Zac Caldwell and his track-prepped minivan—a 2006 Dodge Grand Caravan to be exact—will set out in February on an 11-month marathon of grassroots racing with an extremely lofty goal and very important cause. Let me repeat: track-prepped Dodge Caravan.
The Man, The Mission
The racer, Zac Caldwell, and his unlikeliest race Car(avan), aim to race every 24 Hours of Lemons event in 2024. That’s 23 races at 21 tracks in 17 states—many with only four days between events. The ultra-endurance race schedule and “Vannonball” run will require driving the track-prepped minivan 30,000 miles over the road, not counting the miles and abuse it will take from being raced more than 14 hours over a weekend. Along the way, he hopes to raise tens of thousands of dollars for charity.
“Endurance racing remains the ultimate challenge in motorsports, but it has largely been conquered by smart people with money. What mark can an idiot on a budget make?” Caldwell jokes, “I’m no good at moderation. If I’m going to do one race, I’ll do them all and drive 30,000 miles there and back in the same terrible race car. An LMP2 prototype can’t do that for 100 million dollars.”
Caldwell’s uniquely poised to accomplish the feat because he has relevant experience. In 2023, Caldwell drove the van to race four 24 Hours of Lemons races on consecutive weekends. The 30-day trip in May and June covered 5,000 highway miles, 1,800 miles on the track, and ate through more than a dozen sets of brake pads.
Starting from his home near Louisville, Kentucky, Zac picked up the van from a mechanic in Detroit and drove it to Thunderhill Raceway in California. From there, he raced the van at races in Colorado, New Jersey, and Michigan (a surprise to him, the 24 Hours of Lemons staff dared him to add the last race with no warning).
The Van: Mostly Stock
When I asked Zac about modifications to his van, he said, “Basically none.” He did mention Carbotech brake pads. “I’m expecting at some point to rework the front end with either bolt-in-compatible parts from another model or a custom build,” he said. “We’ve run on all sorts of wheel and tire setups, often multiple different setups a race trying to find the optimal one.”
Zac said that at the next race, they’ll try some 18-inch wheels from a Mustang on 40-series Yokohamas. “Of all the things I’ve learned, I could talk about front-end setups forever and I still don’t know jack shit— [I] haven’t even touched camber, toe, or brake bias.” He goes on to say that everything else is just weight loss and pulling stuff off for weight loss. “Oh, there’s a big pink spoiler on the rear,” he adds.
What is the 24 Hours of Lemons?
The 24 Hours of Lemons is a grassroots motorsports organization where backyard mechanics and car enthusiasts race $500 cars for hundreds of miles over a weekend. The cars are often Frankenstein-style creations from multiple cars, junkyard parts, and creative engineering. This is meant to keep the budgets low and the cars running.
Caldwell’s 2006 Dodge Grand has proven to be a better race car than its reputation may suggest, using reliability and practicality to substitute for speed. Purchased by his family in 2007 and used for a decade as a grocery-getter, Caldwell stripped the interior and had a roll cage installed in 2022 before its first Lemons race.
Racing a Crazy Caravan For A Good Cause
Caldwell’s first race will be on Feb. 3, 2024, in Leeds, Alabama, at Barber Motorsports Park. Along the way, Caldwell intends to raise at least $23,000 or $1,000 per race for Lemons of Love. This is a favorite charity of Lemons racers that provides care packages and support for chemotherapy patients. Caldwell’s mother, the original owner of the van, was a car lover herself. She was a cancer survivor and the inspiration for the journey. She passed away in early 2022.
If you want to help support Zac and his cause, he encourages people to pick up some of his Vannonball swag. By doing so, you’re helping support his Vannonball Run and a good cause.
Follow Along With The Vannonball Run
Crankshaft Culture is a big fan of endurance events (Alcan 5000 Rally anyone?) and unusual race cars. Add to the fact Zac’s raising money for charity, and this ticks all of our car culture buttons for us. Best of luck, Zac; we’re rooting for you and your track-prepped minivan on this epic Vannonball run. You can follow Zac’s journey on Facebook at Vannonball – The 24 Hours of Lemons, on Instagram at @hollywoodlouisville, and on YouTube at Dum N Tuf TV.