The 24 hours of Le Mans is the world's oldest car race. It takes place each year in France, it involves precision engineering, extreme speed and elite driving machines.
The 24 hours of LeMons race is nothing like that.
Race organizer Jay Lamm explains, "The cars for this race, you have to buy them, prepare them, decorate them and get them to the starting lineup for $500 or less. That's pretty much the only rule."
On a recent crystal clear pre-race day in Fernley, Nev., 103 teams were readying their cars for the race. The nicest-looking car here was a Geo Metro that actually had a professional paint job and a motorcycle engine. The rest of the cars had exterior finishes that looked like a fourth-grader's Halloween costume gone wrong.
There was one car with a finish drawn with a Sharpie pen. There were cars made to look like pigs, rabbits and jackelopes, and a few cars with toilets welded onto them.
There was the 80s car -- a Honda made to look like a Ferrari -- and the team is dressed as icons of the 80s. The outfits included the guys from Wham, a dude wearing a Members Only jacket, Crockett and Tubbs form "Miami Vice" and a guy dressed as Tom Cruise in "Risky Business" -- button down shirt, tighty-whiteys and socks. Now that's commitment to a costume theme.
The 24 hours of the LeMons tour takes place at tracks all across the country. The $500 cap on the cost of the cars makes this an incredibly affordable option for racing enthusiasts at a time when many have had to cut back on recreational spending.
Lamm said the genesis of the race was random.
"I got the idea for the 24 hours of LeMons at lunch at a Chinese restaurant with a bunch of my buddies," Lamm said. "I just thought it would be really funny to get a whole bunch of $500 cars and out them on a racetrack. I thought we were the only ones who would find it funny, but it's kind of hit a nerve. We'll have about 1,000 people here. About 600 of them will be driving race cars today. About 400 of them have probably never driven a race car in their lives."
The bedlam was apparent. Cars were constantly in flux as the amateur mechanics tried to get them race-ready and keep them running. Parts were scavenged, borrowed and constructed from random materials.
One team had an intricate pattern of duct tape running all through their engine. Their team leader pointed out a feature they were proud of.
"That's a baby's diaper right there, part of our air filter," the leader said. "You might want to get a good shot of that."
This improvisation made for an interesting race. One hundred and three cars started the race, but at least 40 died out on the track. Another 40 needed some repairs or work on the fly, and it was assumed that the other 20 cars that didn't need repairs were owned by cheaters who scuffed up new parts to pass inspection. Those teams were penalized for cheating and ultimately the playing field was leveled.
While most of this race is fun and games, they do take safety seriously. There is a $500 cap on each car and it's parts, but you can spend as much as you want on safety elements like roll bars or harnesses.
There is a safety inspection process and Lamm explained that unlike other forms of racing, they are fastidious about enforcing driving regulations on the track.