What is LeMons?
24 Hrs of LeMons is an endurance racing series for cars costing less than $500. There’s an emphasis on absurdity. The title is a parody of the long running annual 24 Hours of Le Mans race, and lemon cars. Teams of four or more drivers compete for up to 24 hours.
These races set themselves apart from the typical road race by the unusual penalties and punishments dished out by judges, as well as a blatant disregard for traditional motorsport politicking. The series is similar to the ChumpCar World Series which developed out of it (and which I ran at Road America in 2015), but retains a more carnival-like atmosphere. The cars and teams tend to have themes and costumes. The series has been in operation since 2006.
Teams come from all over the country to enter these races. This weekend’s race has entrants from Oklahoma, Texas, Utah, Illinois, and Michigan, and who knows where else.
The first car I owned that was titled in my name was my 1978 Plymouth Arrow. I bought it new in May of 1979 for $4,604.19. I had been looking to buy one for several months. I’d made offers on them and been turned down. There were five Plymouth dealers in Denver at the time, and I visited all of them. In January of 1979 I made an offer of $4,600 for a car at Colorado Chrysler Plymouth. They turned me down. It was this car that I bought for $4.19 more five months later. I drove that car 192,000 miles before trading it in. It was nothing like a race car. Shortly before I replaced it, I timed it from 0-60 at 22 seconds.
I met Brett when I was arranging with Dennis to drive his Chump Car. Not long after I met him, Brett sent an email to the group telling us he had an Arrow he wanted to turn into a race car. I couldn’t believe it. I’m pretty sure I haven’t seen one since I got rid of mine back in 1987. I went to his house and he showed me that he had three of them. This was a few years ago and I had more or less forgotten about it. In December, for some unknown reason, I wondered if he had ever gotten around to building his Arrow race car and reached out to him. I told him if he built it I wanted to drive it.
I told him I had no mechanical aptitude and just wanted to drive it. He and his team worked frantically for about six months getting the car ready. I made a few token appearances but was fundamentally uninvolved in developing the car. But I had talked to Brett about costs and agreed to his fee. I bought my Lemons license and wrote Brett a check. As the race approached we were still in touch via Facebook, going over trivia such as what our uniforms were and whether I’d camp at the track or commute. They were working feverishly on the car, and I thought I’d made it clear that I had nothing to contribute mechanically speaking. And Brett never made any specific requests to me for help, so I thought we were good.
Saturday June 9
I arrived at the track about 7:30 and found the team. I greeted Brett and he asked if I was there to race. “Yes, I am.” But he’s upset with me because I wasn’t helping on the car. They’d had some long nights, staying up until 3am and I was absent. They all assumed I was going to be a no-show today and he’s not sure he wants me to drive. He wants to think about it; he’s ready to give me my money back and send me home. This is clearly not an empty threat. They have the drivers names on the car and my name isn’t there. While he’s thinking about it, he said I should take my gear and get checked in.
My clothing passes tech and I get my tech sticker placed on my helmet. They check my name off the drivers list.
In the mean time, the team is making the final adjustments in preparation for getting the car to pass tech inspection. One of the problems they’d been having included a fuel leak near the fuel filter. Also, the filter had clogged up, so they find a replacement (a giant filter that would work on a Ford F-150 truck) and install it. With the car running, there’s no leak and they call it done and drive it over for the inspection. It passes.
The car runs, but we had no gauges: no fuel gauge, no speedometer, no tach, no temperature gauges. Brett gathers us drivers around and goes over some final instructions. The object is to get the car to the end of the race tomorrow afternoon. Don’t stress it, don’t overtax it. Keep it under 5100 rpm (without a tach!). Go easy on the brakes. Then there’s a deal for charity. Do we want to contribute $100? That would be $20 each. We agree, but (as is usual for me) I’m carrying about $12 cash. I tell Brett I’ll pay him back tomorrow and he agrees, but gives me an exasperated look.
While they were getting Jan in the car I managed to mount the old GoPro. I have a spare battery for the old camera so between the two cameras and extra battery I should be able to get video for three drivers. Each camera should run about an hour and a half. I don’t get it turned on, though. (It looks like Jan spotted the camera and tried to get it running, but there are two clips totaling less than 30 seconds, so she didn’t get it figured out. I assume it was Jan; whoever it was had a helmet on and I can’t see their face.)
Jan is first in the car. While she’s driving, we need to get some supplies. Brett divides the list among us, sending me and Steve to get gas. We throw eight 5 gallon containers into the back of his truck and head off to the truck stop twenty miles away for fuel. I pump the gas and Steve grabs some Mountain Dew and snacks. I learn that, at this gas station at least, you can only pump $95 worth of gas on a single transaction. I do another transaction for $43 more. I pumped forty one and a half gallons into our eight 5 gallon jugs.
Along the way we chat. He’s an interesting guy, spent a number of years in the Navy on nuclear submarines. He’s had some rough times and faces some challenges. We’re gone about an hour and at one point in the conversation he mentions that they had a guy who just wanted to drive, which is frowned upon by the team. I’m not sure whether he’s talking about me or not.
When we get back we find that the car has been out for only one lap. Brett reimburses me for the gas, and I clear my $20 debt with him then.
