FORT MILL TOWNSHIP — Backed by a grapevine and driving a lemon, LeeAnn Shattuck was hoping everything would come up roses after two days of driving in the ’Shine Country Classic at Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Ala., last weekend.
The series is open to just about anybody who can assemble a team of four-to-six drivers, afford the entry fee of $150 per driver and find a car that costs $500 or less – in other words, a “lemon” – and is up to the task of nearly nonstop racing.
The LeMons Series helps raise money for Speedway Children’s Charities.
For Shattuck, a Baxter resident and self-described gearhead who grew up in the Midwest before relocating to Charlotte and then Fort Mill, the marathon event is challenging on several levels, even for a driver with 25 years of racing experience.
“To try to get a racecar to go nonstop for nine hours is one thing, but you only get one set of tires and one set of brakes, which should make it interesting,” Shattuck said.
Unfortunately, early in the first day, “we blew a hole in the engine block,” she said. On closer inspection, Shattuck and her crew discovered a shattered piston.
Sponsored by grapevine Wine Bar in Baxter Village and Charlotte-based Woodie’s Auto Service and Repair Centers, Shattuck said was driving a 1997 Eagle Talon/Mitsubishi Eclipse mash-up. The contest is as much about the mechanical prowess of keeping the car on the track as it is racing chops.
“Our team philosophy is, ‘In order to finish first, you just have to finish,’ ” Shattuck said.
At speeds that vary from 40 mph around some tricky curves to about 120 mph, Shattuck said, much of the strategy is knowing how much abuse your car can take.
“You drive at about 75 percent of your driving ability because you have to preserve the car,” she said. “You have to keep the engine within a certain temperature, preserve the tires, preserve the brakes. You have to curb your competitive juices.”
Calling the race “a homecoming parade on acid,” Shattuck said cars are decked out with ostentatious creations limited only by the imagination of the teams. Her team, which is three-fifths female – and when you’re not driving you’re on the pit crew – created a giant cherry bomb for its car. The adornment, she said “is made of 100 percent recycled Fort Mill Times newspapers.”
Shattuck said she always wants to win but keeps events like LeMons in perspective.
“It’s spoofy and silly and it raises money for charity,” she said. “I take it as seriously as you can when you’re driving next to someone in a car with a giant papier-mache Homer Simpson head on it.”
As a Baxter resident, Shattuck, who raised some of her expenses through crowd-sourcing – her “Fireproof Underwear Fund” received $900 in 24 hours – wants everyone to know how grateful she is for the support of her neighborhood wine bar.
“I am so honored to have grapevine as a sponsor,” she said. Owners “Dave and Melanie (Sills) are so supportive of their fellow entrepreneurs, and they have created a unique environment where friends, neighbors and local business owners can come together, relax and enjoy a good glass of wine or beer,” she said. “It’s my favorite place to grab a drink and unwind after a long day.”
The feeling is mutual. “Grapevine is proud to partner with Car Chick Racing and LeeAnn Shattuck for the LeMons Series,” Melanie Sills said. “This sponsorship demonstrates our commitment to our local community. LeeAnn was one of our first customers and has been a loyal patron of grapevine for the past six years.”
Although the Country Classic didn’t turn out how she hoped, Shattuck said, she plans to enter endurance races in the series.
“I’m a glutton for punishment,” she said, laughing.