MUSCATINE, Iowa–As a mechanically minded kid, it only made sense for 16-year-old Nick Scholz to ask his dad, Chris Scholz, if they could restore a classic car together. Delighted at the idea of working on a father and son project they could both enjoy, Chris Scholz happily agreed to it, and together the pair built a 1976 Chevrolet Camaro from scratch. The project lasted all the way up until Nick’s senior year of high school, when he knew he wanted to fit in one more project with his dad before he graduated and went off to Iowa State University to study mechanical engineering with a focus on working on specialty or race cars.
Over the years, Nick also developed an interest in racing too, especially after attending several with his dad. The idea of building a race car and competing in it intrigued the pair, but Chris Scholz wanted to make sure any event they entered had a good reputation for safety and affordability. After doing some research, he discovered 24 Hours of Lemons, an organization that hosts races on asphalt tracks for amateurs. A clever spoof of 24 Hours of Le Mans, a prestigious endurance race in France featuring experienced drivers in expensive cars, 24 Hours of Lemons holds races where contestants must create a race car from a vehicle that cost no more than $500 (excluding safety systems and tires) and encourages them to have fun while doing so.
In preparation for 24 Hours of Lemons Doin’ Time in Joliet Race in Joliet, Illinois on Aug. 14 and 15, the Scholz’s purchased a 1997 Pontiac Firebird from a salvage auction. Together, the father and son did the bulk of the work to get the car ready, with some guidance from local dirt track racer, Brian Birkhofer, on how to weld a roll cage to keep the driver safe in a wreck, and local mechanic, Jason Sell, on how to wire a fire suppression system into the car. To round out their team, the Scholz’s invited Josh Boyer and Andrew Anderson to join them as drivers and Sal Lobianco to serve as their race day mechanic.
To round out their preparation, the group also selected a name for their team and decorated the car accordingly. Anderson recommended the name Big Bird as a pun both on the show Sesame Street and their Firebird’s large size, and it stuck. True to form, the Scholz’s decorated their car with Sesame Street themed items.
Though the team consisted of a bunch of novices, they did quite well, placing eighth in their division. Reflecting back on the experience, Chris Scholz considers it the best father son bonding experience he and Nick could have had and also a great start to long lasting friendships with Boyer, Anderson, and Lobianco. “Building the car with my son is something I’ll never forget,” he said. “I can’t believe how much fun it was.”
An excellent lesson in mechanics and time management, Chris Scholz believes other high school students could benefit from racing in 24 Hours of Lemons. In the future, Chris Scholz hopes to generate interest in sending a team from Muscatine High School to the event.