By on May 8, 2014


It’s 7:30 PM on Wednesday Night in an undisclosed city. A local career center classroom is the meeting place. The rows of ancient wooden desks have been cast to the outskirts of the room, and a circle of dusty chairs has been arranged in the center.

One by one, a seemingly random assortment of characters enters through the creaky door and silently chooses a seat, until only one seat remains. The last seat is finally taken, by a man in his mid-thirties, adorned by a mop of curly hair and a Lacoste polo shirt. The room, once abuzz with conversation, goes suddenly silent as he begins to speak.

“Welcome,” he says, “to our Fear of Racing support group.” A murmur of acknowledgement comes from the seated assembly around him.

“I see we have some new members tonight. If you’re new, please introduce yourself to us.”

A lanky, pale man, no more than twenty-five in age, and wearing uncomfortably short khaki shorts, stands up.

“Uh, hi. My name is—”

“No names here, young man,” interrupts the group moderator, kindly.

“Oh, right. Well, um, anyway, I like fast cars. I like them a lot, actually. I’ve bought a couple of them, and I love taking pictures of them and talking about them on the internet. But I would never, ever, EVER go racing. It’s too scary.” As he finishes speaking, a little tremor enters his voice.

“Thank you. How about you, young man?”

Another youngish man, dressed in flashy clothing and sporting a Sonic the Hedgehog haircut stands up. “Hi, there.” He stares at the floor and slightly shuffles his feet.

“Go on. Tell us your story.”

“I like Street Racing. I live my life a quarter mile at a time.” Audible groans come from the rest of the room. “What? Seriously, I do…for those ten seconds or less, I’m—”

“All right, all right. We understand. Why are you afraid to race?”

“Well…I just don’t know about the turning part. That seems like it would be hard. Also, my paint job is expensive. I wouldn’t want to scratch it up.”

“Thank you for sharing. How about you, sir?”

A somewhat hefty man raises from his chair, clearly uncomfortable with the whole setting.

“I don’t really know why I’m here. I mean, I’m not afraid to race. I race every weekend.”

The rest of the group looks somewhat knowingly at each other and says, almost in unison, “Autocrosser.”

“Yeah, so? I see more corners per second than an F1 driver! I’m a national champion! I have more car control than all of you!” He starts to shake his fist at an unseen aggressor. The room starts shouting back at him in protest.

“Okay, okay, everyone. That’s enough!” The moderator waits for the room to calm down, and then speaks very quietly—so quietly that the others in the room strain to hear.

“The truth is, I was once afraid to race, too.” The room collectively gasps. “It’s true. Let me tell you my story about how I overcame my fears…”


Let’s be honest. The prospect of racing wheel-to-wheel on a race track can be imposing, ominous, or just plain downright terrifying for many, many reasons. There’s the risk of damaging your car, the cost of participation, the licensing process, and, of course, the risk to one’s physical well-being.

Luckily, there’s a popular form of racing now that addresses nearly all of those fears. If you’ve been following along on TTAC for any length of time, you’ll know that we’ve made several attempts, both individually and collectively, to compete and win at a 24 Hours of LeMons and/or Chump Car race.

As such, I’ve learned a couple of things about LeMons from a newbie’s perspective. There’s definitely a right and a wrong way to do it. I’m here to let you, the readership, in on a few things I’ve learned so that you don’t have to repeat my mistakes. Also, we’ll address those fears that you may have that are keeping you from participating.

First thing you need to know is that you don’t have to have your own car. There are several reputable teams that have seats available for rent at very reasonable rates—expect to pay anywhere from $400-$1000, depending on the amount of time that you want to drive the car. They will often post their available seats on the 24 Hours of LeMons forums. The problem is that there are also several disreputable teams that have seats, too. The difference between the two can be difficult to determine on your own if you’re new to the sport.

Fortunately, all the results from previous LeMons races are available on their website, Look for teams that have completed high numbers of laps on a consistent basis. $500 cars will occasionally break (shocker) and on-track accidents will occur, so you want to look for a pattern of good performance over several races, if possible.

Of course, it never hurts to get a personal recommendation from somebody who has rented a seat from a team before—and I have one for you! If you’re in the Midwest, East, or South, I highly recommend working with Daniel Sycks and his group of talented drivers and mechanics. When I rented a seat from his group, they not only brought a great car, they also brought a team a skilled mechanics and two backup cars as parts cars. When a mechanical failure happened, as they inevitably do in LeMons, the entire team was focused on diagnosing the problem and remedying it as quickly as possible. I was free to focus entirely on driving.

