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Make Racecars, Not Lemonade: 24 Hours of LeMons

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What do you do when you're a gearhead with lightning-quick MacGyver fixes, $500 to spare and the need for speed? Most likely you're racing a junker you rebuilt with zip-ties and duct-tape at the 24 Hours of LeMons in Altamont Motorsports Park located between Livermore and Tracy in Northern California. That's where I spent this past weekend, tagging along with one of the LeMons veteran teams, Eyesore Pimpin (formerly known as Eyesore Racing) from Long Beach. This was their fourth LeMons race.

This weird and wonderful race series was started by Bay Area car guy and editor of various car magazines, Jay Lamm, at Altamont Motorsports Park in 2006 and spoofs the well-known 24 Hours of Le Mans car race. Its popularity with racing enthusiasts has spread and the series has extended to Connecticut, Ohio, South Carolina and Texas as well.

The premise of LeMons is that each team builds a $500 endurance racecar (not including the cost of safety equipment but including the cost of the junker and prep) and then races it for 14 hours (split into two 7-hour days).

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Before you think, "Hey, that sounds like fun. I like to drive fast. Why don't I do it?" know that it takes more than mad driving skills to succeed in this race. It takes ingenuity, resourcefulness and wrenching know-how as your racing LeMon will most definitely require quick and innovative fixes on the fly. Because not only will you have to battle the mechanical shortcomings of your junker but you will have to repair bent frames from crashing into walls, busted radiators from rear-ending the other cars who stop short in front of you and tires shredded from running over car parts littered on the track. Yes, it's THAT kind of race.

And it's not just the participants having fun; the spectators get a kick out of the comical visual of jalopies tooling around the racetrack as well as the crazy themes each team comes up with. This year in Altamont, we had drivers costumed as Pirates of the Caribbean, a bunch of women suffering from PMS and Mexican wrestlers, in addition to the pimps and hos of Eyesore Pimpin. Hayyy! Some cars were dressed up to resemble things other than cars, like a giant chicken and a jetfighter. There was also the General Lee and Eyesore's "1972 Lincoln CRX."

The reason for this is that these teams want to compete for the People's Choice award which is awarded to the team voted most popular by all racing participants. When you win, you not only get a snazzy (and sharp) laser-cut People's Choice trophy but $ nickels. This year, Eyesore Pimpin went up against the San Jose Scalawags (the Pirates of Caribbean) and won. Like I always say, pimps win over pirates every time. Heh.

There's also a People's Curse award, or really punishment, for the team voted most hated by everyone. That team's car is then pulled off the track during the second day of racing and then crushed by a backhoe to the delight of spectators.

Unfortunately, this year there was a fatal accident on Day 1 of the race where driver Court Summerfield, 47, of Team Cant Am from Alameda suffered a heart attack while driving on the racetrack and then crashed into the concrete wall while unconscious. Understandably, no one felt like seeing a car get crushed after that.

It was the first fatality ever for the race series since its inception in 2006. And even though the accident wasn't due to a mechanical error or unsafe conditions, organizer Jay Lamm seriously considered terminating not only the race this weekend but the series altogether. But then he decided it would be better to continue on as Court died doing what he loved and what better tribute for everyone to go on and enjoy the race in Court's name.

On Day 2, teams swathed their cars with orange and blue paint (Cant Am's colors) and stenciled Cant Am's "#39" as a tribute to their fallen brethren and then hit the racetrack again. Surprisingly, there were ample amounts of hooliganism on the track despite the sobering tragedy. It was as if race participants decided to celebrate Court with crazy driving.

The Altamont park's entry, a Miata, kept spinning out, dragging a barely attached bumper at one point. Skidmark Racing's Clockwork Orange car found itself sitting on top of a tire wall. And countless cars spun out of the chicane. Fortunately there were no roll overs at this race this time.

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So it seems the moral of this story is, when life hands you lemons, turn them into bitchin' racecars and have fun.
Photos by Caroline on Crack