WALNUT CREEK -- The frigid air of the early Sonoma County morning didn't stop the more than 180 cars -- including a Checker cab, a Reliant K-car with a Christmas tree on top, an old camper and a "Volvrolet" spinning fake Rotisserie Chickens on the hood -- from racing around the course at Sonoma Raceway last Sunday, picking up where they left off the day before.
All except one. For Walnut Creek's Mark Darsow, a bad relay triggering the fuel line sidelined his "Team Dick" Ford Taurus for three hours, losing valuable lap time.
"All it needed was a big smack in the side, and we were OK," Darsow said.
Such are the intricate mechanics of the 24 Hours of LeMons' "Arse-Freeze-a-Palooza," one of the many 24 Hours of LeMons "clunkers" races held across the country each year.
A takeoff on the French "24 Hours of LeMans," the world's oldest active endurance sports car race, "LeMons" is part Demolition Derby and part Halloween. It pits remade and reworked cars -- all with a bit of sass and style -- against each other for a race over two days. The car that successfully covers the most laps in that two-day period wins.
Alas, that wasn't Team Dick this past weekend. Still, that didn't stop Darsow and his racing colleagues from giving it their best shot.
"Actually, it was our best finish yet," he says. "People are beginning to know us on the LeMons racing circuit."
Darsow, who works as a senior project manager for Walnut Creek's WCI-GC construction company, doesn't consider himself a gearhead, but the idea of remaking an old car -- LeMons rules say it can't cost more than $500 -- appealed to the builder in him. So he contacted some buddies from throughout the Bay Area, found an old clunker, and ... Team Dick was born.
While the $500 just covers the cost of the car, much more money -- thousands of dollars -- can go into making the car speedway-ready and road-safe. Plus the cost of hauling the vehicles from one race to another can also add up.
So far, Team Dick has raced at Buttonwillow, the Thunderhill Racetrack near Orland and a couple of times at Infineon. Other racers come from all over the U.S. to compete, including several who braved last week's Midwest storms to make it to sunny but chilly California.
But the perseverance in travels is nothing compared to what the teams put into their cars.
"These are all just regular guys, and it's amazing to see the mechanics of the cars," Darsow said. "You'll see people switching out engines in the middle of a race in no time flat."
Remarkably, there are few injuries in the race, except for some wounded pride.
Race officials said in a statement that only one racer has so far required ambulance services, having suffered only some "bumps and bruises."
Besides the racing, the Mardi Gras-atmosphere of the races -- which typically draw more than 130 cars -- add a unique dimension to the competition. Teams of men and women dress up to represent their car's theme, including devils, Barbies, aliens and even "Sharknado." Team Dick has been known to dress up in, um, appropriate NC-17-rated costumes, but this past weekend it was just too cold for that. However, his team did wear matching mechanics shirts, perhaps foreshadowing Sunday's breakdown.
While being competitive on the LeMons racing circuit is certainly a goal of Team Dick, it isn't the main reason Darsow stays involved.
"It's just great to see the people, talk to folks from all over the state and the country. It's a wild, fun time."
For more information on 24 Hours of LeMons, the rules and upcoming races, visit the website www.24hoursofLemons.com.