Daniel also provided lap times and coaching over the radio as I drove, and when I was off pace early in my shift, due to having never driven the track or that car before, Daniel continued to be positive with his feedback. Highly recommended.


Next, you have to determine your comfort level on track. Autocross can be a great way to learn the driving dynamics of cars at relatively low speeds, and the chance of harming either yourself or your car is somewhat low. However, LeMons racing is FAST—much faster than I anticipated that it would be. It’s quite common to achieve speeds of well over 100 MPH on track, and you’ll be doing it in the close proximity of others. In order to get comfortable driving at the sorts of speeds you will experience in LeMons, you will want to do some open lapping days at the very least, and some HPDE days with a coach is recommended. The type of car won’t matter a whole lot—your daily driver should be fine, provided that it is in trackable condition. Before my first LeMons race, I had two coaching sessions on track (one at Nelson Ledges and one at Miller Motorsports Park). Even after that, the feeling you have when you go into a corner three wide at nearly a hundred miles per hour cannot be easy simulated—you just kinda have to do it.

You’re also going to have to get the necessary safety equipment. The LeMons website has links to sites where one can purchase the equipment required to pass minimal safety tech. However, you’ve got to ask yourself…is this really the sort of situation where you just want to do the bare minimum? Go ahead and get your 37 pieces of flair—buy a good helmet and a HANS device, a five-second fire suit (at minimium), gloves, socks, and shoes, and make sure it all fits properly. You’re likely going to catch the racing bug (or be scared to death and never do it again, but we’ll talk about that later), so buy stuff that you won’t mind using again and again.

Now, when you get to the track, be prepared to be overly helpful to your team. If you have mechanical skills, be prepared to offer them. If you don’t (like me), be prepared to offer to make food runs, parts runs, man a radio…whatever you can do to be helpful. Here’s why: you’re likely going to be slow on track your first time. Don’t compound the frustration for your teammates by being a douchenozzle. Be humble. Be kind. Offer all the assistance you can. Trust me, they’ll appreciate it.

Finally, at some point, you’re going to get strapped behind the wheel of a very loud, noisy, old, uncomfortable car. Let me be the first to reassure you: you will be terrified. Or, at least, you should be. You’re about to enter a race track that you have likely never driven in a car that you have likely never drive, and you’re going to have to maintain competition-type speeds or you’re going to be a danger to yourself and everyone around you.

Relax. It’s okay. Everybody on that track has had the same feeling that you will be experiencing. Take a deep breath, remember what all the flags mean, don’t go over the blend line when you go on track (like I did), and go have fun. However, there are some things to keep in mind.

Many of the 24 Hours of LeMons races are, in fact, 24 hours long. That means that there are portions that must be driven in the dark. DO NOT DO THIS FOR YOUR FIRST STINT. I speak from experience here—my first ever LeMons driving stint was in the pitch black dark. I was terrified. I had to talk myself down every single lap. I was basically following the reflectors around the track, which did not equate to a fast lap time.

So, assuming that you’ll driving during the daylight for your first session, you’ll want to make sure that you are driving on the racing line at about 8/10 of what you feel your fastest possible pace could be. Let people go off line to pass you, if they must. Don’t contest corners. The most important things you can do as a member of a LeMons team are:

  • continue to turn laps at a decent pace
  • don’t break the car

Anything else is secondary. Once you begin to get comfortable in the car and with the track, you can increase your speed and your pace. I started in my session at Carolina Motorsports Park turning laps around 2:15. By the end, I was turning them at 2:03, which was right in line with the other experienced drivers on my team. Most importantly, I didn’t do anything to endanger the car or my fellow competitors.

If (okay, when) your car breaks, relax. It probably wasn’t your fault, but even it if was, you need to get the car off track to a place where you’re unlikely to be hit by one of the other 85 cars. Sit and wait patiently. A tow truck will come and get you.

Finally, remember to HAVE FUN!! Teams that are willing to rent seats to a newbie probably aren’t in contention for the overall win anyway. Every lap you turn is a chapter in your book as a new racer. You’re going to learn quite a bit about yourself and your car out there. Experience is the best teacher, after all. Enjoy every minute of it and be a good sport.

