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By on May 1, 2016

How much fun can you have for $500?

Crazy about racing or just plain crazy? If you answered—Yes! or Yes!—the not-so-good old boys who run the 24 Hours of LeMons just might have an opportunity for you and your buddies to take a shot at some small-time racing at a big-time venue near you. If you’re a racing purist, forget about it. If you’re just looking for some on-the-cheap racing entertainment, head straightaway to 24HoursofLeMons.com.

The 24 Hours of LeMons gives everyone from novices to pros a chance to build and race a really low-budget, really crappy car, hopefully like you’ve never built before. Forget about that ’57 Mack dump truck sitting in your neighbor’s backyard—no trucks over 4,200 lb. Whether you’re an expert or a newbie, LeMons racing is all about really close-to-junk cars—you’re not a true gearhead if you don’t enjoy watching a rust-bucket ’69 Volvo 140 wagon dice with a one-time, gently rolled ’78 Pontiac LeMans barn-find.

But remember, a crappy car will cause bodily harm as fast, if not faster, than an F1 ride. That’s why the bulk of your LeMons build is likely to center on mandatory safety improvements, and why safety stuff doesn’t count toward the $500 cost limit. It’s also the reason why every car goes through a stem-to-stern, pre-race tech inspection. LeMons inspectors are just waiting to bust you.

lemons2Safety First

If you’re just starting out, the list of mandatory upgrades might seem intimidating, but remember that nobody expects you to do it all by

yourself. Just take it a step at a time; ask questions about things that confuse you; and you’ll see that it’s not all that hard. Set aside some time and money for high-quality, professional assistance on big stuff like the roll cage. Use common sense—if uncertain how to proceed, don’t wait until tech inspection to find out you guessed wrong. LeMons’ tech inspectors focus on several key areas:

• Roll cage

• Driver’s seat

• Racing harness

• Fire extinguisher

• Fuel tank

• Fuel system

• Electrical cut-off switch

• Race number

A LeMons build isn’t that different from the requirements of any other road racing series. Best of all, once you’ve done it, you’ll either be able to reuse the same car again and again, or knock out another one in a quarter of the time. Some LeMons machines have competed in eight or nine races without major updates. Apparently, some people just like the punishment. Give yourself plenty of time, familiarize yourself with the rules, and enlist expert help where needed. Next thing you know, you’ll be on the grid—and probably wondering why you didn’t just stick to gardening as a hobby.

Dressing up like a real racecar driver is one of the best parts of a LeMons weekend—it’s a rare opportunity for some clown in a Gremlin to look more or less like Michael Schumacher. It also has the attractive side benefit of giving said clown a little bit of protection in the event of a crash or fire. Several key bits of race wear are required for every driver:

• Helmet

• Fire-resistant driving suit, gloves,
and shoes

• Fire-resistant underwear (where

• Racing-grade neck support (per rules)

Some FAQs

What the heck is this series all about? – Launched in 2006, it’s grown into a nationwide series of endurance races for cars that cost $500 or less. Say what? The 24 Hours of LeMons is restricted to cars that were purchased, fixed up, and track-prepped for a total of $500 or less. At most venues, the schedule consists of tech inspection and track testing on Friday; long-endurance-race sessions on Saturday and Sunday; with breaks for eatin’, sleepin’, wound-lickin’, and ego-fixin’ every night.

What exactly is a $500 car? – A car that reaches the starting line for a grand total investment of $500, including purchase and preparation. The only things not included in that figure are approved safety equipment, brakes, and wheels/tires.

Do $500 cars really exist? – Absolutely—for real examples, just look at the photos accompanying this story and the website gallery for more. Craigslist, local bulletin boards, and cruising through crummy neighborhoods are some of the best ways to find heaps that you can snatch from the jaws of the scrap-yard crusher.

Is this, like, real racing? – Yeah, it’s real racing. That said, between the thick scrum of crap cans in front of you and a promoter adverse to long, flat-out straightaways, you’re not going to set any speed records. It’s kind of like driving a hot, noisy, uncomfortable, souped-up ‘50s wheel loader—for a really, really long time.

What about bumpin’, draftin’ and all that good ol’ boy stuff? – Think genteel wine-n-cheese road racing (just kidding), not a NASCAR enduro. While some minor, incidental contact goes without saying, poor driving, lack of car control, intentional contact, chopping, slam-bang bumping, and road rage are subject to punishment by pit penalties, tarring and feathering (honest), and/or expulsion.

How much to enter? – Entry fees are $600 per car and $150 per each driver. That fee covers registration, track time, paddock passes, safety crews, cheap sweatshop-made commemorative crap, and anything else the promoter comes up with. For $75, non-driving team members get all the same bennies except track time.

Will my entry be accepted? – Maybe. Maybe not. Usually, more applications are received than each track can handle. Boring applications reduce your chances. Creative applications such as “Choose us, because we’ll wear beaver costumes in the paddock, and our car is entirely coated in birch bark,” give you much better odds. A catchy team name also helps. Examples:

• Eyesore Racing

• Flying Pigs Racing

• Knoxvegas Lowballers

• New York Rock Exchange

• Petty Cash Racing

• Risky Whiskey Racing

Are prizes awarded? – Absolutely. Over the course of the year, wins for marques, nationalities, all-girls teams, etc., and awarding the Harold Stassen Memorial Stick-to-itiveness Trophy, the Albert Gore, Jr. Carbon-Neutral Cup, and other such venerable honors are part of the shtick. Some teams even win cash. Warning: pocket-change prizes are typically paid in nickels.

Can friends and I come and watch? – Absolutely! Spectators who aren’t driving or wrenching for a team can get all-access paddock passes at the gate–they’re $30 and good all weekend.

If you’re even remotely interested in learning more about this unabashed craziness, you’re not-so-well forewarned here and better advised to check out the wacky website at 24HoursofLeMons.com. Surprisingly, it’s quite sophisticated, yet easy to navigate including: rules, safety, costs, FAQs, forums, blogs, links, photo gallery, videos, social media connections, and more. o

West Races
May 21-22 Thunderhill, CA
July 30-31 Thunderhill, CA
August 27-28 The Ridge Motorsports Park, WA
October 1-2 Buttonwillow Raceway, CA
December 3-4 Sonoma Raceway, CA

Gulf Races
November 12-13 MSR Houston, TX

Midwest Races
June 4-5 High Plains Raceway, CO
July 23-24 Autobahn Country Club, IL
October 8-9 Gingerman Raceway, MI

East Races
May 14-15 New Jersey Motorsports Park, NJ
August 13-14 Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park, CT
October 22-23 New Hampshire Motor Speedway, NH

South Races
September 17-18 Carolina Motorsports Park, SC

Concours d’LeMons Events
July 30 Plymouth, MI
August 20 Seaside, CA

1,500-Mile Rally
August 16-20 Monterey-Las Vegas-Death Valley-Big Sur-Monterey




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