James goes out next, comes back in pretty quickly with a fuel filter problem again. I have all my gear on the ground near the rear of the driver’s side of the car. As part of their diagnosis/fix of the problem, somebody has taken the gas cap off the car and when they blow compressed air through the fuel system, gas fountains out of the tank, drenching all my gear. Only moments before I had picked up the SLR, so it didn’t get doused. But all that was in the bag – my drivers suit, Nomex underwear, Nomex socks, driving boots, both GoPro cameras and the bag of accessories – got drenched as did my helmet sitting next to the bag. I spread all my gear out to get it dry, wipe off the cameras, squeeze out the gas soaking the padding in my helmet. My undershirt wasn’t hit too badly, but my long johns got it pretty good across the front. It all dries fairly quickly but everything I have smells strongly of gas.
I’m next in the car. I managed to swap the camera so I know I have a fresh battery. We have no radios, no pit board. How long should I stay in the car? Brett says it’s hot and I won’t want to be out long. I tell him otherwise; that I will have no problem staying in the car as long as he wants. He wants me out for an hour. I figure 20 laps will be about an hour and attempt to count my laps. I miscount, come in after 22. Half way through my stint a piece of the roll cage padding comes off. It’s a piece of plastic about four inches long. It rolls around by my feet, never getting stuck behind any pedals but annoying me several times. By now my groin area is a bit uncomfortable because of the gasoline on my long johns. It’s not bad and goes away shortly thereafter. They were dry by the time I put them on, so perhaps it was just my imagination.
At the end of my session I am black flagged. We were told that we can race after we pass the incident that caused the yellow flag. I’m following two cars and after we pass the tow truck, I pass the other two cars. It looked like the first guy was holding up the second and I got a good run. But no, we’re still under yellow and I get black flagged immediately. When I report, I tell them I’d passed the tow truck and thought we could race. “Don’t you think it was odd you passed somebody in this car?” But most cars were slow in the corkscrew and turn 3. Many are on the brakes when I’m on the throttle, so I’m faster than a lot of cars in those spots. Two or three other cars are reporting for their black flags immediately behind me so I wasn’t alone.
Later, a driver for one of the other teams comes up to us for a chat. He was a car or two behind me when I got black flagged. He says, “You got robbed!” He agrees with me that we had passed the incident and were okay to race. The track had not yet gone full-course yellow until after I made the pass. Previous corners had one white flag and one yellow. It wasn’t until after the start/finish that I saw two yellow flags. He said the corner worker at the station that flagged me wasn’t paying full attention and had to look up from her phone to wave the black flag at me. While it’s nice to have somebody siding with me, and I find it odd that so many of cars got flagged at the same time, I have to take his report with a grain of salt.
Hank is next in the car. We want to call him in for fuel. Brett and I are waiting near the pits for him but he never shows. Finally we see him on the flatbed. He’d had a wheel fall off. A spacer failed and the front left wheel went its own way just before turn 7. The arrival of the flatbed and stricken car draws a crowd, everybody snapping cell phone pictures. Hank looks a bit forlorn sitting in the car.
One of the teams nearby loans us a wheel that fits. After an hour to effect repairs, the car is back on the track with Brett behind the wheel. He gets called in because of a report that we’re leaking fuel. The LeMons guys can’t smell gas, so it’s not us. Brett thinks it’s the multi-colored 5 series BMW (which turns out to be the car driven by John F, one of my Lotus friends). Brett goes back out. I hang around the LeMons guys, curious to see what they’re doing. One looks at me: “Are you with the 5 car?” Yes. “Go to race control and watch the video to see where your wheel went.” I do. Glen tells me we can retrieve it with a truck after the track goes cold.
Brett stays out for the rest of the day (about another hour). A few minutes before the checkered flag we see him coming back being pushed by Glen on his quad. Brett ran it out of gas and ran it out of brakes.
We go looking for Glen to get permission to take a truck out for the tire. Can’t find him. We ask the LeMons guys where Glen is so we can get his clearance to go retrieve our wheel. They say no motorized vehicles are allowed on the track without Glen’s permission and are a miffed that we’re even looking to bother Glen. So we have to walk out with a wagon to get it. I borrow a wagon from the team next to us in the garage and we go searching. Aaron and James ride bikes, I drag the wagon. On the track, rolling the wagon behind me, my inner six-year-old wants to jump in the wagon and go sailing down the hill. I resist the temptation.
Glen is out sweeping the track. He stops and we talk. “I thought you were going to take a truck out to find your wheel.” LeMons guys said we couldn’t, and didn’t seem to like us looking for you.
We spend 20 minutes searching before we find it. I’m wearing shorts, traipsing through waist-high weeds and thistle. I get a bunch of burrs in my socks and later learn I got about twenty mosquito bites. Aaron and James ride back to the paddock and I trudge along pulling the wagon, chatting with a group of guys out walking the track.
Back in the paddock, they’re replacing the brake pads and fluid. I worked the brake during the flush, which is about the limit of my technical expertise. Brakes flushed, I ask Brett “would you be upset if I asked to leave now?” I get permission. It’s 9pm.
When I get home and start copying the video files to the hard drive, I discover that the gasoline has damaged the plastic on the housing for the newer GoPro. I’ll need to get it replaced before I go to Road America.