And when you decide that you’re totally hooked, you can either thank or blame me later. Welcome to the next step of the Pyramid of Speed, brother. Glad to have you.

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42 Comments on “Bark’s Bites: Go Racing, Already! — The Right and Wrong Ways to do LeMons...”

  • avatar

    Racing in the dark? Who the hell does that?

    • 0 avatar

      It’s the second best thing you can do in the dark. Probably the best thing you can do in the daylight, however.

      • 0 avatar

        NO – I refuse.
        No thanks.

      • 0 avatar

        Depends on the track. Texas Motor Speedway? NO PROBLEM.

        Buttonwillow Raceway? Nope. Nonnonononnoooooooooooope. Racing there in the dark was easily the most terrifying thing I’ve ever done.

        • 0 avatar

          Buttonwillow isn’t bad at all. Reno-Fernley is scary in the daytime and absolutely terrifying at night. In the rain. In a Mini. With 100 maniacs trying to pass you. I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything!

          Buttonwillow is a walk in the park.

          • 0 avatar

            Buttonwillow has zero track lights, nothing for headlights to reflect off of or give you points of reference, and has tons of dust to blind the entire track when someone has an off.

            No. Awful.

    • 0 avatar
      Compaq Deskpro

      I agree, that sounds like a terrible idea.

    • 0 avatar
      Buzz Killington

      Plenty of people. Tough to have a 24-hour race without driving at night. I love racing at night; the challenge is to maintain the same pace you were running during the day.

      My first time on track at night was a practice session at the Nelson Ledges Lemons race. In the rain. NL is DARK at night. Fortunately, my night shift during the race was dry.

      Most recent night shift was a Road Atlanta ChumpCar race in the rain. Not nearly as dark as NL, but a lot more places for things to go sideways (literally).

  • avatar

    If you do go racing, here’s one thing you’ll have to face: you’re not nearly as good as you think you are. One of my racing friends let his crew drive his Formula Vee at a test day at Blackhawk Farms. Granted, a Formula Vee isn’t the easiest thing to make go fast, it has lots of grip and very little power, so if you make a mistake you’ll be paying for it all the way to the next corner, but after said friend got out of the car, he was shocked to find out he was 15 seconds a lap slower than its regular driver, this on a track where IIRC a good laptime would be around 1:10. He’d have been lapped four times in a typical SCCA race.

    After I started racing, I became a much more conservative street driver, if for no other reason than once you’ve been on track and wrung the car out for all you’re worth, you realize that what you’ve been doing on the street is so weenie as to not being worth doing.

    • 0 avatar

      I had my a-ha moment in a Star Mazda, finding out I was 9 seconds slower on a 1.9 mile track. After 60 minutes practice. It convinced me to stay an autocrosser and occasional SCCA participant.

      • 0 avatar

        That’s a pretty fast car to start out in, and that was a very respectable first session. My first experience was at a commercial driver school where we did sessions in a Royale Formula Ford and a Datsun 510 that was prepared to a level similar to a current Improved Touring car. I found it much easier to drive the Datsun, the Formula Fords tended to get ahead of me.

  • avatar

    “You’re about to enter a race track that you have likely never driven in a car that you have likely never drive, and you’re going to have to maintain competition-type speeds or you’re going to be a danger to yourself and everyone around you.”


    I recommend at least a month behind the wheel of a car before “racing” it. I can’t drive comfortably until I know how a car handles on wet roads, dry roads, grades and bumpy roads. Some cars have bump-steer.

    • 0 avatar

      You can’t find out enough about the car at street speeds to tell you what you need to know at racing speeds.

      What would you do for those of us who drive purpose built racing cars that aren’t streetable?

      • 0 avatar

        Street-illegal race cars make no sense to me and “real race car drivers” spend enough time behind their wheels to actually know EVERYTHING about them.

        So why would you try to take a high performance vehicle, put in the hands of a newb and expect them NOT to kill themselves in it – or damage it?

        Even SRT EXPERIENCE took the Viper SRT out of the test lineup for that same reason.

        • 0 avatar

          “Even SRT EXPERIENCE took the Viper SRT out of the test lineup for that same reason.”

