Why would someone knowingly buy a lemon, and then enter it into an endurance race? We're not talking about a demolition derby. This is legitimate weekend-long racing against clunkers worth no more than $500 apiece.
This is the 24 Hours of LeMons (not to be confused with LeMans, the famous French racetrack). Motivated gearheads take cars destined for the junkyard, fit them with roll cages, and get them as race-worthy as possible. Seriously.
The LeMons series is the brainchild of Jay Lamm, who conceived it over beers with some friends.
"We were talking about how some people solve all of their car problems with a checkbook," he said, presiding over this past week's race, The Boston Tow Party. "If you really wanted to have fun, you were going to have to take the money item out of it. It just seemed like cheap cars and a really long race would force ingenuity out of people."
There was no shortage of ingenuity or creativity at this race, held in Stafford Springs, Conn. The selection in cars ranged from near-unrecognizable Volvos and Alfa Romeos to heavily mutilated Chevy Camaros and Volkswagens. Cars are stripped of just about every interior panel, and every window save for the windshield. Safety equipment is installed and wild decorations applied. Some wield shark fins, while others have child seats fixed to the roof.
Even when it comes to policing the race, fun is had. The closest thing to a race marshal is Murilee Martin, who writes for car blog The Truth About Cars. "The roll of the judges is to provide entertainment for the spectators at the expense of the miscreant drivers," he said. Martin was sporting a cowboy hat and handlebar mustache, and was ready to dole out punishment of a cruel and unusual nature. "If someone screws up on the track today, he and his whole team have to dance the Macarena."
Martin's role is more than just harbinger of humiliation. He also has a hand in the awards, including "Most Heroic Repair," and the "Index of Effluency," which is given to the worst scrap heap that manages to finish an impressive amount of laps.
"What we want to see is a lot more cars that don't belong on a racetrack," Martin said.
While this is a race for the everyman, it's also attracted more experienced drivers.
"Half the guys are pretty experienced racers that are tired of worrying about points and sponsors, and just want to have fun," said Lamm. "The other half are guys that have always wanted to go racing, but could never put the pieces together for a serious team. It's really fifty-fifty."
Regardless of the experience, everyone here has fun. Teams camp out, enjoy a beer together, and there's mutual respect among race crews. This laid-back approach is sure to keep the sport growing, but not too fast.
"We have about two dozen races, which is just fine for now," said Lamm. "As long as people are looking to have fun at a racetrack, there's always going to be room for something like this."
About Boston Overdrive
|Clifford Atiyeh is an automotive writer and car enthusiast . He has spent his entire life driving cars he doesn't own.
In the garage: 1995 21-speed Iron Horse, 2002 Jeep Wrangler X (by association)
|Bill Griffith is a veteran Boston Globe reporter, having reviewed cars for more than 10 years and serving as assistant sports editor for 25 years. He was also the paper's sports media columnist.
In the garage: 2006 Subaru Baja
|John Paul is public affairs manager for AAA Southern New England, a certified mechanic, and a Globe columnist. He hosts a weekly radio show on WROL.
In the garage: Hyundai Sante Fe, Chrysler PT Cruiser convertible
|Craig Fitzgerald has been writing about cars, motorcycles, and the automotive industry since 1999. He is the former editor of Hemmings Sports & Exotic Car.
In the garage: 1968 Buick Riviera, 1996 Buick Roadmaster, 1974 Honda CB450
|Keith Griffin is president of the New England Motor Press Association and edits the used car section on About.com. He also writes for the Hartford Business Journal and various weekly newspapers in Connecticut.
In the garage: Mazda 5, Dodge Neon
|George Kennedy is a senior writer for WheelsTV in Acton, which produces video reviews for Yahoo, MSN, and other auto websites.
In the garage: Lifted 1999 Jeep Cherokee