By on September 24, 2015


Transparency in Motorsport… (photo courtesy: Murilee Martin)

Stephen writes:


A friend and I want to get into LeMons racing, but neither of us has much cash to throw at a hooptie or experience working on cars. I’ve changed oil, tires, lights, and brake pads but done little else.

We’re aiming at class C, which hopefully will mean just installing the required safety equipment and giving it a theme. Mechanically, any changes and repairs would be more for reliability than speed. We’re in Baltimore so it’ll be street parked, but I have off-street parking for my daily driver where we could wrench. Pick-your-own junkyards and my dad’s tools are both within a short drive (hi Dad!). If the the car’s cheap and mechanically simple, we can probably make it work.

What’s the most reliable, low-budget race car? Is there any advantage to buying from another LeMons team? Are non-runners or salvage-titles worth looking at? Should we start by crewing someone else first? Normally, I’d dive into hours of research on parts availability and LeMons reliability, but you asked for queries so I’ll gladly pawn this one off on you and the Commentariat.



Also, Maryland’s historic and street rod plates make registering questionable cars relatively straightforward.

Sajeev answers:

I’m gonna overlook the fact that bribing judges in the 24 Hours of LeMons is essentially useless, especially for an honest, legitimate class C car.  I, as the Most Indian LeMons Judge There Ever Shall Be, certainly like bribes to stroke my fragile ego even if they cannot change my opinion about the vehicle’s credibility as a $500 car.

Anyway, on to your query: I very strongly suggest you start your LeMons career as an “Arrive and Drive” racer. I have spent upwards of $1,000 for a weekend of racing, and that’s above and beyond purchasing the usual safety equipment: race suit/race undies, HANS hookup on my helmet, cool shirt, helmet, gloves, shoes, etc. Being an A&D racer is a far smarter use of your resources, initially. Why build a shitbox car when you might seriously regret it?

You have parking space concerns. Adding the necessary safety equipment (cage, wiring, etc.) won’t be cheap for the novice wrench. Any $500 car you buy will be over $5,000 after you weld in a legal cage, upgrade the brakes (legal and necessary), add a race seat/harness and fix any massive problems on a car this old (i.e. worn out ball joints that could snap on the track).

Figure $5,000-7,000 for the car, $1,000 per person for fuel, track fees, lodging and food, $500-1,000 for used/new aforementioned personal race gear. I’m not even including the cost of tools, a tow rig, trailer and the hundreds of hours annually you’ll spend wrenching, sourcing parts, scouring Craigslist and eBay for deals Do you see where I am going with this? 

Be an Arrive and Drive Racer first, then decide if taking the plunge on your own Class-C crapcan is worth it. Email me next year if you really, really wanna take the plunge.

Bonus! A Piston Slap Nugget of Wisdom: 

In my years of judging and occasionally being a (very terrible) racer, I hear many team owner tales of Arrive and Drivers being total jerks. So don’t be a jerk! Money is only the beginning. You work hard and help the team. Help fuel in the hot pits and only stop working when everyone else leaves the car. This is regardless of the track going cold for the day or if your stint as a driver is over. If the motor blew a head gasket, the brakes went out, the wiring got fried, etc., you work (almost) as hard as the team owner. And always ask the owner how and where you can help!  

Hard workers in LeMons are probably more important than hot shoe racers. Probably definitely. 

Send your queries to [email protected]com. Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry…but be realistic, and use your make/model specific forums instead of TTAC for more timely advice.

Get the latest TTAC e-Newsletter!

22 Comments on “Piston Slap: Winning Tips for the 24 Hours of LeMons from The Judge Himself...”

  • avatar

    LeMons seems very complex, and like it wouldn’t be friendly to newcomers. Every time I read one of these articles, I come away thinking you’d have to show up with a team and be really ready to go.

    • 0 avatar

      A&D for Chump or Lemons is extremely simple, you basically pay, and show up with some safety gear. Your level of responsibility varies per team, but in my limited experience I haven’t been made to do anything but drive. So yes, you do need to show up wth a team and be ready to go, but that isn’t hard.

      If you’re creating your own team and bringing your own car, that’s different, which I believe was the thrust here. Unless you have a very talented group with experience building road race cars, (which I feel comfortable saying any successful Crapcan team has probably done,) it’s not really something to just jump into, or at least I wouldn’t, because I don’t like floundering.

  • avatar

    Sajeev, does the pictured backpack contain an afternoon’s haul, or is it simply suggested ‘donations’?

  • avatar

    Just wanted to apologize for taking your land and all, Sanjay. That wasn’t cool of us.