          To be fair, most LeMons cars have less than 1/3 the power of a Viper. While you can get going fast as Jack says, a bit of conservatism at first will ensure you don’t cause a pile up. Since there are cars ranging from quite fast to really pokey, slower cars have no issues allowing passing and faster drivers fully expect rolling chicanes.

        • 0 avatar

          Hmm, Skip Barber seems to have made a fairly nice business out of doing just that.

          There are two ways you can find out how fast you can go, either by starting out going considerably slower than you what you think the maximum speed will be and then gradually going faster (recommended), or by immediately trying to get very close to the limit (not recommended, can be expensive and painful). Most people choose the former.

          Racing’s not for everyone, it sounds like it’s not for you.

        • 0 avatar

          I hear that real men only drive their 400hp cars on the street, where they can bully regular traffic who’s just trying to get where they’re going.

    • 0 avatar

      While a good idea, that’s just not practical if you want to get into a LeMons race. Due to the preparation and coordination involved, many of these “racecars” have never been driven by anyone for any length of time in their current configurations before hitting the track.

      The most prepared teams have well sorted cars that they’ve tested, but its rare for all 4-5 drivers to be familiar with a first time LeMons car before race day.

    • 0 avatar
      Buzz Killington

      Huh? A month of doing what? Puttering around on the street? If you are pushing hard enough in public roads to really learn anything, you’re a menace.

    • 0 avatar

      In high performance race series (e.g. F1, WEC, DTM), drivers are essentially racing “undriven” cars at “new” tracks every time, as the pace of development is fast and even a change of wind has a major impact. Look at how poorly Vettel is doing this year vs. last year, and look at the difference in performance when Abu Dhabi became a night race this year.

    • 0 avatar

      Put your big boy pants on and go racing. If you don’t, then don’t judge. Not all of us can afford a month of track time before a race, and we’re willing to risk the car and potentially our safety. Why? Because racing. Some things are worth the risk.

  • avatar

    I remember my first LeMons race. It was at Nelson Ledges and I recall my first stint in the pitch black (the back part of the track goes into the woods, so it is DARK!) The jumble of reflectors on turns 4/5/6 caused me to cut way too low and go into the grass. Luckily since it was dark, the flag station didn’t see my barn-yarding and I didn’t get black flagged.

    • 0 avatar

      Does Lemons assess penalties for going off?

      • 0 avatar

        Oh yes, and for many other things as well. 2 wheels off gets you a black flag and a visit to the penalty shack for a punishment. The more penalties you get, the punishments escalate. At a race at Gingerman, we got a penalty for being recklessly side swiped by another driver, a pass under yellow past a flag station that didn’t have the flag out, and a 2 wheels off. At the third penalty we were given a 4 hour time out. We were bitter after that.

  • avatar

    heh, office space. Also who wouldn’t want to race in the dark?

    • 0 avatar

      If the track is well-lit, it’s pretty fun, although you definitely have to adjust for the reduced visibility. I remember late in the season being behind a straight-piped, standalone-equipped RX-8 that spit flames whenever he got off the gas. It looks really cool at night. Ditto seeing the glowing brake rotors of cars that you normally wouldn’t expect to be able to get rotors to glow.

  • avatar

    I’ve always wanted to do this. Our new house won’t be far from VIR, but, new house….. I’m probably going to be broke for awhile.

    I have a Snap-On box full of tools I could tow down. It would be nice to get a little bit of seat time in, but more or less it would just be fun to be caught up in the excitement. For better, or more like worse, I’m pretty bold behind the wheel and it takes a lot to rattle me. Maybe once we get settled down in a few years I could find a team to jump on with for the weekend down there.

    Looks like a lot of fun, but still not cheap!

    • 0 avatar

      Hope you get a chance to race. While you’re waiting for the funds to become available, maybe you can do a track day or two, or if that’s not doable, there’s always iRacing.

  • avatar

    Every newb always thinks they are going to bring an E30, or an Integra to these things and stomp everyone. Don’t do this.

    You are NOT going to win your first race. You will be lucky if everything finally goes right, and you win your 5th race. I don’t care who you are.

    If you’re going to be nervous out on the track, start with a more sensible choice for class C like a minivan, 1st gen (non-SHO) automatic Taurus, or an Intrepid. If you think you need more of a thrill, then get a Sentra-ish car for B-Class. Cars like this can be prepped for not too much money, and thrown away when you’re done if you don’t like it. Class A is full of serious race cars built to an inch of the rulebook, HUGE brakes, and expensive tires. Even in crap car racing, the faster you go, the more money flies out of your pocket. It’s harder on everything.

