Friday, July 19, 2024

Project Jackwagon window into young man motorsports career

Episode 419

February 5, 2023

Project Jackwagon

Episode ideas come in practically every shape, size, and situation. Such was this episode. My eye was drawn to the idea that a 24-year-old young man from the County was doing something many would call “risky”. After looking at his photos, I too joined the chorus of nay-sayers, however, the backstory was intriguing and begs to be told.

Jackwagon safely home in New Sweden, Maine after a 2,100-mile adventure. The 1990 Dodge W250 made the journey without a hitch…almost.  (Lance Lagasse photo)

Lance Lagasse, the son of Melanie and the late Dick Lagasse, lives less than five miles away from HTF Motorsports headquarters the home of UpNorth Motorsports. I thought the story was an adventure I might have attempted when I was his age. What I found was not just this story but also a unique college experience that no one in the County has had. (If I am wrong, I would love to hear from others also)

Lagasse graduated from Caribou High School in 2017. While in high school, he took the Drafting and Engineering course at Presque Isle Tech Center. He credits his instructor Terry Harper with pointing him toward McPherson College, a private school in McPherson, Kansas.

Harper noted that Lagasse’s love for restoration of cars might be raised to a higher level by taking the Auto Restoration Program at the college. This program is the only of its type that offers a bachelor’s degree upon successful completion.

Lagasse took the advice to heart and upon graduation from high school in spring of 2017, began his post-secondary education at McPherson College in the fall of 2017. Lagasse mentioned that only 50 students are allowed to enter the college’s Auto Restoration program, one of which was the New Sweden man.

“I learned may different tricks of the trade during my time in school ranging from full electrical systems, paint and body, sheet metal and panel making, upholstery, machining, engines and many other skills,” said Lagasse. “I took almost every automotive class they offer including some of the discontinued classes for motorcycle rebuilding.”

Lance Lagasse, on right with classmate Dylan Riley, Lake Ozark, Missouri with the 1932 Packard straight eight which was their senior project. Lagasse was the first McPherson College student to get AERA Engine Builders Association machinist certification. (Photo courtesy Lance Lagasse)

I asked Lance what his favorite course(s) at McPherson College, he replied, ” I took the automotive restoration technology route to get the most hands-on experience possible. I really enjoyed all of them. I was one of those ‘weird kids’ that enjoyed everything. I enjoy fabricating, machining, engine and drive train rebuilding, I currently have been doing more full chassis electrical than anything else. I also enjoy paint and body. And upholstery is fun to pass the time in between all of that.”

“My current job is the Northeast Paving, Presque Isle, hot top plant operator,” said Lagasse.” I am going to be moving forward soon into opening a restoration shop. I would love to get into manufacturing restoration parts that are no longer available.”

More about Project Jackwagon but first some interesting facts about the college that Lagasse attended.

McPherson College

McPherson College, located in McPherson, Kansas near the center of the state, was started in 1887 and is associated with Church of the Brethren. The private school of 800 offers several majors including the Automobile Restoration program.

For a list of courses, I have a link here

The Automobile Restoration program got its start in 1976 when local entrepreneur Gaines “Smokey” Billue gifted 125 classic and antique cars to the program. He along with the Templeton family made it possible to open Templeton Hall which is the headquarters for the restoration program.

The world-renowned program is home to the only program offering a bachelor’s degree in North America. Jay Leno became aware of the program in 1997 and the college described his interest this way, “In 1997 this unique automotive restoration program attracted the attention of classic car enthusiast Jay Leno who established the Fred S. Duesenberg Scholarship and the Jay Leno Popular Mechanics scholarship. Both scholarships continue to provide financial assistance to students interested in studying classic automotive restoration. His involvement raised awareness of the program in the car collector community.”

Another thing that caught my attention was the program vision statement:

By 2023 to compete and win at Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance on August 20, 2023, at the famous Pebble Beach Country Club.

This is one of the most famous concours events in the world and one of the toughest to win. Information about the Pebble Beach Concours may be found here:

Home Page

McPherson College entry for the 2023 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance August 20, 2023. The 1953 Mercedes Benz 300S Cabriolet came from Richard and Mary Hopeman in 2016. The frame off restoration has been underway since. (McPherson College photo)

And now the story of Jackwagon the truck

In Lance Lagasse’s own words: I bought the 1990 Dodge W250, known as the Jackwagon my sophomore year of college. I picked it up one weekend with a few buddies about 45 minutes from McPherson in Emporia, Kansas. I bought it in a package deal for $1400 with a 1993 Dodge W350 with a Cummins that I parted out.

The name Jackwagon was an inside joke amongst my friends, and it stuck. One of my buddies from Texas kept hounding me to fix it for us to drive around. At first, I just wanted to sell it, but with a battery and some gas it started up. We decided to give to a little drive.

To our surprise it was horrendous. The front end was nearly unbolted because the guy that I bought it from wanted to swap the front end into something different. After a few days of working on it, we had the front end bolted together. We did a tape measure alignment and off we went. It was terribly fun.

