24 Hours of LeMons!

October 15th, 2006 by William

On October 6th, the first annual running of the 24 Hours of LeMons was held at a small track in Altamont, California. Brain child of well-known editor and personal friend Jay Lamm, this was a race for cars that were purchased, repaired and track prepared for a total of $500 or less. Qualifying consisted of three thrilling events: the mannequin slalom, the baby carriage braking test, and my personal favorite the brick on the gas pedal test.
With a full 34 car grid, on 1/3 mile circuit, no one knew what to expect. But everyone was pretty sure that there would be good amounts of smoke, fire and carnage.

The pit on race day looked like a scene straight out of the pic n’ pull. Junkers from myriad manufacturers, jalopies of all shapes and sizes were strewn about the pits receiving last minute adjustments. Most of this delicate pre-race tuning involved some combination of sledge hammer and pry bar.

Jay invited me to drive his ‘87 Toyota Corolla in the event. From the front the Corolla looked more like an $800 dollar car. But when you walked around the back and saw the aftermath of a run-in with a tow truck, it was clear that this Toyota was a genuine $250 “crapcan”. While it was ineligible to win the event because it was the organizer’s car the Corolla was an absolute hoot thrash around the track in.

When the green flag dropped the excitement began. The noise was absolutely incredible. Imagine your favorite movie car chase or accident scene, multiply that noise by a factor of 50, then stretch it out for 13 hours, and your starting to get a sense of what it was like. Oil and tire smoke made it hard for even the spectators to see, and the pungent aroma made it impossible to taste food for the next several days.

The track itself was a great layout. Altamont speedway has several configurations. Jay chose one that kept top speeds down to about 70 mph and mixed in some good left and right hand turns. Although this was technically a no-contact event, there was plenty of rubbing, spinning and crunching. But with such a slow track the sense of danger was greatly minimalized.

As drivers became more aggressive the flagmen started waving the black flag. This meant you had to come into the pit for a penalty. In normal racing this would just be a stop and go time penalty. But in the Lemons race this meant you had to spin The Wheel of Misfortune. Probably the most brutal penalty was the “Grill of Damocles”. This was a big plate with large metal spikes sticking out of it. The plate would be welded to your radiator supports with the spikes facing in so that if you decide to bump anyone your day would be over quickly. Other punishments included welding barnyard animals to car roofs, welding training wheels to car doors, and having a tape deck installed in your car out of the drivers reach with selections such as Mannheim Steamroller’s Christmas album blaring at full volume.

Because the track had to close down at 10 PM for noise reasons, the race time was really more like 13 hours or roughly 1100 laps of the speedway. It was split up into two days. After the first day of racing all the teams voted for “the people’s curse” award. This was to be given to the car that was driven by the biggest jerks or didn’t look like a true $500 entry. The recipient of this award was to have their car smashed by a group of girls wielding pickaxes and sledge hammers. The winner (or loser as the case may be) was an Oldsmobile Aurora that looked just a little too nice. The girls were turned loose and did their worst. Afterwards the car was flipped on its roof by the rest of the onlookers. Remarkably it still started right up and ended up finishing the race in the noblest fashion.

The victors were a team from Road and Track driving a 1982 Toyota Corolla. The rear axle of the car blew up with about 2 laps to go, and in a fitting show of comradery they were pushed the final 2 laps by the people’s curse winners.

The prize for winning the race……$1500 in nickels.

For more information on the event, pictures and a track map go to http://www.24hoursoflemons.com

Carnage at LeMons

Photo by Craig Howell
-Bill Mertz

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2 Responses to “24 Hours of LeMons!”

  1. bc in nyc Says:

    hey bill - this was a great story.
    and to think i drove lemons for 10 years and never got anything out of it except for a frequent sinking feeling in my stomach whenever I smelled smoke out on the freeway.

  2. William Says:

    Thanks for the kudos. It looks like the event will be on for next year. With all your lemon driving experience I would think you would be a shoe-in for finishing in the top 5.

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About William

I am a twenty something car enthusiast. I spend most of my days working in a small restoration shop in Northern California that specializes in vintage Alfa Romeos. I also manage to do some freelance writing for a handful of automotive publications. When I'm not at the shop I can usually be found working on one of my own project cars, out driving on a good windy road or good jeep trail. Despite what my girlfriend says cars aren't what defines me, they are only what I do. When I have a chance I also love to go camping, play sports or generally do any type of outdoor activity. I don't take myself to seriously, so I hope you don't either.

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