  • avatar

    Yeah sorry to say, but I think the OP is a bit naive as to what all goes into successfully campaigning a Lemons/Chumpcar. If you’ve only done oil and brake pad changes in the past, how will you handle diagnosing an intermittent short or overheating that happens on the track? And Sajeev covered the money aspect pretty well. They’re “$500” only in name. I remember someone running a E36 Bimmer in Chumpcar that basically rebuilt a brand new BMW325i with all OEM parts (thousands for dollars worth) from an old worn out car, and they were well within the rules to do so.

    I get a big enough kick from just spectating. When they ran at Watkins I got to see the following:

    A saturn SC2 on its roof (fixed up and ran the second 7 hour heat!)
    A Volvo 240 with a mean sounding SBF under the hood
    An Eagle Talon TSi blow its guts all over the track within the first 20 minutes of the green flag
    A stunningly quick and stunningly rusty ’85 Mercury Cougar

    I had a blast, and would love to go to another race some time, especially when spectating is oftentimes free!

    • 0 avatar

      “If you’ve only done oil and brake pad changes in the past, how will you handle diagnosing an intermittent short or overheating that happens on the track?”

      Well, you do the same thing most pro mechanics did the first time, which is actually TRY. You whip out your smartphone, and start turning bolts. Usually there are many people around you that will at the least give you expert advice, and at most, volunteer to get greasy under your car.

      • 0 avatar

        A fair point, but I think that OP might be in a world of disappointment if most of the ‘racing’ for which he and his friend pay big bucks in terms of entrance fees etc turn into frustrating and fruitless wrenching sessions each and every race.

        Heck I went the same way in terms of starting out with basic maintenance on my old Civic in highschool before getting my hands dirtier with more involved work on my motorcycles and cars. But I didn’t spend big money in hopes of going racing with an old beater that will most certainly need a seasoned wrench to fix on the fly.

  • avatar

    +1, street parked race car? Full stop right there, next question please.

    I took my son and nephew to a vintage race weekend last year. Had a discussion with them about how to run a car racing program:
    “Boys, buying the race car is just the down payment. Notice that the trailers and pickups mostly have the name of a small business on the side. You need to own a business, then you have the cash to do this, and the company provides the extra equipment…”

  • avatar

    First you need a team. At least 4 people WITH money to throw into a toilet. This is the hard part. You want to run in C, so at least you are smart (versus “I am gonna buy a Miata and DOMINATE my way to overall victory!”). Buying a veteran car is a cheaper way to get into it, but don’t expect to take it right out onto the track.

    As for the car, the answer is Chevy S-10. You want the 2WD one with the Iron Duke and manual trans. This will be super easy to work on. Parts will be everywhere, and they will be cheap. You can use it to truck around it’s own race parts. Then you build a lightweight shed on the back, and theme it as the Bol-L-Gol Gardening truck from Terminator2. Minivans are also a possibility as they are a bit faster than most people can imagine after throwing away the entire interior.

    If you do this right, by your 3rd race, you could see C victory. Then, you add a turbo, because turbo’ing an Iron Duke is budget exempt. With a few mods to the suspension, you miiiiight grab a B win eventually. Beyond that, a wild engine swap would make for a pretty fast Class A car.

    There are several variables to winning. Teamwork, ability, strategy, and luck take precedence well before the car is even a factor. Having fun is more important than winning too.

    • 0 avatar

      Oh, hey, I’d totally forgotten about the Turbo Iron Duke Budgetary Loophole I issued years ago. It’s still good, though for some reason no team has taken advantage of it. The good news is that a team is finally taking advantage of the Dodge Spirit R/T Loophole, which states that any reasonably stock Spirit R/T will get into Class C.

  • avatar

    Racing, even crapcan racing, is just mind-bogglingly expensive and time-consuming. I’ve never tried it because I can see clearly that it’s not something that lends itself to being a casual or occasional hobby. I wouldn’t have either the time or the money to race without regrets without dropping something much more important from my life.

    • 0 avatar

      I think in your case, LS stands for “LeMons Starter.” Time to sell and use the money for racecar!

    • 0 avatar

      You can race at a local heat race/demo derby for cheap. I did it 20+ years ago (got the 1975 GM station wagon for free) and had less then $100 in everything. It was more about having the time to prep the car, as well as a space to do that in a location that didn’t provoke complaints from the neighbors.

      Plus, we strap-towed the car to/from the race, which I don’t think we were really supposed to do (didn’t have a pickup and a car trailer), but it was a small town with light traffic (risky it was, as there is no guarantee it will still be a roller afterwards!).

