST: oil change, $35.00

After their debut with a 1984 Chevy pickup in 2017, Avery Motors returned with this Toyota Matrix XR-S, a $1500 CarMax wholesale find. The XR-S model received the same high-revving, Yamaha-enhanced, 1.8-liter engine as the Celica GT-S, delivering a very peaky 100 horses per liter in stock trim. A set of 225mm Hoosiers was the only real modification for the autocross, and the car is now serving daily driver duty for John Avery III, who’s still in high school.




  • ENTRANT: Bubba Chump Shrimp Co.
  • CAR: 1993 Volkswagen Fox
  • CONCOURS SCORE: 15.00 pts.
  • A.M. AUTOCROSS TIME: 64.349 sec.
  • P.M. AUTOCROSS TIME: 57.713 sec.
  • BUDGET SPENT: $679.71
  • ITEM OF INTEREST: 1 pint POR-15 Rust Preventive, $30.21

Jesse Spiker and Jack Kelley have been pining for the thrill of automotive racing competition for the better part of a decade, and they even purchased a Toyota Corolla with the intention of preparing it for low-buck endurance racing. That changed when Jesse found this VW Fox that was already prepped for Lemons competition, sporting a cage and a bit more power courtesy of an ABA engine swap.

They spent a few weekends freshening their new car and painting various trouble areas, but the Challenge was its first real trial. Engine problems surfaced early, but Jesse and Jack reported that they resolved those themselves. Look for more ink on this build later in the year.




  • ENTRANT: WheelPower Racing
  • CAR: 2010 Ford Crown Victoria P71
  • CONCOURS SCORE: 13.00 pts.
  • A.M. AUTOCROSS TIME: 62.752 sec.
  • P.M. AUTOCROSS TIME: 59.240 sec.
  • BUDGET SPENT: $1954.45
  • ITEM OF INTEREST: Unity Crown Vic spotlight, $20.00

The Police Interceptor variant of the Crown Vic enjoys above-average enthusiasm from the car world. Insert line here about it having cop tires, cop suspension and cop shocks. Bryan Davis craved one for several years before finding his first on eBay; now his family is up to three in total.

He fixed up this example to serve two roles: a daily driver for Dad and a Challenge entry. Bryan filled the gap left by the removed police hardware with an Explorer center console. He also installed some Addco anti-roll bars. Bryan reported, though, that Mustang performance parts didn’t fit as he hoped.




  • ENTRANT: Fail Inc. Motorsports
  • CAR: 2006 Saturn Ion Red Line
  • CONCOURS SCORE: 12.00 pts.
  • A.M. AUTOCROSS TIME: 61.334 sec.
  • P.M. AUTOCROSS TIME: 60.325 sec.
  • BUDGET SPENT: $1500.00
  • ITEM OF INTEREST: Saturn Ion Red Line (only item in budget), $1500.00

Fail Inc. had been busy with their primary project, a Lexus LS 400 for 24 Hours of Lemons competition. They were so busy, in fact, that just three weeks out, team captain Donnie Petrunak realized that the $2018 Challenge was looming on the horizon.

Plan B, a recently acquired bone-stock Saturn Ion Red Line, seemed like the obvious choice for an entry. Its Competition Package added a limited-slip differential and some visual baubles.

Naturally, this easy option inspired Fail Inc. to throw all their energy into trying tofinish the LS 400. In fact, their build book stated that they weren’t exactly sure which car they’d end up bringing to the Challenge. The arrival of the untouched Saturn told us how that went.




ENTRANT: Team Tearoffguys Racing

CAR: 1999 Chevrolet S10

CONCOURS SCORE: 13.00 pts.

A.M. AUTOCROSS TIME: 66.611 sec.

P.M. AUTOCROSS TIME: 60.002 sec.

BUDGET SPENT: $666.00?

ITEM OF INTEREST: estate sale tools, fridge, stove, barbecue grill, etc., $1400.00

Longtime Challenge veteran Karl La Follette and the Tearoffguys squad returned with yet another low-buck machine, this time a Chevy pickup that was part of a bulk buy at an estate sale. The purchase included a 24-horsepower riding lawnmower, three boxes of tools, and various kitchen appliances.

In the interest of lightening the truck for the autocross, Karl removed the passenger seat and an air freshener. He then added back a few ounces with his usual barrage of vinyl decals. He was excited about several numerological signs associated with his Chevy, including a 666 in his morning autocross time, the number 13 on the truck’s doors, and the fact that flipping the receipt for the truck itself revealed another 666. (Yeah, that’s Carl.) A Judas Priest keychain ensured any dark forces thus conjured were channeled for the god of heavy metal.




  • ENTRANT: Skinny Buddha
  • CAR: 1991 Mitsubishi Galant VR-4
  • CONCOURS SCORE: 0.00 pts.
  • A.M. AUTOCROSS TIME: 56.048 sec.
  • P.M. AUTOCROSS TIME: 53.870 sec.
  • BUDGET SPENT: $1 million or less

Kurt Hennard brought his mostly stock Galant VR-4 for a bit of fun as an exhibition entry, so he opted out of concours scoring as a result. Kurt mounted some fresh 225/45R17 Falken Azenis for ample grab, and he was planning to sell the car soon after the event.