Jackwagon’s front brakes give an indication of the condition of Lagasse’s truck…bad. Needless to say, all new brakes were on the docket. (Lance Lagasse photo)

It had no exhaust, bad brakes and a pill of other issues. The truck is a 318(5.2L), 4speed (SM435) 4WD (T-Case 241D) With 3.73 gears. I’m currently not sure the direction I want to go with the truck. I’m thinking about building a low-buck pre-runner to drive on the logging roads and in the winter.

I graduated from McPherson College in the Spring of 2021.A few mechanical issues had me park it from 2020 at one of my friend’s shops and I agreed to help build a pretty sweet hot rod for him.

About two weeks ago. I decided to start my year off with an interesting plan on fixing it and driving it home… 2,100 miles.

I decided in December of 2022 to buy a one-way flight to Kansas to work on the truck and my friend’s hot rod for a few weeks.  With help from friends Matthew Shrader and Cuatro Brown, after a little less than a week, the truck was running and driving, however I only put about a hundred miles on it before my journey back home.

Jackwagon’s engine compartment showing new intake manifold, Holley Sniper EFI and Hyperspark Ignition. Lagasse installed a new clutch, brakes, and tires. (Lance Lagasse photo)

The Journey

Day 1:

First day was a 15-hour 860-mile drive to Ohio. It was relatively smooth… despite the atrocious bump steer, abysmal 9 1/2 mpg, 65 miles-an-hour speed (if I was lucky), alternator belt squeal and best of all the heat would not shut off. The wind noise, exhaust note and blown out seat are a nice addition to the list of complaints. However, I got to Ohio with minimal issues.

Day 2:

The second day I left around 4:45 in the morning and drove 21 hours straight which was a little over 1200 miles. The good; great head lights, heat doesn’t shutoff, and it made it.

Note the non-working passenger side windshield wiper which stopped working in Ohio. In New York the driver’s side wiper gave up the ghost. Yikes! (Lance Lagasse photo)

The bad, almost outside of Ohio my passenger side windshield wiper stopped working (it wouldn’t have been a problem if it didn’t snow for 800-900 miles of the trip). Halfway through New York, the driver’s side windshield wiper stopped. This had me stopping every 30-50 miles to clean the salt off the windows.
Around 400 miles in, I was terribly tired, so I decided to pull over at a rest stop and get out of the truck. Immediately I woke back up and noticed the overwhelming exhaust fumes filling the cab.
I decide to open the back windows and go on my merry way without any more sleepy issues. (Reason I didn’t notice the first day was I drove with the window down nearly the entire way.)
A few Red Bulls later and hundreds of more miles, I was in Worcester Massachusetts. At this point it was during heavy rush hour traffic and the sun had set. I went to adjust the brand-new mirror I put on the windshield, and it snapped off.
From New Hampshire to Bangor there was a little snow, no big deal. From Bangor to home the roads were fairly snow covered making the drive one-hour longer.
I’m not terrible confident with its 2-wheel drive snow capability and I need to adjust to 1/2” play in the front pinion for 4×4. That said I did manage to get home without crashing or breaking down.
At Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona
Due to extenuating circumstances, I was unable to get to Daytona for the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona race. Since my friend Jon Bennett had retired from racing and had shut down his multi-race winning CORE Autosports team, and I knew he was going to be at the race, I asked him for some brief comments about his experience and the race.
“I attended the Rolex 24, but I had to head home before the end; I was traveling with an older friend who overwhelmed with the crowds and walking.
 Clearly many more fans in attendance. Almost fan gridlock during ‘fan walk’.
 Most race drivers I met were not optimistic in finishing the race with new GTP cars.  The mood was low before race.

On the podium at the 6-Hours of Watkins Glen 2022 the CORE Autosports team left to right Colin Braun, Jon Bennett, and George Kurtz. They went on to win the IMSA LMP3 class in 2022. (CORE Autosports photo)

 Colin was ecstatic with his first overall win (me too!). Editor’s note Colin Braun is now one of the full-time Meyers Shank Racing IMSA GTP Acura drivers.

Winners #60: Meyer Shank Racing W/Curb-Agajanian, Acura ARX-06, GTP: Tom Blomqvist, Colin Braun, Helio Castroneves, and Simon Pagenaud.

 George was heartbroken to miss the win by about 4 feet. Editor’s note George Kurtz is owner/driver of the #04 LMP2 car which after 24 hours lost at the finish by .016 seconds!
Certainly, it was a bit strange to attend without competing.  I have no regrets and look forward to my next new, unwritten life chapters.  . . .  possibly some adventure motorcycle travel.”
Sting Ray Robb IndyCar practice

UpNorth Motorsports will be following the #51 Honda Dale Coyne Racing/Rick Ware Racing in the Idaho native’s rookie season. He recently completed his first practice with all 28 Indy Car drivers at Thermal Club Raceway in California.

Sting Ray Robb with team owner Rick Ware at the IndyCar practice in Thermal, California. (Sting Ray Robb photo)

Over the course of the two-day IndyCar practice, Robb did 185 practice laps and knocked almost a full second off his time. He was pleased with the team and his effort. The first race is the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg March 5, 2023. (Sting Ray Robb photo)

Let’s go racing,

Tom Hale

Soli Deo Gloria (Matthew 5:16)