24 Hours of Lemons? What’s that? It’s a racing circuit for amateurs running junk cars. The Lemons Organization (24hoursoflemons.com) is focused on two things – safety and fun. Safety is paramount. Every car is checked by the Lemons Safety team. If you don’t pass safety, you don’t run the race. Fun comes from your ability to make a junk car run! Each team is allowed to spend $500 on car improvements in order to keep the competition fair. If the Tech Team thinks you’ve spent more than $500, you’re penalized one lap for each $10 over. Some cars have been penalized 200 or 300 laps, and this have no chance to win. Driving lemons keeps it as safe and fair as possible. Oh, one thing: It’s not 24 hours and it’s not in a row. 16 hours total, 8 hours each day. It’s cheap racing, but racing isn’t cheap.
The town of Camden hosts a parade on Friday evening. All the participating cars parade down Main Street and park so people can view the cars and talk to drivers. It is a great tradition that gets the entire community involved. During this time, the Lemons Team does the “BS Tech”. This determines what class each car will be in, A, B or C. Constant “negotiation” takes place, with baked goods, Lemons Charity donations, alcohol and, of course, cash influencing final placement. Our team managed to secure a spot in Class B for the race.
1993 Lexus SC400 on the Starting Grid
Our team, “Lex Machine,” ran with a 1993 Lexus SC400. We got to Carolina Motorsports Park on Friday to practice. It was important to get track time. But we had brake trouble and only two of our four drivers got track time. Unfortunately, I didn’t get any.
Saturday was race day. It’s first come, first served on the starting grid. We lined up about 20th out of 84 cars. The pace car started the race. After one lap of warm-up, the green flag came out for racing. Our top driver, Eldon, got us out to a great start. We were running third overall and first in our class when the car started having problems. Eldon’s braking skills and ability in the corners kept us in the race but we dropped to twentieth overall and third in our class as we approached the driver change.
Ed, our team captain, struggled due to lack of practice time. If a driver goes off track, the car is “black flagged.” The driver must come off the course and report to the officials. The first infraction gets you “spoken to.” Ed quickly returned to the course, but after a few more laps he was black flagged again. This time, the punishment is being “hollered at.” Remember, safety is everyone’s top priority, and we had to respect that. It takes longer to holler so we were losing laps! This competition is about endurance, not speed, so more track time leads to more laps. We finally get Ed back on the track, but he is penalized again within a few laps.
With this, we are directed to the “penalty box”. Our penalty? We had to get our fingernails painted by a smiling four year old named Margaret, a cute little red-headed sweetheart. She and her mom had a great time embarrassing us. All tongue-in-cheek but certainly sending the message for us to run safer. I had silver fingernails and I hadn’t even been in the car. And in the back of our minds, we know we are dropping spots every minute.
Ed got back out and ran until the next driver-change without incident. Now it’s my turn. I have not even seen this track before. I strapped in and was off and running. My pulse is up over 150 BPM; I’m forcing myself to breathe deeply and slowly, trying to keep the adrenaline from freaking me out. It wasn’t easy.
On my first lap, I took it slow and easy and I was learning the line and trying not to hit anyone or go off course. It’s difficult to explain if you haven’t been out there. It’s like a three ring circus at 100 MPH. Straightaways are fast then braking slows to as low as 30 MPH for turns. All this as you navigate around over 80 other cars. In my sixth lap I spun out and went off track, resulting in our fourth black flag. Technically, this penalty was to end our night of racing, but the judges listened to my sob story and took into account our good nature at the fingernail painting. Instead, we accepted being sidelined for thirty minutes. The loss of laps dropped us out of the running for Day 1. And we quickly grew concerned about the health of our car.
Overnight we made adjustments, switching out the fuel pump and throttle position sensor, replacing a tie rod end and biasing the brakes. As we entered Day 2 of racing, the car ran great. Eldon took us out fast and we were running well. After 20 laps the engine started acting up again. We babied it through the rest of the day.
In the end the car with the most laps in each class wins. We weren't even close. We placed 37th out of 57 cars that finished, and 14th out of the 18 cars in Class B. We were disappointed, but that is driving our determination for next year. It was truly a blast!