Looking to burn rubber (and possibly a battery)? Do you feel the need for (relatively moderate) speed? At the 24 Hours of LeMons, all you need in order to race is a cheap car and a sense of humor.Photographs by Van Ditthavong.
The junkers, jalopies, and lemons scraping the concrete here at the Mercedes-Benz of Sugar Land Road Course, otherwise known as the MSR Houston, in Houston, Texas, are cars only in the academic sense; they have four wheels, an engine, and a body. But pricey driving machines sprinting regally around a track they are not. This is 24 Hours of LeMons, a comically peculiar two-day car race -- and the term race is used loosely here -- where beaters, clunkers, and underdogs finally have their day.
Take the vehicle of Team Beermer, for example. It’s an absolute mess -- more rusty than an old barbed-wire fence, with two beer kegs welded onto the back. It takes three mighty engine cranks just to coax the sickly beast into the prerace inspection area. Jay Lamm -- the founder, owner, and so-called Chief Perpetrator of the race -- takes one look at this affront to sleek machinery and then scrunches up his face like he’s just seen roadkill and proclaims dismissively, “This is a piece of crap! Roll it out of here. It passes!” Yep, passes.
This is not your typical car race. The rules here are simple: Anyone can enter, but contestants that get to compete can spend no more than $500 on their car before adding safety equipment. Think about that. You can’t get a good mattress for $500.
If the notion of careening around a racetrack in some lawsuit-waiting-to-happen heap sounds ridiculous, well, that’s pretty much the point. Lamm and a few of his friends dreamed up the idea for the race three years ago as a response to the racing industry, which, in their opinion, had started to take itself far too seriously. Absolutely no preening, pretension, or poseurs would be allowed at their race. Instead, there would be wacky themes and wretched decorations. They gave the event a tongue-in-cheek name (a spoof of the prestigious 24 Hours of Le Mans race, which is held yearly in France) and hosted their first race several months later in Northern California’s Altamont Motorsports Park.