Jalopy Racing – Part 3: The LeMonista, A Racing Series For All

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The following is the final of three guest posts by John Watts about his team’s Lemons racing experience, and the genre of “crapcan” racing. See “So These Guys Find A Bucket of Lemons” (Part 1) and “Our Road to Lemons” (Part 2) for previous entries. In John’s words…

In 24 Hours of Lemons racing, I’ve found more than just a great way to get on track. There are a growing number of budget race series. Chump Car is the best known alternative, and has been described to me as being more fun on the track but less so off of it. Each series offers something different.

Lemons doesn’t take itself too seriously, and encourages a little lunacy. Case in point, a team recently sent a photo of an Integra they wanted to buy for an upcoming race to a Lemons judge for approval. The judge sent back a craigslist ad for a 1950s Studebaker in their area. They bought that instead.

I enjoy the pageantry of Lemons and find its culture more accepting of newcomers and amateurs – failure is celebrated as long as you fail in style.

There is also a high degree of car nerdiness – many try to find rare or unusual cars to bring – and a fair degree of redneck ingenuity (I’ve seen a Holley carburetor stuck onto an E30 to keep it in the race). If you already race in SCCA or something more formal, I encourage you to try Lemons for the novelty factor.

The true benefits of Lemons racing aren’t necessarily the obvious ones. Don’t get me wrong, racing 150 other cars – none of which belong anywhere near a racetrack – is amazing.

I enjoy karting and will continue to do it as often as I can. But racing streetcars on a proper circuit against that many opponents is a completely different experience – one that is truly addictive. If you haven’t tried it, you need to.

And you don’t need to start a team to do it. Many of the teams rent out spare places on their team for around $500 a weekend, which is a great way to try it out and get a taste.

Personally though, getting fully immersed in a team has been worth the extra effort and money. Because you are trying to keep a hooptie racing on track for 12+ hours, the need to perform mechanical work is inevitable – usually more than you would want.

For the guys on our team, this has been one of the major attractions. When we first bought the car we didn’t know how to change the brake pads.

We have now pulled the engine out and put it back in a dozen times, and have in fact built a new one from the block up (with some more experienced help). More than that, getting our hands dirty has given everyone confidence in working on cars and being on track. Many of us did track days in preparation, renting cars to do so in some cases, and all now work on our own cars a lot more.

One of the great things about a beat up old car is that it doesn’t matter if you break or damage stuff. It takes a lot of the stress out, and can be quite cathartic. It’s the perfect environment for newcomers to learn the ropes.

Not everyone likes the pageantry and silliness of Lemons, but I enjoy its creativity. I like that if you spin too often, they’ll strap you to the roof of the car and make a teammate drive around the paddock while you repeatedly yell “I’m a pretty ballerina”.

The paddock feels like a Halloween tailgating party. Many of the teams put on a party after the track goes cold, and some even bring their own DJ. Speedy Cop has a bowling alley set up in his trailer. The race weekend we spent trying to fix the blown motor was tough, but still more fun than most music festivals, and you get to enjoy it in a culture of car appreciation.

There are also a growing number of other ‘crapcan series’, many of which are increasingly competitive and serious, and are closing the gap to SCCA quality cars. I’d recommend trying a couple of different series and finding the flavor that most appeals to you.  Chump Car World Series is the best known alternative, but there are more and more starting up every year, racing at tracks all over the U.S.

The regulations for each series are pretty similar, so if you’re careful with your car choice and build, you could easily enter several different series to maximize the opportunities.

The bottom line is that there are more opportunities than ever to get involved in grassroots motorsports, and while cost is still a challenge for many, it’s actually pretty affordable if you approach it right.

Better yet, there are many teams out there who are happy to have some new recruits, will rent out a race seat or just happy for the help in prepping the car.

If you’re in the D.C. metro region, come out and meet the team and help on the cars  (we’ll soon be starting on an early 80’s AMC Eagle SX4 – yes, you read that right). In the last year and a half I’ve spent less time on track than I may have liked, but I’ve learned more in the process than I could have imagined.

I’ve also had an absolute blast and been a part of a culture that’s hard to capture in words. In short, if you have ever wanted to get involved in motor sports, then it’s time to go out and do it. It’s more accessible now than ever, and opportunities are available for everyone. Even an amateur like me.

All photos courtesy of John Watts & team

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