Hoon The Van

Take Your Hooptie To The Track

Every once in a while I think to myself, “Why can’t I track my beater?”  The easy answer is that its stupid and my beater will most likely grenade itself at the apex of Turn One, no matter the track or conditions. I’m also broke, don’t own a decent helmet anymore and econo-suck tires, although only $20-a-pop at the used tire bin, wouldn’t make for a fun outing.  Not to mention I wouldn’t pass tech at any arrive and drive drag night or autocross, let alone a big scary racetrack like Sebring.

That’s where LeMons and ChumpCar come in.

When Life Hands You LeMons…

Lemons and ChumpCar exist for the beaters, the hoonigans, and the almost broke.  They’re  a fantastic way to have fun racing on a budget and a great way to pass tech just enough to take your hooptie out on some seriously iconic tracks (Daytona, Barber and VIR anyone?).  Despite requiring its participants to adhere to a “strict” budget they do require top notch safety equipment because even though you say your rust bucket is safe, nobody wants to fall through the floorpans on the racetrack.

Even though you will be shelling out some hard earned dough on safety equipment it doesn’t matter what engine fits in what, so long as you can keep it running for 24hrs. Chrysler powered E30 or Saab powered Nissan 300zx anyone?

Our Japanese brothers have taken the concept of cheap racing and “Missile Cars” to a whole different level.  They’ve figured out a way to make an old Dodge van stick to a racetrack well enough to make it fun and exciting instead of stupid and dangerous. Alright, I’ll admit Brembos and sequential transmissions aren’t exactly cheap, or beater-ish; that these vans are more rat-rod or missile car than hopped up hooptie, but they’re still cool right?!?!

Check out the short documentary below to learn more about these bad-ass vans!


Do Your Homework

 If there’s one thing that I’ve learned over the years, it’s “do your homework.” Not only does it get you through school, but it also helps when working on old beaters in crusty junkyards.  It’s also how I learned the hard way that a Nissan 300zx MAF doesn’t work on a 280zx (I was young and stupid back then).

“Do your homework” was also the main theme in mechanic’s school too.  I remember sitting in on my first day of training at BMW, being handed 3 very filled 3″ binders full of curriculum and was told that we had to know that stuff in 9 weeks.  After laughing, the instructor reassured us that we wouldn’t know everything in those binders and led us into a makeshift computer lab.

“If you only learn one thing these 9 weeks, learn how find the information,” came out of his mouth.  I was floored.  Weren’t Bimmer techs supposed to know everything. Wasn’t I supposed to come out of this bavarian boot camp with some type of encyclopedic knowledge of the 3-Series? Wrong.

You were supposed to know how to find the information fast.  You were supposed to know how to do your homework. So, before you try swapping a z31 Nissan MAF onto a S130 Datsun, or a 2.2l head onto a 2.5 head, do your homework.

In the meantime, Here’s Joe’s Dodge Murder Missile:

So first up is my truck, 1995 Dodge Dakota, 2.5l I4, AX15 5-speed manual, 2wd short bed short cab sport, whose long list of options include 6 spoke alloy wheels….and that’s pretty much it haha

It wasn’t always a ragged, old bastard of a truck though, my best friend got it from his dad in high school with only 60k on the clock and was incredibly clean back then, of course, a couple of teenage rednecks from Hazel Park fixed that pretty quick.


Plenty of air time, amateur rally, and grossly overloading the poor thing we managed to blow a head gasket, got halfway done with a 318 swap, said screw that with these bush-era gas prices, and rebuilt the 4-banger.


Oh yeah, and we accidentally put a 2.2 head on a 2.5, the super high compression motor ran great til it smashed all the valves out of itself.  Remember kids, just because the hood on the car in the junkyard you’re pulling a cylinder head off of says it has the same motor as your truck, doesn’t mean that’s the hood that came on that car from the factory.

It did manage to pull a camper trailer with only 3 cylinders, though, so kudos little guy

Aside from us abusing the poor thing (and accidentally installing the wrong parts) it’s been a pretty solid ride mechanically, it’s got just shy of 200k on it now, and the body is pretty rusty but it’s a Michigan daily so, that happens.

3 cylinder heads, 1 short block, a rear end, and a fuel pump are all the major work I’ve helped with or done myself over the 13 years I’ve been around the truck, I’ve had it for, I want to say 6 years now and the only things I’ve done since then have been brakes, wheel bearings, a top end rebuild and a new fuel pump and starter.