  • ENTRANT: Happy Cactus Racing
  • CAR: 1985 Ford LTD Country Squire
  • CONCOURS SCORE: 13.60 pts.
  • A.M. AUTOCROSS TIME: 68.014 sec.
  • P.M. AUTOCROSS TIME: 63.780 sec.
  • BUDGET SPENT: $1783.11
  • ITEM OF INTEREST: Bell Baja Blanket bench seat cover, $25.47

Owen McMahan and Michael D’Abate, a pair of Wreck Racing alums, found this mighty land yacht beached in a quiet part of Texas, where electrical gremlins had forced the previous owner to abandon ship. Price was just $900.

The car wouldn’t hold a charge and blew massive clouds of black soot on startup. A fresh tank of gas fixed the second issue, and after towing the car home they discovered that the new alternator installed by the previous owner was simply a dud. A junked ’94 Taurus donated its newer alternator, which fit after a bit of grinding. Plans to spice up the engine were delayed in favor of having a reliable ride from Texas to the Challenge and back; a new $80 radio helped pass the miles.




  • ENTRANT: Knick Brothers Racing
  • CAR: 2005 Mazda RX-8
  • A.M. AUTOCROSS TIME: 59.059 sec.
  • P.M. AUTOCROSS TIME: 55.225 sec.


This is the same RX-8 that finished 19th overall, as the Knick brothers entered it under two different numbers so each brother could get a full helping of wheel time. Was one brother really that much faster than the other? No, the 19th-place times were simply bolstered by the use of our freely available pro drivers. It’s further evidence that if you’re not an autocross regular, having a pro set a time in your car can be worth several seconds around the cones.




  • ENTRANT: Backyard Bessie Racing
  • CAR: 2000 Saturn SL2
  • CONCOURS SCORE: 13.80 pts.
  • A.M. AUTOCROSS TIME: 74.080 sec.
  • P.M. AUTOCROSS TIME: 74.564 sec.
  • BUDGET SPENT: $285.00
  • ITEM OF INTEREST: struts, $90.00

Kevin Sweeney’s 11th entry into the Challenge was a truly simple and inexpensive build: The car itself cost $200, another $90 went toward new struts, and $5 was recouped by selling the catalytic converter. The barn-find Saturn also got a simple tune-up with fresh fluids, and yanking the interior shed 300 pounds.




  • ENTRANT: ChallengeMax
  • CAR: 2004 Subaru Forester XT
  • CONCOURS SCORE: 14.20 pts.
  • A.M. AUTOCROSS TIME: 54.653 sec.
  • P.M. AUTOCROSS TIME: 175.418 sec.
  • BUDGET SPENT: $2006.08
  • ITEM OF INTEREST: Perrin front/rear anti-roll bar kit, $150.00

Jay West has combined his IT background with his current employment at a large nationwide used car retailer to all but weaponize his addiction to cool, inexpensive cars. Unfortunately, his Forester fought him tooth and nail with leaks and stripped bolts during the thrash to prep the car.

When the turbo blew days before the event, Jay grabbed a replacement he found via Craigslist on the drive to Gainesville. He swapped it in at the hotel the night before the Challenge, but something worse must have happened downstream. The car’s boxer-four was making death rattles by race morning. Putting autocross times on the board required a little outside help.




  • ENTRANT: Parking Lot Build
  • CAR: 1986 Toyota MR2
  • CONCOURS SCORE: 16.40 pts.
  • A.M. AUTOCROSS TIME: 118.409 sec.
  • P.M. AUTOCROSS TIME: 147.055 sec.
  • BUDGET SPENT: $1161.73
  • ITEM OF INTEREST: MR2 supercharged drivetrain and accessories, $600.00

The Parking Lot Build entry has become a Challenge tradition, a kind of super-group featuring a rotating roster of contributors. The goal: Build a Challenge car in the host hotel parking lot. Official reason: Why not?

Robbie Cutcliffe (who also campaigned the Saab that finished in 15th place) was the point of contact this time, and more than a dozen names appeared on the contributor sign-in sheet. Their mission: Swap engines in a first-generation Toyota MR2, replacing the stock 4A-GE with the supercharged 4A-GZE.

The main issue involved the wiring harness–this wasn’t a plug-and-play job–plus a busted fuel pump. Bypassing the MAF involved disconnecting multiple vacuum lines, and after some discussion about the odds of spontaneous conflagration, the team routed the ignition and fuel pump power wires through the sunroof so the driver could yank them for emergency shutoff.

After a tow from a Saab in the morning autocross and a barely-under-its-own-power crawl through the afternoon course, the MR2 had official times in the bank.




  • ENTRANT: Saul Goode Racing
  • CAR: 1968 Subaru 360 Micro Minivan
  • CONCOURS SCORE: 18.60 pts.
  • A.M. AUTOCROSS TIME: 60.078 sec.
  • BUDGET SPENT: $1681.01
  • ITEM OF INTEREST: Hayabusa engine w/wiring, $800.00

With 210 horsepower thanks to a 1.3-liter superbike engine, a Dwarf car racing chassis and a Subaru microvan shell, it’s no wonder that this weird, whimsical mix of parts keeps its owners busy chasing oddities and gremlins.

