Engaging in motor racing is a lavish indulgence that demands substantial financial resources and entails extensive, and at times tedious, preparation. However, similar to any other field, there are alternatives available for individuals seeking to invest minimal time and money. These alternatives cater to those who possess a hint of adventurous spirit or a touch of eccentricity.
One of the best-known alternatives in the world is the 24 Hours of LeMons, a race that takes place in the US, Australia, and New Zealand. You have probably heard of the title, which is no surprise. 24 Hours of LeMons is actually a parody of 24 Hours of Le Mans, a prestigious race that each motor sports enthusiast dreams to see.
The fundamental requirement for participating in LeMons is that the cost of the car must not exceed USD 500 (or AUD 999 in Australia, or NZD 999 in New Zealand). In order to meet this budget constraint, participants are not permitted to include expensive security systems. Instead, the focus is on essential safety features such as a roll cage, racing harness, fire-resistant suit, and other necessary components, which can quickly accumulate costs beyond the set limit.
The price control mechanism in LeMons is straightforward. If the organizers suspect that a participant's car exceeds the specified budget, they impose a penalty of one additional lap for every USD 10 over the set amount. At the conclusion of the race, the organizers have the option to purchase the participant's car at the maximum indicated price.
Similar to the original Le Mans race, the LeMons race spans 24 hours, with some exceptions, and each car is driven by multiple racers. After the race concludes, the victorious teams celebrate by spraying champagne, echoing the tradition of the prestigious event.
Contrary to its unconventional nature, the 24 Hours of LeMons series holds a Guinness World Record for "Most Participants in One Race," achieved in 2014 when 216 cars started at the Thunderhill Raceway Park.
The concept of LeMons racing originated relatively recently, in 2006. It evolved from another event called the Double 500 series, which challenged cars priced at USD 500 to complete 500 kilometers. However, the organizers deemed this task too easy, even for inexperienced participants, leading to the introduction of the 24-hour endurance race.
Initially, only one 24-hour LeMons race took place in the first year. However, starting from 2008, the number of races steadily increased, and presently, a dozen events are held across three countries.
Where is the reason for the popularity of this event? Affordability. Like rookie car collectors still can relatively easily purchase a classic Mini or Volkswagen Käfer, rookie racers can take part in lemon races to find out what they prefer – competition or just time spending on the track.
True, the race is complicated because there is no fastest lap award. There is no guarantee that the prize will be awarded for the racer who first saw the chequered flag, either. The organizers of LeMons have a unique penalty system for a wide range of misconduct, for example, aggressive driving.
At the heart of the LeMons system lies the captivating feature called "The Wheel of Misfortune," which is set into motion when a team commits a misconduct. Depending on the outcome of the wheel spin, the team is assigned a range of diverse tasks as penalties. For instance, they might be required to weld an oversized fake monkey onto the roof of their car, significantly compromising its aerodynamics. Another penalty could be linked to the specific location of the competition. For example, during the 24 Hours of LeMons in South Carolina, there is a penalty known as the "Mark Sanford's Cry For Me, Argentina Memorial Penalty." In this case, the driver who incurs this penalty must inscribe a love letter to their Argentine lover, who happens to be a former governor of the state, on the surface of the car.
These penalty tasks, characterized by their whimsical and contextual nature, inject a sense of humor and uniqueness into the LeMons races, setting them apart from conventional racing events.
All penalties are intended for aggressive driver’s loss of time – it is thus expected that pilots will not be aggressive and will not start fighting for each centimetre of the track, but participate for their pleasure.
24 Hours of LeMons has four main awards, with one being served in the middle of the race. This is the People’s Curse prize for the worst car and worst drivers chosen by race viewers. Penalty – the end of the race and complete car smash.
The People’s Choice Award is served to the team that best conveys the friendly spirit of the event – the team gets USD 500 and the cup. The team whose car after all penalties beat the highest number of laps gets the major prize of LeMons – the big cup. Well, because, basically, they are the winners of the race.
However, many people think that the major prize is the Index of Effluency Award. It is served for the team who saw the chequered flag and whose car at the start did not seem to reach the finish line, and, before that, it has beaten a decent part of all distance. For this award, which is selected by the organizers, the winner gets the biggest cup and USD 501.
In addition to these four, there are many less important prizes. For example, participants in the competition are still divided into various classes, and the winners get cash prizes of USD 500 and some even get such awards as Most Heroic Fix, Least (or most) Horrible Yank Tank etc.
These are competitions whose organizers know what the phrase “fun to drive” means and make every effort that the participants would perceive it, too.
24 Hours of Lemons: The World's Craziest Race | Donut Media