Most of us have at least heard of the 24 Hours of LeMons racing series. Many of us have participated ourselves. But what if you have no race car, no team, next to no money, and just want to go hang out and watch a bunch of uniquely decorated crapcan race cars circle the track? I did exactly that at this past weekend’s Halloween Hooptiefest event at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, where even the Great Pumpkin made an appearance.
If you’ve been living under a rock or on the dark side of Phobos, the 24 Hours of LeMons is the cheapest way to go car racing. The cars must cost no more than $500 (except for safety equipment, tires, brakes, etc.). Wacky themes are strongly encouraged, and the lousier the car, the better it is.
If you misbehave on track, the penalties are… creative. This guy got duct taped to the roof, and his team was required to drive him all over the paddock while he apologized to everyone for his on-track infraction. Maybe if they implemented these kinds of penalties in NASCAR fewer
hockey games fights would break out.
Clearly, LeMons is not supposed to be taken too seriously. Some teams do get quite competitive about it, and are in it to win their class, a single event, or even the season. But the entire purpose of the series is to be a form of racing that’s accessible to anybody, and fun.
NHMS is a good track for spectating. After paying $30 for a LeMons spectator wristband, you have the run of the place – grandstands, paddock, garages, pretty much everywhere except the pits and the track itself. There used to be many places where you could peer through a chain link fence and get a good view, but in recent years tall walls have popped up blocking the view unless you’re sitting or standing on one of the grandstands. It’s unfortunate for watching, but safety is good and takes priority at the track.
My favorite places to spectate at NHMS are turns 3 and 6. After the main straightaway, the road course cuts inside of the NASCAR banked oval, squiggles a bit, then rejoins the back straight. About halfway down, the road course cuts gently toward the infield, then takes a sharp right, across the back straight, through a cut in the wall, and up a steep hill through turn 4. Watching cars go from their second highest speed to their slowest as they enter turn 3 means there’s always something exciting going on, like passes and brake lock-ups. I’ve seen cars early apex or just carry way too much speed, and either spin or hit the tire wall between 3 and 4. Here at LeMons I didn’t see that, either because people were driving a little more conservatively to preserve the car, or because they just couldn’t get going that fast through all the traffic.
Ah, yes, the traffic. I have never seen as many cars on a track at the same time as I’ve seen at LeMons. It’s chaos. The traditional racing line goes completely out the window, and it becomes all about track position – setting yourself up for passes, and defending yourself from them. There’s also a huge speed disparity. The fast people don’t want to wait for you to let them pass, and the slowest cars are usually so crappy or have such inexperienced drivers (no racing license or experience are required for LeMons) that they can’t help being slow. So basically, it’s just like driving I-495 through the suburbs of Boston at rush hour.
The grandstand at turn 6 is my other favorite place to watch. Here you can see the cars charging over the top of the hill through turn 5, then through turn 6, also known as the Bowl, because it’s a tight but steeply banked hairpin that you can carry a lot of speed through. (This is a remnant of the old Bryar Motorsports Park, on top of which the modern track was built.) If you pick just the right line at the turn-in to 6, that line will carry you all the way through not only 6 but all the way up through 7 to the apex of 8 as well, and you can see it all from the turn 6 grandstand. But in LeMons the perfect line almost never happens, and the aftermath of that is fun to watch, too.
It didn’t hurt that a ClubLoose North drift event was also taking place the same weekend. The turn 6 grandstand also overlooks the parking lot where these events take place, so it’s an awesome two-for-one deal where you can see both at the same time, depending on what direction you look. I watched quite a few sweet tandem drifts during lulls in the action on the main track.
Being $500 crapcan race cars, they break down. A lot. The yellow flags fly frequently, and rescue crews are fast to respond to disabled cars. Usually the fastest way to clear the track is to simply push the stricken car to the nearest access road, then back to the paddock for repairs. They have this process down to a science, and they get a lot of practice doing this at LeMons. A situation like this will cause only a local yellow, not a full course yellow, and no pace car, so drivers need to maintain constant vigilance and take the flags seriously for the track workers’ safety.
tl;dr: Here’s what spectating a LeMons race looks like:
There are so many cars, it’s pretty much a constant stream of traffic going by – again, like rush hour on I-495. It’s impossible to tell who the leaders are unless you look at the scoreboard.
You can certainly go watch a LeMons event and have a great time on your own, but I think it’s even better if you know some people there. I’m not too involved in the LeMons scene, but I still knew people on two different teams through my past rally and autocross experiences. It’s always more fun to cheer on someone you know. It’s also fun to visit them in the paddock. If everything is going well, team members have plenty of time to socialize while they’re not driving or refueling the car. If things aren’t going so well, hopefully they’ll at least say a quick hello while swapping a motor or transmission in the paddock.
If it’s cold and/or raining, like the first day of Halloween Hooptiefest, there’s still plenty to do if you’re on a team. But if you’re just standing around and watching, it can get pretty uncomfortable. My fiancee and I found ourselves retreating to the shelter and heated leather seats of her Flex more and more frequently as the day went on. Finally, we decided to take advantage of the early check-in at the hotel and come back Sunday when it was warmer. Being spectators, we had that option. I felt bad for whoever slept in the tents I saw lined up along the back straightaway through a cold rainy night. But as they say, a bad day (or night) at the track is better than a good day at work.
Despite the cold, we had a great time, especially on Sunday when it warmed up a bit. We would definitely enjoy trying this ourselves sometime. My Focus would definitely qualify – I’d love to paint it up like Colin McRae’s 2002 Focus WRC, put on a kilt over my driving suit, and play Colin McCrash – but it’s still too nice of a street car to sacrifice to racing duty. I wonder if we could find a team to join for next year. Maybe for GP du Lac Chargoggagoggmanchauggagoggchaubunagungamaugg at Thompson Speedway. I’ve driven Thompson a few times. Free coverage on Right Foot Down for you and your team. I could even bring some beer.