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Story by Jack Baruth – Workshop Photos by Jack Baruth – Race Photography by Dave Everest

That Mazda television ad is lying to you. You know, the one where they say… “There’s an old saying in racing. To build a great race car, start with a great street car” or something like that. What a crock. To build a great race car, everybody knows that you start with a Porsche LMP2, which is not a street car, not even in Dubai.

The saying is really this: “To build a cheap race car, start with one that’s already been rolled.” And without further ado, we present our new team – Green Baron Motorsports – and our new race car for the 2008 season – a 1994-build original Neon ACR. Sold as a Showroom Stock race car fourteen years ago, it’s been rolled, crashed, possibly set on fire, you name it – but it’s still one of those original race-only ACRs, and that means it’s, like, totally the Hemi ‘Cuda of 1994. So we invested a new Corolla’s worth of cash and hundreds of man-hours to bring it back on track, including a miserable four-day no-sleep final crunch to make sure it passed its first NASA tech inspection. It passed, it got a logbook, and today, in the hands of old pro Brian M., it took its first NASA podium in its first race.

This is where we were five days ago – half a roll cage, all the wiring out, the front end apart for much-needed repairs.

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It was forty-six degrees today at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, the rain was coming down in the proverbial buckets, and the wind had ripped every canopy in the paddock to shreds. What kind of idiots race in this weather? About two hundred of ’em, with over sixty cars in our race group and seven cars in our individual class, “Performance Touring E”. In the rain, an old race car with no ABS is treacherous, and every time the wheels touch one of the concrete patches of which Mid-O is chock-full, the whole world goes sideways as the tires slip griplessly to the next bit of asphalt. In qualifying, Brian managed fourth. Our Neon was sold to us with a full-power Mopar crate race engine, but in our hurry to buy a race car, we didn’t ask if said crate engine had thrown a rod in 2007 before being tossed in a corner, which it had. In its place, we had a tired old junkyard special that could barely reach 110mph on the long back straight. We need a new motor in this whip, pronto.

On the other hand, we had fate on our side. A week ago, a homeless kitten had wandered into our prep shop and made a place for himself on our LaJoie GP Elite race seat. He wasn’t scared by the work going on, sleeping unconcernedly through everything from wirebrushing to welding. He purred and appeared to examine each part of the rollcage as it went it. We named him “Hemi” and adopted him as the shop cat. Why would a cat appear in the middle of a race shop and refuse to leave? There’s only one answer: the cat is Aryton Senna reincarnated. With one of history’s greatest F1 drivers watching our every move in animal spirit form, it was no sweat to hang doors at three a.m. in the morning. It meant we were hanging doors for victory.

Ever met a cat who isn’t scared of a welder? You have now. He always looks away from the weld point, though, and so should you, unless you are wearing proper equipment. That’s your safety message for today, courtesy of Hemi The Cat(tm)

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We’d spared almost no expense and purchased Toyo’s new R888 race rubber – which was sitting in Toyo’s warehouse waiting to ship. Instead, we had the hated old “RA-1”, named after the fact that they are only fast for half the race (thus the RA) and you’ll only buy one set of ’em before trying something else. Gosh, I sound like Tony Stewart here. Really, the RA-1 isn’t that bad, but it isn’t that fast either. With a lousy engine and cheap tires, it’s a wonder we didn’t finish dead last – but instead, we were right in the middle of the grid.

This is where we were three days ago – cage is in and painted, dashboard is a mess, body repairs urgently needed.

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Some of our more devoted readers may wonder – why didn’t I race the car? After all, I own half of the race team, and the other owner is just some sap I browbeat into getting involved so I could save a buck (er, sorry, Mark). Why didn’t I race it? Well, the answer is simple: I damage cars, I run into people, and I rip tires off the bead, and we wanted a smooth hand behind the wheel for our maiden outing. So we talked Brian into driving the car, and I stood on the hill next to the Esses and chewed through my fingertips waiting for him to appear every lap.

Got the dash together, got new doors at the Pick n’ Pull for $50 a piece, painted the outside of said doors, cut out the insides, threw the insides away, realized we needed the door rod to meet regulations, climbed into the trash can.

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I’ll be racing tomorrow – Sunday – in conditions currently predicted as “snowy”. Snowy! I’m racing in the snow! Today, however, it was just rainy. Brian got a great start at the green flag and worked our little Neon through traffic, grabbing third place and fighting off the forty Spec Miatas sharing the race group with us. Thirty agonizing minutes later, we’d finished. No mechanical issues, other than a missing exhaust bolt, and a solid third place out of seven cars!

The GP Elite seat by LaJoie. Used in two kinds of cars – $250,000 Daytona Prototypes, and our Neon.

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We’d done it – finished our first race, and not in the “Force India” position either, but in a solid “Williams F1” place, right in the middle. Our team chattered with excitement, and also with the terrifying cold. What does the future hold? Oh, probably something along the lines of new fenders after tomorrow’s race and a Plymouth Voyager 2.4 liter heart transplant, but tonight we’re winners. Third place winners, anyway!

Why tell you about all this? A few reasons. The first reason is to show that racing really can be done without a RedBull-style budget. The second is to remind our valued readers that here at S:S:L, we’re working to be the best drivers and car evaluators possible, and that includes earning our stripes in competition. Last but not least, I’m proud of my team and my crew:

Brian M. – pro driver and prima donna

Mark M. – co-owner and recipient of many a temper tantrum from yours truly

Matt J. – the best cage builder, period, and the proud owner of a new cat.

Jim K. – pitched in at a moment’s notice to help us finish the car

Mike F. – painted the doors and fenders in his garage

Erick N. – performed a proper competition alignment on two hours’ notice, twelve hours before the race

Dave E. – drove hundreds of miles to shoot photos and wire the TraqMate

Darin P. – our all-purpose crew member on-site

Miles V. – picked up a trailer with his bare hands

Eric G. – has a lot of ideas to save weight on the car

Mike B. – missed the race, but he’s gonna suffer tomorrow

Thanks to everyone!

Here she is, ready to race!

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Jack Baruth

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