  • avatar

    I managed to compete in two separate 24-hours-of-LeMons events (at least 5 years ago) and I can only tell you that the $500 limit on the car is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to cash outlay.

    For many of you that may remember, I was the one that campaigned a hapless 1963 Corvair with a 2-speed Powerglide (with the appropriate team name of Trailing Throttle Oversteer) that I happened to find sitting in a field in Vermont. What I never disclosed was the close to $3,000 dollars I spent on getting that heap running after it’s long slumber in the land of Bernie Sanders. This also included a roll cage, body modifications, 2 sets of tires, 2-sets of Datsun 240Z Alloys (That fit great), a pair of racing seats (I planned on carrying a passenger if necessary), Fuel Cell, new Alternator, cutoff switches, batteries, fan belts (as they usually go flyin’ once underway) and odds and ends.

    our first outing, I also spent money on fuel, lodging for 10 team members, t-shirts for the team, food, beer, and other items for the weekend. Oh, and by the way, I was terminated from my current position (at that time) a week before the race.

    But I digress… we had the slowest car on the track, it handled like a drunk hooker (All over the place), my front right brake drum cracked (with no spare!!!), and we managed to pop a fan belt near the end. Despite these difficulties, we managed to win our class (Class 3 by the way), and take the Index-of-Effluency prize.

    The very next year I had to recruit a whole new team, and while we were not quite as successful as the year before, we finished the race.

    So if you really want to run a LeMons team, my advise is to stash away at least five grand, find a group of like minded people who will bask in the glory of victory (or the agony of defeat), and find a vehicle that has never participated in one of these events so that you could get a running start on the IOE.

  • avatar

    (Hey, I have a login for TTAC, who knew?!)

    Anyway, I’ll be the outlier and say that while what everyone is posting here is true about it likely costing a ton of money to get involved, it doesn’t HAVE to. It depends on your level of expectations. If you just want to do the old skool style of LeMons and do a “run what ya brung” it can be pretty cheap. It soooo doesn’t have to be complex. If the car you buy has half or more pad life, tires that hold air, and it runs, you don’t HAVE to go out and buy stuff to make it a race car. It’s possible to buy all the needed rollcage tubing and plates for under $400 so if you have friends with a bender and a notcher and a welder, there ya go. Seats can be found on CL for $100 or less. Harness kill switch and extinguisher you’ll buy new for about $150 minimum. So for $650 or maybe less, plus the price of a car, you can have something you can enter in the series as a “race car”.

    People will spend waaaay more than that in a weekend to go to an out-of-town football game just to watch their team lose over the course of two-ish hours. But the game is just a small part of the outing, and the “racing” or seat time is just a small part of what LeMons is.

    Personally, I think far too many people take this too seriously and actually prepare and build RACE CARS and whatnot. There are plenty of opportunities to race racecars but not many opportunities to race crap. What’s cool about LeMons is we can all attempt to occupy the same track on the same weekend: Racecars, Racecrap, and just Crap. Some enjoy racing for a top finish, and some of us just embrace the personal challenge to keep a hopeless car turing as many laps as it possibly can.

    In sum, don’t let someone tell you that LeMons is too expensive to slap something together for just for a 1-time weekend. Don’t let them scare you away from building a car, or attempting to build a car. Don’t listen to people like His Royal Justice Sajeev say you should do an A&D first. I totally disagree. The track time is the icing on the cake that is your dessert. If all you ever eat is icing it can maybe lose it’s appeal. If you have to work your way through all of the horrors of quiooa, okra, fried liver, and THEN you get to have your dessert sit in front of you, you will have a much better story to tell rather than just bore your friends at work on Monday with how awesome an eating experience it was to have icing again and again and again.

Read all comments

Back to TopLeave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Recent Comments

  • EBFlex: “According to a T-shirt I saw a young man wearing on June 19th at church celebrating the 4th of July...
  • EBFlex: “His keyboard doesn’t have spell- or IQ-check.” “Certainly no IQ check. But probably an...
  • Inside Looking Out: Happy July 4th to all!
  • DenverMike: It’s not just the parking thing. Most Americans simply can’t drive something that big, scared...
  • DenverMike: Unless you were already struggling to feed the beast, yeah a few small changes and you’re good. Yet...

New Car Research

Get a Free Dealer Quote

Who We Are

  • Adam Tonge
  • Bozi Tatarevic
  • Corey Lewis
  • Jo Borras
  • Mark Baruth
  • Ronnie Schreiber