Racing an old Toyota camper because why not? | Low-Buck Tech

By Staff Writer
Jul 13, 2022 | Toyota, 24 Hours of Lemons, Low-Buck Tech, Chinook | Posted in Features | From the Nov. 2021 issue | Never miss an article

Photography Credit: Nick Pon

Lemons is a place where you can race just about anything as long as it passes safety tech. The $500 budget is enforced electronically with negative laps assigned to cheaters, and there are three very arbitrary classes (and several even more arbitrary awards) that you can win with speed, lack of speed, creativity, mechanical ingenuity, or a combination of those plus infinite other variables. Despite this relative lawlessness, most Lemons entries are conventional, past-their-prime performance cars run by teams looking for the best track time-to-dollar ratio.

And then there’s Spank.

[Running the 24 Hours of Lemons with as little time and effort as possible]

SoCal denizen Michael “Spank” Spangler is a legend in Lemons circles for bringing the weirdest stuff possible to the sanctioning body’s events, squarely embracing its “race anything” ethos. Feathers in his cap include driving a barn-find Citroën DS from California to an enduro in Florida and being responsible for the one and only Dutch car ever entered in a Lemons race (a DAF, of course). 

When Lemons announced an event at Heartland Motorsports Park in Kansas, Spank devised a plan that any completely bonkers Escondido gearhead would attempt: Buy an abandoned 1973 Toyota Chinook camper in California, get it running, drive it to Kansas, race it, and drive it home. Throughout the adventure, Spank and the rest of his four-man team would camp in the back of the Chinook.

Incredibly, only a few components of this plan didn’t pan out. The first to drop off the table was the camping-in-the-Chinook part. It was simply too skanky. Then, after many days, hundreds of miles, and several barrels of motor oil fed through the knackered 18R engine, the team decided that maybe the trip to Kansas was a one-way deal. Continuing his streak of near-faultless schemes, Spank then set up an eBay auction for the Chinook timed to end just as the checkered flag fell at the Lemons race. 

Of course, the success of this plan was contingent upon the Chinook surviving the Lemons race. Amazingly, aside from its prodigious oil consumption, the 18R seemed no worse for wear at the end of the enduro than before it left California. Not only was there a winner of the no-reserve eBay auction, but the top bidder actually showed up with cash and a means to make the camper go away–rarities in any online transaction, let alone one involving a Chinook. 

Not surprisingly, the eBay proceeds came up well short of covering the crew’s plane tickets home. But for a Lemons racer like Spank, a clean slate to do the next stupid thing is all but priceless.

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View comments on the GRM forums
MadScientistMatt UltimaDork
11/2/21 8:57 a.m.

This takes LeMons' "What could possibly go wrong?" mindset to new levels. Well done.

CyberEric Dork
11/2/21 10:34 a.m.

Haha. Bonus points for anyone sleeping in the back. I can picture someone coming out after the race looking sleepy, yawning, and saying "good morning."

Tk8398 HalfDork
11/4/21 6:30 p.m.

Those are actually starting to get expensive now too.

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