They called themselves “Total Loss Racing,” and they announced their intentions in a blog posting last year: “Total Loss Racing will campaign a 1987 Lada Signet in the 2009 running of the 24 Hours of LeMons. Follow our build as we try to stay under the $500 build budget, swear, drink cheap vodka and cry over twisted Soviet steel.”
What followed was a year-long journey by a team of co-workers and self-professed “car guys” to compete in one of car racing’s most notorious events: The 24 Hours of LeMons, held in Nelson Ledges, Ohio, which pits cars costing $500 or less against each other in a 24-hour endurance competition. Many compete; few actually endure.
The Traverse City driving team, comprised of five friends who all met while working at Hagerty Insurance Agency, spent nearly twelve months fixing up “Natasha,” a 1987 Lada Signet from Russia that one of the men found listed on Craig’s List by a private seller in Canada. Rory Carroll, Jonathan Klinger, Cory Wade, Andrew Fritz and Davin Reckow—who along with several others, are better known as the “Total Loss Racing” team—documented their journey in humorous detail on a TLR blog (total-lossracing.com) and secured sponsors both national (Cars That Matter, Classic Instruments, Holly Classics) and local (Belle Tire, Right Brain Brewery, TCJ Design Studio) to cover costs of the car and race.
Running with the Russian theme, the car was painted bright red, decorated with Soviet emblems and featured a mounted USSR flag on its back. It was “a sight of glorious Soviet engineering,” as one team member described it, but the real test of its character came at the actual LeMons race, held this past weekend (October 3 & 4) in Ohio. Would a year of labor, sweat, hopes, tears and poorly distilled vodka pay off?
As it turns out, it would. While the Total Loss Racing team didn’t take first place in the race—in the end, they finished 58th out of 122 competitors—the Lada claimed the race’s coveted “Index of Effluency” trophy, a kind of congeniality award determined by a “super-secret equation including vehicle age, general hooptiness, reliability of country of origin, unlikelihood of success and organizer’s whim.” The prize? $1,000—distributed entirely in nickels. The quintet was also one of only two teams during the 24-hour event not to receive a black flag, a penalty marker for bad driving that forces drivers to sit out part of the race.
So what’s up next for a team that hit the heights of proletarian success on its first outing? The answer—of course—is more racing. "Our goal this year was to have fun and finish. We’ve got twelve months to make the car a little faster," said Klinger. Spoken like a true car guy.