“What we’ve done here by pointing out that this is just goofy, we’ve said, ‘You don’t have to worry about being a screwup, because we’re all screwups around here,’ “ Lamm says. “A lot of people who have always wanted to try it but have never been able to get their brain around actually doing it are suddenly not afraid of trying it.”
It’s Friday afternoon, less than 24 hours before the race begins, and three judges -- dressed in black robes and long, white curly wigs -- are inspecting the hunks of junk that are scheduled to race. The Frogmasters team wheels in its ride -- an old MGB, they think, with a jam box that’s playing Bob Marley tunes attached to the roof. Frogmasters captain Glen Neighbors and his teammates slip the judges some beads and other treats they picked up on a recent trip to Thailand. The judges happily accept the goods and then, using a stencil cut out from an old pizza-box lid, spray-paint the word bribed on the side of the Frogmasters’ car. You see, bribes are openly accepted at 24 Hours of LeMons. The judges stash the loot on a nearby table filled with gifts from other teams, including Twizzlers, Patrón tequila, T-shirts, gimme caps, Whoppers, Moon- Pies, Slim Jims, and beer. Lots of beer.
Next up in the inspection circle is the team named Brawndo, the Thirst Mutilator. Brawndo driver Patrick Murray and his teammates, piloting a gnarly 1986 Datsun 200SX, come armed with some sugary payola for the judges. This time, however, the judges won’t accept. “They looked at our car and said we didn’t need a bribe,” Murray explains with a laugh.
Another team in the inspection line raises some eyebrows as it rolls up in a rather pristine, relatively late-model BMW E36. Except for the unpainted driver’s-side door, this car is country-club worthy. Team members insist the car cost them less than the $500 cap -- something about a federal seizure, they say. Lamm isn’t buying it.
“You brought the wrong car, the wrong story, and the wrong line of BS ,” he says in good humor. He allows the team to participate, but it gets hit with a 100-lap penalty, erasing any chance of actual victory. Lamm says such fudging and pushing of boundaries is common but that outright bold-faced cheating is pretty rare.
After all, why cheat when the rules are so fun? Everything about the race is playful. The winning team gets $1,500, which is paid in loose nickels. And in a particularly harsh version of frontier justice, a vote is taken to decide which car is to be destroyed by the other competitors halfway through the race’s second day. So be not the jerks of the weekend, lest your vehicle meet an unmerciful demise at the business end of a backhoe or at the mercy of a bunch of sledgehammers.
Even race-day penalties are a hoot. Misbehaving drivers might be required to squeeze into a little doghouse, parade around in adult diapers, or get tarred and feathered (sticky molasses substitutes for hot tar). Drivers who argue could suffer the indignation of a highly public 15-minute hug, or race officials might duct-tape them together and then order them to go fetch someone a hot dog.
Don’t believe it? During this weekend’s race, driver Matt Kucharski’s team gets slapped with multiple infractions, and as punishment for one of them, a chicken made of sheet metal is welded onto the team’s clunky Camaro. Kucharski’s real disappointment is in seeing an earlier rule breaker get a pig welded onto his roof. “We wanted a pig!” Kucharski yells in fake indignation.
“A lot of drivers wear their penalties as a badge of honor,” says Brawndo’s Murray. Remembering several teams that were slathered with mime makeup and forced to perform a Marcel Marceau bit, he says, “I didn’t see too many of them wipe off their paint afterward.”
Welded chickens are all well and good, but the made-up penalties and goofy rules are just accoutrements to the sometimes-overlooked main event: the race. As LeMons officials put it, the event is two days of “mayhem, chaos, and confusion … mixed with sporadic bursts of real racing.” At a prerace drivers’ meeting, Lamm reminds the group of mostly male drivers that this is “real racing, and real racing is dangerous.” But that’s as serious as it gets. From there, he allows that it’s only kind of, sort of real racing.
“People out there are going to do things that don’t make a lot of sense,” he warns. “That’s part of the deal.”