Scott Lear
Scott Lear
9/11/08 12:20 p.m.

Never underestimate the power of a plan, particularly in competition. Every team that competes in our $200X Challenge events does so with some degree of premeditated intent. One peek at the Spotter’s Guide shows that the complexity of these schemes varies greatly from one team to another.

For some, the game plan consists simply of finding a cheap car, putting some cheap parts on it, and having a blast at the event. Way at the other end of the spectrum are the grandiose machinations dreamed up at 2 a.m. after one too many beers. These complicated projects commonly end up as barely operational metal abominations or hilarious, long-term garage art.

There is a sweet spot, however. We’ve noticed that the top finishers at our low-buck Challenges typically start with a solid, realistic plan and do their best to stick to it.

Considering the tight budget at a $200X Challenge, a great deal of flexibility is often required in the execution phase. Still, the closer the end result is to the initial concept, the better. Like a professional photographer composing the shot in his mind before he triggers the shutter, masterpieces are the result of foresight, solid technical skill, and a measure of good fortune.

Book Smarts

At last October’s Kumho Tires Grassroots Motorsports $2007 Challenge presented by eBay Motors and CDOC, most of the Challengers showed up the Thursday before the event to register and to turn in their build books. These books typically contain pictures of the team’s build, along with receipts and spreadsheets detailing the budget. Some go as far as to include backstories and build diaries.

Build books come in very handy when we’re writing about the cars for the magazine, but to be honest, registration is a hectic scene. With the line backing up, we're more worried about getting everyone the right wristbands than we are about flipping through the build books. As a result, the books have to wait until Friday for analysis.

In a way, putting them aside preserved the amazement we enjoyed when Team Cheaparral rolled their No. 66 Corvette off its trailer on Friday morning. In addition to the usual collage of receipts and photos, the Cheaparral build book was full of atypical entries that would have spoiled the surprise.

For example, there was a very professional spreadsheet with 12 potential engine options for the V8, ranging from carbureted with nitrous injection to twin-superchargers, complete with estimated horsepower figures, costs, quarter-mile times and efforts required. Several of the pages were devoted to defining the task leaders, members and schedules for no fewer than nine project subteams; a space shuttle launch can’t be much more complicated than this.

Then there was the occasional math-heavy page complete with titles like “Estimate Fan Requirements for Zero Speed Downforce System.” Exactly what kind of project was this, anyway?

In the simplest terms, the Cheaparral 2J-2 is a 1986 Chevrolet Corvette powered by a twin-turbo V8 and modified with a special undertray capable of generating 1000 pounds of vacuum downforce at any speed—the name Cheaparral being an homage to Jim Hall’s famous Chaparral 2J sucker car. The Cheaparral dominated at the autocross and blew the judge’s minds in the concours, and the whole enchilada was built for just $1920.70.

A Design for Victory

The Cheaparral team obviously spent a ton of time on this project even before they had a car to wrench on, but the effort was not an abnormal stretch for team leader Stoyan Lokar and the dozen or so fellow Procter & Gamble engineers who contributed to the project. For them, the Cheaparral was a way to have fun and do some team building while flexing their motorsports muscle.

“We develop machines that make P&G products like Tide, Crest, Pringles and Duracell batteries,” Stoyan explains. “We do a lot of different things. We talked about all the build-off shows on TV, and we said, ‘Hey, we could do something like that.’”

While the team was still brainstorming about the type of project they’d like to do, one of the team members brought the GRM Challenge to their attention. In no time, the Challenge was near the top of the spreadsheet listing potential motorsports projects.

The biggest draw of the Challenge was the competition aspect. “Not only would we get to build something, but [we would be] comparing it to other people doing the same thing,” reflects Stoyan.

The team ultimately had to choose between building an Ariel Atom-type naked car or a $2007 Challenge car; their Car Project Decision Analysis sheet shows the Challenge winning by a 13 percent margin. (Seriously, we’re not kidding about all the spreadsheets and tables.)

With their course set, the team dug in and started their $2007 Challenge project in earnest. Er, that is to say, they did more research. First, they compiled a table of the top, middle and bottom percentile performers from previous Challenge events. Using this information, they came up with target scores for the autocross, drag and concours segments that they felt would result in a victory.

Armed with a specific goal, the team started hunting for cars on eBay and in the local classifieds. They pondered everything from the BMW 2002 to more standard Challenge fare like the Mazda RX-7 and Porsche 944.

Lightning struck when they spotted a rolled, salvage title 1986 Chevy Corvette in the Tradin’ Post classifieds for $2000. As a bonus, the Vette was not far from the team’s home base in Cincinnati, Ohio.

“The Corvette was probably the eighth or ninth car that we ended up looking at,” Stoyan recalls. “It was already February. We realized we needed to get the car fairly quickly. The body was in terrible shape, but the engine was intact and it started right up. We were able to negotiate on the price—the guy’s wife really wanted to get it out of the barn. He came down to $1400 eventually.”

At this point in the story, it’s obvious that the Cheaparral team can kick butt with spreadsheets and planning. However, it’s easy to assume that they might falter when confronted with the cold steel of a physical build, particularly one as complex as this Vette. As it turns out, these Procter & Gamble wrenchers are good with crazy ideas, but they excel at bringing them to life. Having access to industrial-grade designing and machining tools doesn’t hurt, of course.

Read the rest of the story

poopshovel again
poopshovel again MegaDork
6/11/18 4:48 p.m.

Still on my Challenge “Top 5.” The car was inspiring, terrifying, and HILARIOUS to watch on the auto-x course. And the team was super cool. Wish we’d had the chance to duke it out with them on the strip :/ 

te72 Reader
6/11/18 11:49 p.m.

I took from this, "they made one solid run with the sucker system working." Yep, sounds about like Chaparral, and despite the troubles, it's still likely my favorite challenge car.


I think ol' Jim would have been proud.


Now I just need to get the idea of doing this myself with an auto-x car out of my head... the math alone is likely out of my wheel house. I do know a few engineers though... =P

PT_SHO New Reader
6/12/18 3:02 a.m.

So nobody else has done a similar car since?  Or did it suckcessfully wink emulate the Chaparral 2J by also getting its brand of innovation banned?

We have to run a blower at our autocross courses to clean off the racing line, so GRM just needed to let this car run first....  Of course it probably could use a rock-collector bin too.

poopshovel again
poopshovel again MegaDork
6/12/18 6:36 a.m.

In reply to PT_SHO :

IIRC they did run pretty early, and the rooster-tail was berkeleying glorious.

Dusterbd13 MegaDork
6/12/18 6:39 a.m.

This is the car that started my obsession with the challenge and building cheap cars.

Thanks for the reminder to stick to my plan. 

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