8 mistakes common to 24 Hours of Lemons racing, and how to avoid them

24 Hours of Lemons

I am not just a guy writing stuff for Hagerty. I also judge race cars at the 24 Hours of Lemons! This series is dedicated to entry-level endurance racing using $500 cars as their foundation, and I get the privilege of deciding which class a vehicle belongs in while openly asking for bribes in the process. I’ve been participating in Lemons races since 2008 and gleaned a thing or two in the process, so come with me, Judge Sajeev, on a journey of enlightenment.

With any luck you’ll be somewhat inspired to join in on the madness, and even better, more likely to avoid the common pitfalls from teams participating in a Lemons race.

Not asking questions, or learning from others

high five at 24 Hours of Lemons
24 Hours of Lemons

While Lemons judges get a front-row seat to the action, we are far from the authority in most matters. Emailing Lemons staff before (to ensure your craftsmanship passes muster) and after a race (addressing loose ends before repeating the process) is a good place to start your journey into motorsports. But when you’re actually in the thick of racing, asking other teams for advice is beyond important. Odds are someone on the premises was in your shoes, and seeking out their wisdom from lessens learned flattens one’s personal learning curve. It’s essential to the health of the sport, too, as this knowledge transfer makes the lure of racing even stronger.

That said, of course you should ask a Lemons judge for help. That’s what we are here for, and we definitely know what we like to be bribed with, not to mention where the bathroom is.

Illegible car numbers

I try not to single out specific instances of failures, but some acts are so commonplace they deserve the oxygen of publicity. So do your team a favor and make your numbers legible from 30+ feet away. The best way is with a white circle with black numbers inside it.  Ya know … just like a real race car.

1967 Ford GT40 MK IV Body panels open

You, dear racer, spend far too much money racing only to get yanked off the track because the track staff cannot read your numbers.

Ignoring personal health on race weekend

men work on vehicle while not wearing appropriate protective gear
24 Hours of Lemons

Problems like dehydration, hunger, and even physical/mental medical conditions are regularly overlooked amid the stressful nature of endurance racing. I’ve both seen it as a judge and experienced it as an (admittedly sub-par) racer. These events do a number on your body and can overstress your mind if you’re in the wrong headspace. And trust me, with all the moving parts in an endurance race, being in the wrong state of mind is far from uncommon.

Even worse, the comforts of home are often inaccessible; Lemons races are miles away from civilization. So pack an overabundance of water, nutrient-dense foods, and comfort items (from unhealthy snacks to pop-up tents and lounge chairs) to stay happy and healthy while repairing your hooptie racing. And while you can depend on the kindness of strangers in this regard, they probably don’t like the same flavor of potato chips that you do. You have been warned.

Not reading the rule book

car is towed at speedway
24 Hours of Lemons

I am all about not reading stuff, as my nine-and-a-half-years to complete a college degree are proof positive. But I am older and wiser now, and I feel guidelines to ensure success is pretty rad indeed. To wit, this link provides almost everything you need to know about Lemons racing, and this PDF download covers the rest of it. The latter is especially important when purchasing a retired race car, or one from another series with different safety guidelines.

Taking things too seriously

car at 24 Hours of Lemons which looks like a child's toy car
24 Hours of Lemons

Safety is serious business, but the rest of racing is rather fun. But I’ve seen folks lose their minds, usually triggered by some on-track infraction, perceived or legitimate.

Hot tempers and vivid racing dramas have their place, but that’s one reason why the 24 Hours of Lemons’ highest-paying, most prestigious award doesn’t go to the team that wins the race. The Index of Effluency exists to encourage teams to race any old piece of junk they can find, and in doing so accomplish something with it. If that sounds like the polar opposite of what’s expected in a race series, well, you’re catching on to what makes Lemons unique.

Not running a stock car, initially

24 Hours of Lemons cars racing
24 Hours of Lemons

Building a race car that isn’t in the spirit of Lemons (the Platonic ideal is a $500 car with safety equipment thrown at it) is generally discouraged, unless a team has tried (and failed multiple times) with their car. If at first one doesn’t succeed, perhaps a boost to your vehicle’s specs team’s collective spirits is justified. Take the two Fords in the above picture: in order to compete with the performance and durability of a more modern car, upgraded engines, transmissions, and even performance suspensions are added without a judge even batting an eye upon inspection.

But your first few forays into Lemons racing should be with “legitimate” $500 race cars, to ensure the judges both respect and admire you. If you’re persistent and stay in good spirits, eventually you could get away with entering an F1 racer at a Lemons race. Except totally not! But hopefully you’re picking up what I’m puttin’ down.

Not considering that your competition races … whatever this is

24 Hours of Lemons cowboy car
24 Hours of Lemons

Diversity is the key to Lemons. We wholeheartedly recommend a world where race tracks are concurrently populated with 1976 Continental Town Coupes and F-bodies/Mustangs/BMWs/Miatas. And since the gigantic land yacht abides by the laws of physics in manner that’s, uh, unique compared to most race cars, treating a Lemons competition as you would other races is a recipe for failure. Be kind to your fellow participant, give plenty of race room on track, lest you find yourself passing a 1970s land yacht on the outside … as it understeers right into you.

Neglecting components irrelevant to a $500 budget

hood flies open at 24 Hours of Lemons
24 Hours of Lemons

I am well aware that finding $500 cars is much harder in 2021 compared to this race’s inception back in 2006. While budgets can be tighter these days, we still encourage teams to spend as much money as they want on safety equipment.

Yet spending money to go racing while overlooking the basics is a false economy. So instead, front load safety and durability products into your chariot to ensure a future return on investment (as it were). And this isn’t about professionally-built cages, fuel cells, and upgraded braking systems: Consider forgettable items like ball joints, headlights, mirrors, steering components, and wait for it … hood pins. 

With these eight tips in mind, remember that the 24 Hours of Lemons is an endurance race, and following the guidelines above ensures a weekend of motorsport that’s both enjoyable and rewarding. Winning isn’t everything (or anything, really), but who knows what can happen if you play the game right and get a little luck on your side!

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