Auto class builds Mazda Miata for 24-hour endurance race


Joshua Yang, Forum Editor

Car racing—otherwise known as motorsport—has many diverse and competitive categories, ranging from American NASCAR racing to European Formula 1 Grand Prixs. However, the most grueling form of motorsport is the 24-hour endurance race in which cars drive 24 hours non-stop around a race track, attempting to complete the most laps. In some famous 24-hour races race cars travel more than 3,000 miles—enough to drive from Gunn to Times Square. This spring, Gunn Auto Tech is bringing their own race car to compete at the 24 Hours of LeMons race held in Sonoma, California on March 24 and March 25 with their modified 1990 Mazda Miata.

Granted, the race technically is not 24 hours long—instead, the event is split up over two days, with races held from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. each day. However, with this shortened time comes a caveat: all cars competing in the event must have cost less than $500 to buy and modify. At 24-hour races, the durability of the race car is just as important as the driver’s ability.

According to Auto Tech teacher Mike Camicia, the build process was meticulous and precise to ensure this durability. “Everything that had to be done to make this a race car we did,” he said. “The build process started with stripping out the entire interior, including the dashboard and all the wiring. We changed the shocks, the springs and the brakes.”

In addition, further modifications were made to ensure safety. These include adding a safety master switch to turn off all electronics in a crash, a roll cage, a fire extinguisher and a five-point racing harness.

The car is painted bright pink and has stickers all across its body. According to Camicia, this eye-catching bodywork is intended to fit in with a theme. “You have to have a theme, so this one became [modeled after] the Penguins of Madagascar,” he said. “If you watch their cartoons, there’s a little Barbie car that they drive around, and this is what this is supposed to be.”

Students in Camicia’s Auto 2 class had less than a semester to prepare the car for competition season. Senior Andy Estrada has put countless hours into the building process of the Miata. “There are 17 or 18 kids in the [Auto 2] class,” she said. “It’s a pretty small class. All of us help with the Miata.”

Throughout the course of converting the Miata into a race car, Estrada and the other students have had to work around issues. When the car was originally given to Camicia, it had been in a front-on collision. “We had the class pull [off] the whole front of the car,” Camicia said. “We just pulled it all out and straightened it out and got it running.”

Estrada also remembers another incident with the Miata’s tires. “One of the wheels was stuck on so long it took us 20 minutes to get it off,” she said.

However, Camicia believes all the hard work pays off at the race, a festive atmosphere full of drivers and mechanics. “[24 Hours of LeMons is] a zoo,” he said. “It’s like Mardi Gras. It’s like Burning Man. It’s like Halloween goes racing. It’s pretty fun, especially at night. There’s a lot of people working on their cars, and there’s a lot of people partying.”

Alumnus Micah McElravy also echoes Camicia’s sentiments. McElravy was a former student in the Gunn auto tech program and takes turns driving the car in races with other Gunn alumni and Camicia. “About 90 percent of the teams have no chance of winning anything, but it doesn’t stop people from going just as fast as they possibly can on track,” he said. “The whole event is much more about having fun than trying to be first out of 180 teams on [the] track.”

Last December, the Auto Tech program participated in a similar 24-hour race with the same car and finished in 30th place. Since then, Camicia and his team have modified the car further. Camicia hopes these modifications will give the Miata a further edge over competitors. “I’m hoping to do better than 30th overall,” he said. “We’re hopefully making the car better, and we’ll find out—we’ll find out [at] this next event.”

McElravy is not as eager to make predictions about the race. “I’ve learned never to expect anything in racing,” he said. “The trick is to go fast, have fun and keep the car in one piece.”