Piston Slap: Winning Tips for the 24 Hours of LeMons From The Judge Himself

piston slap winning tips for the 24 hours of lemons from the judge himself

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 [s]to stroke my fragile ego[/s] 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 sajeev@thetruthaboutcars.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.

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2 of 22 comments
  • Udman Udman on Sep 24, 2015

    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.

  • Spank Spank on Nov 02, 2015

    (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.

  • 285exp I am quite sure that it is a complete coincidence that they have announced a $7k price increase the same week that the current administration has passed legislation extending the $7k tax credit that was set to expire. Yep, not at all related.
  • Syke Is it possible to switch the pure EV drive on and off? Given the wonderful throttle response of an EV, I could see the desirability of this for a serious off-roader. Run straight ICE to get to your off-roading site, switch over the EV drive during the off-road section, then back to ICE for the road trip back home.
  • ToolGuy Historical Perspective Moment:• First-gen Bronco debuted in MY1966• OJ Simpson Bronco chase was in 1994• 1966 to 1994 = 28 years• 1994 to now = 28 yearsFeel old yet?
  • Ronnie Schreiber From where is all that electricity needed to power an EV transportation system going to come? Ironically, the only EV evangelist that I know of who even mentions the fragile nature of our electrical grid is Elon Musk. None of the politicians pushing EVs go anywhere near it, well, unless they are advocating for unreliable renewables like wind and solar.
  • FreedMike I just don’t see the market here - I think about 1.2% of Jeep drivers are going to be sold on the fuel cost savings here. And the fuel cost savings are pretty minimal, per the EPA: https://www.fueleconomy.gov/feg/PowerSearch.do?action=noform&path=1&year1=2022&year2=2022&make=Jeep&baseModel=Wrangler&srchtyp=ymm&pageno=1&rowLimit=50Annual fuel costs for this vehicle are $2200 and $2750 for the equivalent base turbo-four model. I don’t get it.