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Racing Isn’t Just for Rich Idiots, It’s for All Idiots

Across the world, the top auto racing teams in Formula 1 and the World Endurance Championship spend billions of dollars to stay competitive in their respective series. A single F1 car alone costs over ten million dollars to produce. As a result, only a very tiny sliver of the world’s population can afford to be involved at all in auto racing. But what if just anyone could be a race car driver? While some spend millions to win the crown jewel of auto racing, the 24 Hours of LeMans, you could race in the 24 Hours of Lemons with zero racing experience and $500. That is the maximum budget - not a penny more. No sponsorships. No rich people in Italian shoes. Just dirt cheap racing.

A lemon is a car that is so junky the manufacturer is forced by law to buy it back from the purchaser. So what happens when 40 lemons race around a track for 24 hours? Finishing the race is impressive by itself, nevermind winning it. However, it is far more likely that you will end the race parked in the garage with a totaled car or a blown engine. But hey, it didn’t cost you much to begin with.

A 1956 Cessna races in the 24 Hours of Lemons

Unlike other motorsports series, the top prize of Lemons isn’t the winner’s trophy. It is the Index of Effluency. The IOE consists of a top secret formula that the race organizers use to choose a winner. In order to encourage teams to use extremely old, hooptie cars, the winner of the IOE is usually the car that has the lowest expectations but somehow manages to do okay. The winner of the IOE gets $600 and free entry into the next race. But if you were looking to cash in big time at the 24 Hours of Lemons, an electric vehicle is the way to go. The driver of the first fully electric car to win a race gets one million nickels dumped on his or her lawn. Many have tried to pull off this feat, but as of yet, no one has succeeded.

My dad’s old 1997 Chrysler Sebring had been parked in the alley for over a year. It didn’t run and had no brakes. Rather than sell it to the junk yard for 65 bucks, we decided to give it a second life. Even after replacing the brake lines and getting it running, we still couldn’t drive it straight to the track. While Lemons is mostly laid back and fun, they take safety very seriously. Months of preparation would have to go into retrofitting the Sebring with all of the required safety devices. All the carpeting and plastic had to be removed from the interior in case fire breaks out during the race. Once the inside was totally bare, we had to get a purpose built racing seat equipped with a harness. We still have yet to get a roll cage welded in, which is designed to protect the driver against side impacts, as well as rollovers. How my mother is letting me do this, I do not know, but after throwing on our fire suits, we’ll be just about ready to go racing.