This time, air in the brake lines resulted in a soft pedal and a few pucker moments during the morning autocross, while a burst coolant hose soured the afternoon session. At least the new Hawaiian visual theme–complete with surfboard–was a hit. Still, this 1200-pound creation was brimming with performance potential, and we hope to see it at maximum attack at a future Challenge.




  • ENTRANT: Keiser’s Garage
  • CAR: 1991 BMW 318is
  • CONCOURS SCORE: 14.40 pts.
  • BUDGET SPENT: $1897.70
  • ITEM OF INTEREST: Chinese Walboro 450 knockoff fuel pump, $23.19

Dave Rittenhouse, Blair Warner and team initially planned to run a Toyota MR2, but when they realized that the project wasn’t going to meet the deadline, they made a last-minute switch to Dave’s daily driver, an E30-chassis BMW 318is. A questionable TD05 turbocharger from a Lancer Evo IX was mated to the inverted manifold, a bucket of tubes was fabricated into the rest of the intake and exhaust plumbing, and Dodge SRT4 injectors and a cheap fuel pump were installed. Unfortunately, time ran out before they could make any runs.


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View comments on the GRM forums
GameboyRMH GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
5/7/19 10:20 a.m.

Good stuff, I remember seeing an RX8 bumper being taken inside the hotel, didn't realize it was freshly painted laugh

To say the Parking Lot Build's wiring harness "wasn't a plug and play job" is a severe understatement...we got the wiring diagrams for the 4AGZE and basically custom-built a harness from most of a 4AGE harness and bits of a 4AGZE harness. Even the ECU connectors were different, at one point we considered making connectors from scratch somehow, but then someone figured out that if we broke pieces off the 4AGE connectors, we could stuff them into the 4AGZE ECU in positions where they weren't originally meant to go, and use them as pigtails! One of the big things we messed up was the TPS. We could only see the wires going into the TPS itself because the boot was torn, and me and Robbie decided that the darker-colored signal cable must be the ground. We got that wrong (well actually we were right about the wire colors, but we didn't know that the 4AGZE TPS outputs a reverse signal to the 4AGE TPS!), and apparently inverting the polarity actually flipped the TPS signal, like in a low-budget sci-fi movie, rather than causing a more general fault as you would expect in real life cheeky

Here's some of the footage I took:

Grand entrance of the Covered Corvette Wagon

Onboard pioneer experience

Parking lot build Thursday time lapse (play alongside Benny Hill theme for full effect)

Pics I took at the $2018 Challenge (including some travel pics at the beginning and end)

Robbie GRM+ Memberand UltimaDork
5/7/19 10:59 a.m.

That GD TPS (like the TPS was the only issue lol). 

Looking back what we should have done as soon as we discovered that we had the wrong harness was to put the 4AGE back in the car (with the manual trans) and swap the head and supercharger over from the 4AGZE. I think the only thing wrong with the 4AGE in the car was a head gasket issue. 

We could have run the 4AGE on low boost from the supercharger just by finding a rising rate fuel pressure regulator, which might've been hard but certainly possible. Plus, the 4AGE pistons plus 4AGZE head should actually have slightly higher compression than the 4AGZE. We still would've had the fuel pump issue, but that was solve-able. We might've even been able to use an inline pump to pull through the dead in-tank one. 

oh well, hindsight is always slightly less blurry. 

¯\_(ツ)_/¯ UberDork
5/7/19 11:09 a.m.

In reply to Robbie :

Higher compression, no oil squirters, some sort of calibrated boost leak, NA injectors and ECU, and an already compromised deck surface with a (probably used) head gasket could certainly have made for an interesting failure.

Honestly I liked the 1am no-start idea of putting a carb on the supercharger inlet.

Robbie GRM+ Memberand UltimaDork
5/7/19 11:17 a.m.

the carb idea would have worked really well! probably. 

Karl La Follette
Karl La Follette UltraDork
5/13/19 10:00 a.m.

Hey nice photo of the Team Tearoffguys truck. We really did buy the truck on the cheap after a Junk Car call for our salvage yard A&J Auto Salvage. The guy who popped his clutch <Died> had an Asian bride he bought on the internet. He was trying to keep up with her, Lifting weights and exercising. Still he died and she basically shut the curtains and never paid her property taxes. The day before the property was to change hands 90 k house for 6 k in property taxes we get the call. We loaded everything we could on tow truck and in his 6 by 8 enclosed trailer . $1400 in cash bought everything. The tires are wump wumps because thru the whole foreclosure the truck sat in the garage. Scott Lear checked the age of the tires I think he said 2005? Awesome deal Thanks GRM !  None of this is possible without Marie LaFollette.

pimpm3 SuperDork
5/13/19 3:20 p.m.

Nice thanks for posting the videos of the covered wagon!

Karl La Follette
Karl La Follette UltraDork
5/13/19 3:45 p.m. reply to pimpm3 :



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