An Old Junk Car Paradise: 24 Hours of LeMons

Written by: Nicholas Brit
The 24 Hours of LeMons, a series of race events that test the endurance of low-grade vehicles, is hosted on paved roads located within the United States. It parodies the original 24 Hours of Le Mans endurance race car series. Competitors mechanically repair cars that do not cost more than five hundred dollars, also known as “lemons,” for the sole purpose of running them into the ground. Endurance races differ from traditional road races, because judges do not impose unusual penalties or punishments on violating participants. The event actually covers an entire weekend, and each of the competitors must pass a set of qualifying endurance courses along with the main event to win a title. The total amount of hours varies according to each venue; however, the organizers vow to run at least one twenty-four hour race annually.
  • 24 Hours of LeMons: The official website of the popular endurance race car series of competing “lemon” vehicles.
The 24 Hours of LeMons endurance race was founded by Jay Lamm in 2006. Jay Lamm launched the 24 Hours of LeMons after its predecessor, the Double 500, became deemed “too easy” for its participants. The Double 500 was a five hundred kilometer road race for “lemons.” The first LeMons races originated in California. In 2008, the LeMons series expanded beyond the west coast, and included associated events on the east coast of the United States, such as South Carolina, Texas, Ohio, and Connecticut. In May of 2008, Court Summerfield, a LeMons race participant, had a heart attack and crashed his car as a result. The local authorities verified that his vehicle did not malfunction. Participants prepare to enter the event by finding and repairing a car that does not cost more than five hundred dollars. The five hundred dollar restriction was set in place, because the event organizers believe that the majority of these vehicles can be considered “lemons.” The rules and regulations of the event parallel some of the standard road racing bodies in the United States. For instance, participants must purchase and prepare a car on a five hundred dollar budget, which includes the initial investment, the incurred cost of modifying its mechanics, labor, sponsorships, and any other expenses associated with the event. The five hundred dollar budget does not include safety equipment approved by the event organizers, such as wheels, tires, oil changes, and brakes. The event organizers allow participants to purchase higher-priced cars and then sell off unnecessary parts. If the judges feel that the car exceeds five hundred dollars, then they penalize the participant by deducting one lap from the total tally. In addition to the budget restrictions, each participating vehicle must have a total of 4 wheels and conform to highway standards at the time of its manufacture. The event organizers obtain the right to purchase the car for five hundred dollars at the end of the race if they have the desire for it. The panel of judges randomly pick one team to destroy their car at some point during the race. The event organizers require every vehicle to have safety equipment, such as a 6-point roll cage, full-face helmet, fire extinguisher, 5 or 6-point race harness, a fire retardant suit/underwear, and a driver's seat that reaches mid-point of the driver's helmet or a higher point of reference. Most of the events are approximately fourteen and a half hours long, and usually take place on the weekend. Each race commences with all participating cars waiting for the signal of a yellow flag that initiates a lap-transponder timer. None of the cars are permitted to pass under yellow, which means all cars can work out their operational flaws and then wait for the officials to verify whether the logistics of the race are properly working. The race begins once the officials wave a green flag at a randomly chosen car. Corner workers use standard racing flags to talk with the drivers. A driver may encounter a black flag on occasion, which means he or she should pull off of the race course to check for issues with their driving or equipment. Drivers may be guilty of a number of infractions ranging from making contact with other vehicles or barriers, destructive aggressive driving, spinning, and driving with two wheels off of the race course. Equipment issues that trigger a black flag may include fluid leaks, inoperative lights, and malfunctioning parts. Drivers must pull their cars over to a station known as “the penalty box” after an official throws a black flag. Officials use checker flags if the race lasts for more than one day. A checker flag simply marks the end of the first race session. The race will start with the top 10 cars lining up in the order they finished the previous day. The winning car will receive the green flag on the second day.
  • LeMons Race 2012: Video footage of one of the 24 Hours of LeMons race in Millville, New Jersey.
The LeMons event organizers have invented a unique set of penalties, which are regulated by an instrument referred to as “The Wheel of Misfortune.” The judges may order various devices to be installed onto the car in order to affect the vehicle's performance. For instance, the “Arc Angel” is a metal silhouette of numerous farm animal representations welded into the vehicle's roof, which ultimately reduces the car's aerodynamic efficiency. Any car that turns upside down during the race will have the “Why Am I Upside-Down?” penalty slapped onto the vehicle. In addition, the team is disqualified from participating in future racing events for the remainder of the season. Other penalties include the “Mime Your Crime,” “Max Mosley S&M,” and “Cry for Me, Argentina!” All of these penalties are engineered to occupy the driver's time, while well-qualifying drivers continue to race. The LeMons event organizers have also invented a unique set of rewards. For instance, the “People's Curse,” cordially invites the most reckless drivers to offer their car up for complete destruction. A panel of spectators judges the offending team and orders a heavy equipment operator to crush the vehicle. If no heavy equipment exists at an event, then an angry crowd is released with wire cutters, hammers, wrenches, screwdrivers, and other tools to completely destroy the vehicle. If the crowd does not feel the car should be destroyed, then it may receive a black flag. The counterpart of the “People's Curse” is the “Organizers Choice,” which is an award that grants the winning team with the friendliest spirit a trophy and a five hundred dollar prize. The car that tallies the most laps before the enforcement of “BS” penalties wins the “Win on Laps” award, which usually grants the winning team a fifteen hundred dollar cash prize in the form of nickles. The grand prize winner of the 24 Hours of LeMons endurance race wins the “Index of Effluency” award. The irony lies in that the winner of the “Index of Effluency” award is unlikely to fully complete the race from start to finish, or even complete a modest number of laps. The cash prize usually tops the “Win on Laps” award by one dollar. Other trophies and awards include the “I Got Screwed,” “Grassroots Motorsports,” “Least or Most Horrible Yank Tank,” “Most Heroic Fix,” “Judges' Choice,” “Dangerous Homemade Technology,” and the “Magazine's Most from the Least” awards.