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View Full Version : Other Sports 24 Hours of LeMons - This sounds like an event tailor made for ChiefsPlanet


JimNasium
09-30-2008, 08:59 AM
http://www.nytimes.com/2008/09/28/automobiles/28LEMONS.html?_r=1&oref=slogin&pagewanted=print

September 28, 2008
Wheelspin
When Life Hands You Lemons, Race Them
By EDDIE ALTERMAN

Toledo, Ohio

IF, as Steve McQueen said in the film “Le Mans,” “Racing, it’s life,” then the organizers of the 24 Hours of LeMons would appear to take a very dim view of existence. According to Jay Lamm, the creator of LeMons, the race is “nasty, brutish and not short enough.”

Conceived in 2006 in mock homage to the 24 Hours of Le Mans in France, the LeMons is likewise a marathon of man and machine. But unlike the gentlemanly Gallic race, LeMons is a 24-hour brawl and, more defining, nice cars are not welcome. The rules say that teams can spend no more than $500 on their vehicles before adding safety gear.

So this is a race of junkers, and the one that lasts from Saturday to Sunday while turning the most laps is the winner, rewarded with a prize of $1,500 — all of it in nickels.

I was embedded with a team of Ford and Car and Driver magazine employees in the race held on Sept. 13-14 at the Toledo Speedway. This is a banked oval that, when not being used as a track, plays host to the kind of classic-rock acts that perform at racetracks.

The six-person Car and Driver team was fielding a 1985 Pontiac Fiero, famous in its day for throwing engine rods and catching fire. The team leader, Mike Austin, and his sister Erica painted the car in the green-and-red-over-white of the Alitalia livery, so that the Fiero looked like the great Lancia Stratos rally car of the ’70s. The main difference between the two is that the Lancia won a lot of races.

The last time Austin’s Fiero competed, in 2007, the car lasted seven laps before its transmission failed. For the Toledo race, Austin rebuilt everything that traditionally goes wrong with these cars — gearbox, pop-up headlights, ashtray.

Compared with the rest of the field of about 50 cars, the Pontiac looked museum-ready. Imagine gathering up a bunch of malaise-era cars that had been abandoned at the side of the highway. Then picture them painted in wacky themes and set loose on a racetrack. That is the spectacle of LeMons.

At Toledo, there was an Army-green GMC pickup called First Blood with a likeness of a machine-gun-wielding Sly Stallone in the back and a Mazda RX-7 with a driver’s door decal of a headless body relieving itself on a toilet, with the driver filling in the head of the image. All had seen the business end of a Sawzall. LeMons is part Halloween, part Indy 500 and part open-heart surgery performed with a plastic picnic knife.

Because the cars are limited to $500 (no receipt required), cheating is rampant. Lamm has attempted to prevent overspending with two inspections. The first group of officials ensures that the cars are loosely trackworthy, applying a windshield sticker that reads “Good Enough” to all approved vehicles. The second group checks for hardware that could push the car past its $500 limit and docks offenders one lap for every $10 spent. These judges wear black robes and white wigs and are also recognizable by their bribe jars.

One Toledo judge, David E. Davis Jr., the well-traveled editor and publisher of various car magazines, was impressed with the quality of the cheats. “There was one team whose car looked just awful outside, but had all kinds of trick racing stuff underneath,” he said.

And what about the bribes? “Not so good,” he said. “Some guy actually stole the fiver I put in the jar for bait.”

Lamm has developed penalties to keep the action clean on the track. For example, balloons filled with ketchup and mustard were attached to track barriers, marking any vehicles that illegally bumped a barrier. Those vehicles had to pull into the pits for Lamm’s frontier justice. He or a staff member threw a dart at a board marked with punishments like the “Colonel Sanders”: a mixture of corn syrup and water dumped on a driver, followed by feathers from a pillow.

After accruing a fourth penalty, teams are ejected. Also, participants vote for the People’s Curse award, in which the car voted the most annoying is destroyed in spectacular fashion before the crowd.

If this sounds like a mutant subculture, Lamm said he didn’t intend it that way. “I thought nobody else besides my friends would be dumb enough to do this,” he said. “It didn’t occur to me back in 2006 that this was anything more than a one-shot deal.”

What inspired LeMons, which is held several times a year at tracks around the country? (A schedule is at 24hoursoflemons.com.) “Two things,” Lamm said. “You seem to get a more entertaining group of guys when you eliminate the checkbook-rich. Secondly, racing is boring when everything’s going well. It’s when you’re trying to fix the car that things become fun and communal.” Crummy cars plus a long race, he added, “equals maximum entertainment.”

During the race, the Fiero ran great for five hours while Austin and Jon Yanca were at the wheel. Then, as night settled in, I suited up for a stint in the car. Austin warned of the Pontiac’s slipping clutch and worn outer front tire. He did not adequately describe the insanity.

On my second lap, a Toyota Celica, a few hours late to arrive and working furiously to make up time, bumped the Fiero in the rear. Later, in the chicane on the course’s infield, a Plymouth Fury clipped my passenger-side mirror. Contact with a Monte Carlo relieved the Fiero of its other side mirror.

With no real rearward visibility but a yen for self-preservation, I surrendered and handed the car over to a teammate, Patrick Hespen. I had driven only half an hour — not my proudest moments.

The Fiero kept going. Then at 10:30 p.m., Hespen was T-boned in the passenger door by a Toyota Corolla. Finally, at 4 a.m., Yanca got sandwiched between two cars and was hit simultaneously front and rear. The main brake line was severed, knocking the Fiero from the race with 679 laps completed.

Night turned LeMons into a war of attrition, scattering the field with hulks. A paddock-bound Ford Escort bore a sign, “Wanted: 1989 Ford Escort engine.” The contact-prone Celica shed a wheel.

By morning, roughly half of the cars remained. One, a Honda Accord, lost its right front-wheel hub with just an hour left. But the driver, Cliff Salvesen of Ostrander, Ohio, wasn’t distraught. “I came here with a bunch of people from work to have fun,” he said. “We were kind of surprised we made it this far.”

The winning car, with more than 2,000 laps under its hoodless body, was a Toyota Supra fielded by employees of Pratt & Miller, an actual LeMans racing team. The People’s Curse award went to the aggressively driven First Blood pickup. The crowd beat it with sledgehammers and bricks and used a jaws-of-life tool to peel off its roof.

LeMons, fortunately, is not life, but for those who say it’s not even a real race, Austin said: “In terms of teamwork and competition, this is as real as it gets. Here, there is a fine line between victory and defeat. Even when you’re winning, you’re still kind of a loser.”

chasedude
09-30-2008, 09:10 AM
And what about the bribes? “Not so good,” he said. “Some guy actually stole the fiver I put in the jar for bait.”:LOL:

Sounds more like a demo derby marathon. I think I'd be fun to be on a team like that. I'm not good mechanically but I'm sure I could knock a few off the track ;)

JimNasium
09-30-2008, 10:05 AM
:LOL:

Sounds more like a demo derby marathon. I think I'd be fun to be on a team like that. I'm not good mechanically but I'm sure I could knock a few off the track ;)

I particularly liked the People's Curse award.

Bob Dole
09-30-2008, 10:41 AM
That sounds like an absolute hoot.