What is Lemons, and why I do it

24 Hours of Lemons (Car Racing at its rawest)

After spending 100’s (and I mean 100’s) of hours of preparation we are embarking on our greatest car race to date – to race a hopelessly bad, problem infected,  tetnus laced car that has been retired from day-to-day responsibility and race it against similarly bad , problem infested, tetnus laced cars for 24 hours.

Why would anyone do this??? The reasons are many, so let me begin;

A lot of people like car racing, and the noise, smoke, speed, smells and comradarie is all a part of it. Most car racing revolves around money, and the more you have the better your chances of completion and success at the track. Drivers are a major component of team success at the track and ultimately with more money you can pay for more personalized coaching , or hire a better a driver. So money really is the common denominator to success more than anything else, but up to a certain point.

In professional motorsports, major manufacturers spend millions or 10’s of millions of dollars to field a single car in a single race, and the lifecycle of the car may be measured in minutes if it blows up or crashes. And they spent a boatload of cash with dozens of support people all coming together  to try for a win! Seems kinda crazy . . .

With racing a Lemons car, the challenges of racing are very real and are parallel to that of a multi-million dollar operation, but with budgets severely looked at. You start with a car that costs no more than $500.00 and prep it for warfare – strip out everything you don’t need. You don’t need the heater, side glass, rear glass, AC, radio, rear seats, front  seats, weatherstripping, sound deadening material or spare tire. Get rid of it. Anything that is safety related does not count toward your expenses to build the car. Brakes and brake upgrades are encouraged, roll cage is mandatory, very sticky street tires are ok but racing slicks are outlawed, fire extinguisher, driver’s harness and racing seat are required.

How do you find a $500.00 car? Its really not that hard and once you understand how to race one they are all over the place. Ebay and Craigslist are the obvious sources of many of the cars. Looking for $1000.00 to $1500.00 cars are also eligible since most have parts that when removed can be sold to reduce the value of the original purchase. Let me give you 2 very common scenarios often found on Craigslist;  Mercedes Benz 300e or BMW 325i that have had no maintenance ever (disclosed) and now has a blown head gasket. Typical car you would expect for $1000.00. You strip out the car, sell the front seats for $250.00, sell the rears for $200.00 and sell all those plasticy pieces that are no longer available for $100.00 and you are already under $500.00. Sell off more of the junk and your actual cost is shrinking. Fix the head gasket ($75.00 or less in parts) and you have the beginnings of a $500.00 race car.

The second easy way to find an eligible car are all those cars you see along side the repair shops that are too expensive to repair and are no longer worth repairing. Air conditioning repairs on a dozen year old car may be too expensive, but for racing you don’t have the luxury of AC and that gets thrown away anyway. Windows no longer going up or down, no problem you take out the windows and run without the convenience of windows. Of course, all those cars being sold without a title and being sold as a parts car are totally eligible for converting to a race car since a title and registration is not required. Easy entry into $500.00 racecar-dom.

We are racing a 1988 BMW 535i that we have raced twice this season. Our previous car (1985 BMW 528) was nearly identically setup and sorted out that we raced for 21 weekends accumulating over 16,000 race miles. Most of the races were without any breakdown, and we had 21 finishes. With 6 minutes to go on 15.5 hour race weekend, the BMW was involved in a wreck with a Chevy Citation (remember that gem), and we were forced to change our plans from selling that car to further stripping that car to scrap.

We have spent our winter and spring weekends stripping the car, repairing rusted areas (not required)  fortifying  the structural integrity of the car, rebuilding the engine, replacing the front + rear suspension components and upgrading the brakes from a heavier car. Rusted areas of repair included but not limited to the frame supports being rewelded, cabin sheetmetal in numerous areas being replaced and rear bumper supports remanufactured. We have even tried to identify and free up all rusted bolts underneath, so that any incident (problem) at trackside may be tackled without having to fight a decades old rusted fastener.

We are heading to Chicago for our first 24 hour through the night race. Many new obstacles will be presented to us. First the length of the race is nearly twice the length of what we have ever participated in. Lemons rules do not allow less than 4 drivers but not more than 6 drivers. In all our previous weekends (15-16 hours over two days), we have had 5 or 6 drivers. For Chicago, we will have 5 drivers for the full 24. Second major obstacle is racing at night at near or full speed. None of us have ever raced at night, and most of the other drivers have never raced at night either. So the possibility of self induced or neighbor induced encounter increases just by the company we will keep.  The track in not lit up and we will be relying on the cars lights, which have been upgraded from stock (does not count in the budget).

Logistical issues abound. The fuel consumption of the car is over 6 gallons of fuel per hour and that means we will need around 145 gallons of fuel just for the car to keep going. We needed to figure out how to transport and contain and replenish our barrel to make it through the  night. What preparations do we need to make for nighttime repairs, assuming you can see what you are doing and you have the replacement part available? Although we are more prepared than ever regarding the car, what spare parts do we want to take with us, and how do we get them transported? How to communicate with driver? How to communicate with driver after $75.00 Motorola radios quit?  Knowing what the wear rate is of the tires, when should they be replaced? What will the food and bbq’ing arrangements be? How and when will the sleeping arrangements be? Logistical issues keep popping up.