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Greenbrae’s Bill Arnold is a long-time gridiron veteran of the world’s most unique auto race, where banter is revered as much as speed, where comedy is celebrated almost as lavishly as laps completed.

Now he has dragged his son, 19-year-old Derek, into the fray, and he’s on the podium right away.

They run in the 24 Hours of Lemons series, which is a cover for the other endurance race at Le Mans in France. It’s also a nod to the fruit’s automotive connotations associated with junkers.

Participants often express this shared sense of humor through artificial additions to the car, such as the “Star Trek” tube motors sticking out of the back of the Honda Civic. There was once a Dodge Neon painted white that instead of a trunk had a tall Plexiglas box with a mannequin inside wearing a white robe and a pontiff’s hat. It was a Dodge Pope-mobile.

Of course, some of these drums come at an aerodynamic cost. Most of the time these more outrageous teams don’t expect to win, despite being among the 120 or so cars competing. They want to falsify society, racing history and good taste in loud and very tangible ways.

But others, like Arnolds and co-drivers Ron DeBruin and Bill Lampher, are there to go fast and run with the leaders.

During the Lemons’ foray into Sonoma Raceway later this fall, dubbed the Yokohama Arse-Freeze-Apalooza, the quartet finished third in the Stolen Trailer Racing No. After nearly 14 hours of racing in 118 cars in 35 BMWs spread over two days. Saul Macias of Novato was also supposed to drive, but got sick before the first time and went home.

Arnold’s team could have placed higher if they really wanted to go all out. His teams won overall in 2018 and again last year in dramatic and stinking fashion.

“Last year we won. We planned it. We tried hard and it worked. We rev up the engine by winning,” Arnold said. And this brings his favorite Lemons memory. “Crossing the finish line knowing I was in P1 and looking at the gauges and seeing I had no oil pressure and the temperature gauge was red for the last half hour, but I still won.” Co-drivers Jason Camisa, Tony Page of Novato, DeBruin and two-time 24 Hours of Daytona class winner Randy Pobst shared the glory. Josh Brinkman had the keys to the winning #34 BMW as well as the #35 car that finished 11th.

However, for 2022, the tone and tactics were different.

“We are not going to victory. We’re just going to have fun,” Arnold said of this relaxed approach. “If we wanted to be really serious about it, we could do a day with just one pit stop.”

Instead, they gave the eventual winners plenty of spin, opting for far more driving changes than the eventual winning entry, another BMW. And since Arnold and his accomplices owned one of the NASCAR garage booths, they made their driver changes in the comfort of a covered booth, not in a pit in the rain. They left a few rounds for that luxury.

Almost any driver can compete, the only requirements being a valid driver’s license and paying a $100 annual fee. And any car can race until it costs next to nothing before safety equipment is added. The differences in performance, experience and skill levels are huge.

So lap time gaps can vary by more than half a minute between the fast guys and the tails.

Saturday’s start saw light rain and a wet and greasy track that doubled that disparity. This made the early hours a cross between slalom skiing and reverse Whack-a-Mole.

Some drivers were 30 mph or slower on the curves. You often see cars three or four wide in the braking zone.

But the drivers can’t slide over the grass. The rules prohibit going over the runway surface and you can be black flagged and brought in for a stern and long talk.

“You have to look down the road and expect somebody to do something that’s maybe less intelligent,” Arnold said. “The talent level is quite broad. You’re passing people in places the driving school would have told you you should never be.”

Senior Arnold found himself squeezed by a Volvo wagon at the far end of the exit at Turn 8A. They touched the mirrors and the mirrors were bent, but there was no other contact. “Right next to me, I reached out and pushed the mirror back,” he said.

Saturday provided an undisclosed location for Derek’s son.

“It was my first time racing in the rain, and man, it’s crazy,” Derek said. “You have to make a judgment call at the point where you say, “Does this person see me? They may, they may not. Do I risk it?’ Sometimes it happened that you had a bad feeling and you stood back, and then they cut you off. You were right.’

The Redwood High graduate and current College of Marin student found Saturday surreal.

“Our car didn’t have a defroster and, oh my God, you couldn’t see anything,” he admitted, “I had cars flying out of the air sometimes.”

It was all dry on Sunday and Derek got the first game. Papa was proud of what happened.

“We started seventh on Sunday. “If you’re in the top 10, they rank you,” Bill said. “Our youngest driver, the green flag, he was third, fourth, fifth and sixth before Turn 3.”

Derek’s memory of that moment. “It’s just a great feeling.”

Although the elder Arnold’s team has outperformed the competition, he admits they need to work on their humor.

“Right now we’re operating as Stolen Trailer Racing. The reason for this is that they stole our racing trailer with our racing E28 (BMW) in it,” he said. “About two and a half months later, I got a call from the Sunnyvale Police Department. They found it.”

Arnold returned it after paying a six-week storage fee…

Perhaps their next silly endeavor could surpass their humorous heyday when they ran Alfa Romeos under the team name Ristorante Salami Immenso. Arnold still has a photo of him and his team dressed in all white as chefs during pre-race ceremonies, complete with chef hats.

Derek intends to be a part of that future glory, but doesn’t expect much more from the endeavor.

“My plan right now is to take over his business, Bill Arnold BMW Repair, and just do it,” Derek said. He doesn’t plan on racing professionally anytime soon. “If I could, I would. Sounds like a hell of a time. But realistically, I will continue to do it for fun.”

And there are quick shoes to fill.

“It’s a shame because he’s a lot faster than me right now,” Derek said, tongue firmly planted in cheek. But racing isn’t just in his blood, it’s been in his ears since before he could walk. “It was pretty preordained because my mom tells me that by the time I was a year old, I was already watching the cars on the racetrack where they were dragging me.”

And Derek’s mother, Tamara Hull, still drags him to the tracks, this time to gain experience and instruction.

“He graduated on Thursday. We flew in on Friday morning and did the driving school at COTA (County of the Americas near Austin, Texas) on Saturday and Sunday,” Hull said. He had sent their street-legal Lemons car, a ’92 BMW 325, to Texas in preparation for Derek’s mother/son speed odyssey.

“The next weekend we did Barber (Motorsports Park near Leeds, Ala.). Then the weekend after that we did Road Atlanta (near Bloomingdale, Ga.),” he added. “Then we went to DC and left the car at Bill’s brother’s house and flew home.”

But the graduation dream gift was not over.

“And a few weeks later we flew back and did Watkins Glen (NY),” he said. Bouncing between BMW and Porsche driving schools, all on fast pro circuits, gave Derek the tools to charge his first lap on Sunday morning at Sonoma.

But Hull missed all the action.

“I’m an official for the 25 Hours of Thunderhill on the same weekend. So I end up being there the whole time,” Hull said. His shared passion for racing and his desire to instill it in his son from birth is coming true right now.

“I’m just as crazy as he is,” Hull said of her husband. And he planned to channel that shared hunger. So he lets Derek drive their family classic, a prized first-generation BMW M3.

“I trust him,” Tamara said of their son. “I want him to have the same joy and get the same hook.”


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