    If you want the easy route to Lemons, just buy a retired car off the forums. They pop up pretty frequently, and are already set up for ridiculously cheap prices.

    • 0 avatar

      “If you’re going to be nervous out on the track, start with a more sensible choice for class C like a minivan, 1st gen (non-SHO) automatic Taurus, or an Intrepid.”

      This. Bringing something that gives you a chance of getting the index of effluency will let you have a better time than going for the overall win. As a bonus, the prize is the same for both awards.

      • 0 avatar

        not anymore….

        IOE brings home $601 and a trophy, overall win just brings home a trophy.

        Class A win gets you $400 and a trophy
        Class B win gets you $500 and a trophy
        Class C win gets you $600 and a trophy.

        if you really rock the cashbar, you might take a decent (but new to you) class C car to a class win, and bring home $1201 and two trophies…..

        ….which will almost cover your entry fees and fuel.

  • avatar

    I’ve got a question: How much $$$ do you pour into your “$500” hooptie to get it up to LeMons spec?

    • 0 avatar

      Too much. The best option is to buy one already setup.

    • 0 avatar

      For the low end, you can use the example of a stock Taurus. This is in addition to the $500 spent on the car.

      -Let’s assume tires are in okay shape. All season crap.
      -Might want some new brake pads, $50.
      -Racing seat, FIA rated $200 or less if you’re resourceful.
      -Mail order roll cage kit that meets the specs @$500.
      -Racing harness (Crow) $180.
      -Fire extinguisher and mount, $40.
      -Battery shutoff, $15.

      So, assuming you have somebody on the team who can weld and install all that stuff, you are looking at @$1500 for a low budget race car.

      If you want to bring a wild mid-engine Metro that needs a new fuel cell on the wrong end of the car, massive brakes, nice tires, cool looking gauges, HANS device, etc, etc, then you’re getting closer to $6000.

      • 0 avatar

        Who would ever race a Mid-Engined Geo Metro??? ;-)

      • 0 avatar

        What CS said covers it well. Nobody on our team welds well enough to make a cage we all would feel safe in, so our cheapest build was about $3400 including the $100 for the car. Worst? About $5k for a later car with a better cage, better seat, fire suppression system instead of small extinguisher, and other improvements.

        If you aren’t of the “I must be the builder!” mindset, buying a prepped car from the forum is a lot cheaper. It happens a lot– people move, teams disband, or sometimes it’s just because they want to do something different, but the common thread is that the cars get sold for well under the cost to prepare one from scratch.

      • 0 avatar

        There’s a treadwear spec rule on tires that tends to rule out the Manny, Moe and Jack budget stuff, and the cage will cost more than you want it to, especially if you want to pass tech the first time. Before moving last fall, I was on a rookie team that put together a fairly sketchy Class C car and I know the total was way more than $1500.

    • 0 avatar

      We’re building our third car. Our first two are boring class A/B threshold commoners, a NA miata and 91 civic hatch. nothing panty dropping about either, but functional cars that can set pointy ended times…when we can stop over driving them.

      both cars are about $3000 deep, once we get all the safety bits in them (we bought a cage for the miata, we bought an RCC cage for the civic, and I welded them both in and bent some extra stuff up the make them fit us better. neither car has anything special in the drivetrain or chassis, just a wise collection of stock Honda and Mazda parts and some time spent on setting it up to suit our purposes.

      Our third car is my personal project, a streetable 1980 prelude. It’s going to try to be class C, and will feature a much less race-ready build (once i finish repairing the rust) I’ll have about $2000 in it, including the $1000 worth of fuel cell.

      some teams (NSF notably) put nearly no money (relatively) into many their cars. buy something cool/fun looking and cheap, make it mostly start, go, turn, and stop, bend up a very basic cage, install a seat and a firebottle, and go racing. at least two of their cars have brought home the IOE with that formula. if you can get the work for free, you could probably replicate the IOE winning Crown Victoria for $500 (assuming you buy it at scrap value)….tho you’ll still spend a grand racing it.

      you can’t make money racing in LeMons..but you can attempt to lose it less quickly.

  • avatar

    I wonder if this guy is wanting to go Lemons racing:

    Why else would he want a cheap Taurus specifically?

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