This whole “expert” schtick is just pathetic male compensation — don’t sweat it. That’s the spirit of the 24 Hours of LeMons (not Le Mans), an endurance spectacle of cars that were “purchased, fixed up and track prepped for a total of $500 of less.” The cars are beaters, repos, auction sales, junkyard digs and hand-me-downs. A Pinto in the pits isn’t an anomaly. Most of the cars break down, the drivers do their own wrenchin’, and the greatest prize isn’t given to the team that does the most laps, but rather, the worst car that finishes somewhat well (the prize is called the “Index of Effluency”, and sits at a $601 value).
GP stopped by Sonoma Raceway to catch the “Good Effort Grand Prix”, which runs over MLK weekend. At the track it’s something like NASCAR meets Burning Man, with junkers and scrappy mechanics under rusted-out sedans up on jacks, twirling wrenches and doing their best to get their P.O.S. back on the track in some sort of reasonable time. Dudes with full beards scoot around on mini-motos and cruiser bikes. I see a total of one iPad, all day. BBQs are in use all day, and there’s a preponderance of Styrofoam plates and heaps of meat-heavy meals. The pit garages are a mess of tools tossed together with stray costumes and friendly dogs. Everyone’s jovial, everyone is having a good time.
At the track it’s something like NASCAR meets Burning Man, with junkers and scrappy mechanics under rusted-out sedans up on jacks, twirling wrenches and doing their best to get their P.O.S. back on the track in some sort of reasonable time.
Out on the track, the vibe’s a bit different, as drivers do their best to hit high speeds in crappy cars that look like they wouldn’t have a prayer backing down the driveway. The shrill ring of poorly manufactured engines juiced to maximum capacity hangs constantly in the air. Tires squeal, but only occasionally (this isn’t F1). The yellow flag rises from time to time, and the pace slows a bit to allow for dragging another dead hulk off the track. Every car has “Tow” clearly marked.
Back in the pits drivers come in for changes, exchange notes on rpms and shifting and lap times. Adrenaline’s high, and despite the general shabbiness of the cars, you can tell that this is an authentic and addictive thrill. In a world of racing that’s stuffy and elite and exclusive, the 24 Hours of LeMons stands as a self-deprecating mockery of the “real” thing, but it also exists as a grassroots effort to present racing as it is for the non-1% — just a bunch of wrench monkeys with a few dimes in their pockets looking to go fast. Maybe it’s all the petrol in the air, but the vibe gets intoxicating. At the track, there’s universal buy-in: spectators, drivers, mechanics, and organizers. This is an auto race, taken seriously at times, but not too often. This is about time on the track, time bent over the hood of a beat-up and broken-down car, and time spent getting your hands dirty so you can get that thing running for just one more hot lap.