I did drive it around for about a month with no bed after doing the fuel pump, went like hell with that weight reduction, little bouncy though.

Sadly, the old girl has been down with electrical issues since last June, no idea what’s wrong but Chrysler wasn’t exactly renowned for their high-quality electronics in the 90’s so who knows what manner of awful I’m in for getting it back on the road.


The Ballad Of Li’l Red

Little Red CurbsideIt was another typical Saturday night.  No loud music, no champagne being puked up everywhere by drunk college kids, no clubbing.  It’s just me, a cold beer, and my computer. I had just discovered the link to Nissan’s live feed of this year’s Bathurst 12hr race and McLaren is kicking ass! As is the typical setting, I’m in a chair paying no attention to whatever house flipping show was left on the TV. Out of nowhere, I’m brought back to reality from my digital trip to Mount Panorama when I hear the intro to some new show talking about flipping “Zombie Houses” in my current hometown of Orlando FL.

There it was. This awesome looking red Dodge.  Wood trim, chrome badge, and STACKS!!!  It was owned by the show team’s Project Manager Justin.  Thanks to Facebook, I got lucky and managed to get in touch with Justin and his friends.  Over several beers he shared with me this, the story of Li’l Red:

“When we started the show [Zombie House Flipping] I wanted something that would stand out that wasn’t my Acura.  Don’t get me wrong, I love my Acura, but I wanted something that would be a symbol of what I want to do for Orlando.  I want to put Orlando on the map! We are so much more than just Disney World.  I’ve hustled to get where I am now and I think Li’l Red is a perfect symbol of that hard work; that mentality of hard work and quality that America stands for!  

Little Red Interior

I’ve always liked the Li’l Reds.  I found this one after searching the internet.  The guy that I bought it from lived in Live Oak (FL).  I apparently contacted him minutes after he posted the ad.  When I got to it, it had been sitting for 10yrs and didn’t run. I took it to my buddy Seal. He had just found out his wife was pregnant with their first kid and I wanted to do something that would help him out a bit.  I called him and told him I needed work done to Li’l Red.  We agreed that I’d pay him hourly and cover the supplies.  Everything would go to him and his son.  We worked on Li’l Red during nights, which helped to ease Seal’s nerves a bit too. 


We spent the next 6 months going over everything and got it running well , except for the carb.  We had help from Rick at Wrench Connection here in Orlando figuring that thing out.  Apparently it’s super touchy and even when you think everything is lined up it’ll still bog down. Rick figured that out. He also helped out by installing a new A/C system and updated the cooling system as well.  It worked out perfectly.  Right about the time Seal’s son was born we had finished the truck.

I have some upgrades in the works, Edelbrock carb, headers, new intakes etc., but the thing doesn’t really need it, you know?  Back in ’79 it was the fastest American production car 0-100mph.  They put a high performance engine in a commercial vehicle which helped give it some performance while keeping it exempt from the emissions regulations of the ’70s and ’80s.  

Air Cleaner

I don’t have any plans on selling it. In fact, when Seal’s son graduates from college I plan on giving it to him. It’d be cool to give him a cool truck that his dad worked on. It’s meant to be an heirloom, something that he’d keep in the family.  

Right now I use it every day. It is most definitely a work truck. For my business and the show I have to haul lumber and supplies around to job sites and Li’l Red is the perfect truck for that. Just the other day I had probably close to 1000lbs in the bed and she hauled it with no problem, spinning the tires even!  It’s really nice to hop in with my dog Marley in the seat and cruise through the neighborhoods with the windows down. I love this truck it gets so much attention and it looks so damn good!

One of the first times we drove Li’l Red after getting her running, my friend Stormy hopped in it and decided to lay down some rubber. It’s what you do after you finish building a truck like this. She ended up losing control and fishtailed down the block. Stormy got it stopped just in time, right before a fountain.  Had Li’l Red’s rear end stepped out again it would’ve met the fountain and we’d have a ton more body work to do.

Also during one of our days filming for the show, I blew my AC and radiator hoses off while we were rolling. Li’l Red turned into a steam machine on camera and we had to get it towed back to Rick. We ended up bombarding him with cameras and he filmed with us and fixed it ASAP.”

Big thanks to Justin for sharing his awesome truck with us!