Hello. This is us.

When I learned that, in the 24 Hours of Lemons motorsport series, one driver penalty is having a steel pig welded to your roof, that one team had a livery dictated to Albanian dictator Enver Hoxha, and that the likes of a Lloyd Alexander TS (obscure 1950’s car with a 0-60 time of one whole minute) competed in it – I had to enter. Lemons is a parody of the world-famous LeMans endurance race but held at various circuits across the U.S. where idiots like me can race sub $500 cars. You’ll be looking at these pictures and thinking “there’s no way you can buy one of those for a monkey” and, yes, you’re right. The base car should be sub $500 but any safety modifications can be added on top and if you’re still over budget then the Lemons judges can be openly bribed. If you’re trying too hard or your car is too fancy then you’ll be hit with black flags and obscure penalties, as we were; Our driver Jonathan was obliged to record a dating video before rejoining a chaotic pack which included a Mk1 Golf Cabrio diesel, a Porsche 914 with an LS1 engine swap and a 1985 Cadillac Fleetwood with a roof-mounted chandelier. The 24 Hours of Lemons is the endurance race for alternative cars.

The Lemons organisers have a matchmaking service so drivers can find teams who can find mechanics who can find cars that can compete in one of two dozens events held right across the U.S. I ended up with Tim Bradley who I will say is a complete gentleman. Mainly because he’ll read this. Captain Tim’s Miata had previously competed in Lemons and had the prerequisite roll cage, fuel cut-off and decent tyres. I had picked the New Hampshire Raceway event as it was the nearest circuit to Boston, which means the shortest and cheapest flight from the U.K., and I was doing this on a budget at a time when Sterling was on the bones of it’s arse against the Dollar. Boston is a lovely old city with a colonial feel to it and we stayed four up in two bunks in a hotel who charged the thick end of £300 for one night and a fiver for a cup of shite coffee in a paper cup. From there we collected an RV the size of Rutland and drove up to the circuit, stopping to buy a BBQ, booze and other race essentials. We’d rented FIA-spec racewear and had it delivered, we’d bought a Lemons race license [sic] and did a hot lap of Wal-Mart on mobility scooters to acclimatize. We were ready to race.

New Hampshire is beautiful. Autumnal scenery, quiet lakes, quaint little towns and a Dunkin’ Donuts every 200 yards with parking lots full of pick-up trucks and yee-ha paraphernalia. The shortest flight from England to America still felt like a very, very long way from home. We may have told some white supremacist to f*ck off but, on the whole, everyone we met was inquisitive, friendly and deeply amused that we’d come so far to drive a car so modest. Lemons has three classes. Class A for cars with a chance of winning, class B for those with a chance of finishing, and class C for those with a chance of starting. Lemons judges hate Miatas for their reliability, easy performance and ubiquity and always lumps them in class A meaning we were up against Porsche 944s and Corvettes and other hot stuff. We had no chance to win our class. Friday is test day and after a few ginger laps our car promptly developed an oil leak to rival that of the Exxon Valdez. The jet-lagged team split up, one half doing a hundred mile round trip to fetch a replacement engine and the other half, headed by myself, unselfishly got drunk and fell asleep.

Some Lemons events are pukka on-stop 24 hour jobs, day and night. This one was daylight hours only which, considering how boisterous the other drivers were, was a crumb of comfort to us. I recalled that thing about Senna opening the bible and getting some premonition on the day of his death and, walking to our garage on race day with an armful of race clobber, I watched a sparrow fly beak first into a parked car and drop dead. I sent a text to my girlfriend to tell her I love her. She messaged back asking if it was black bin day or green bin day. It was race time. Endurance racing is about being fast, minimizing errors, and clocking up the laps without delay. I did the first driving stint, starting 80 laps behind the leader as our engine swap had taken longer than expected due to mechanic Darryl not wanting to get oil on his pristine white Goodwood overalls, amongst other things. I was, honestly, rather scared. I’ve done plenty of trackdays, a bit of rallying and have driven bangers to Africa and elsewhere but Lemons is another level of stupid/sexy/dangerous/other.

The HANS device, harnesses, race seat and full cage mean that visibility is really difficult in anything other than dead-ahead. The pit lane exit joins on a tight left-hander at this 1.6 mile course, spitting you into traffic right on the apex. The cabin filled with oil smoke as last night’s leak burned off, I was so eager to get going that I hadn’t adjusted the mirrors and everyone was much faster than me. The circuit is a NASCAR bowl, with an outfield section with a whiff of Cadwell about it. I latched on to a decrepit US-spec Ford Escort Mk3 and tried to follow his lines while crying for my Mum squinting enigmatically. The only thing I can compare this to is a touristenfahrt day at the Nürburgring where you think you’ve got good pace and a nice line through familiar corners, only for some scrawny local in an old Golf to come by you at a lick. Only at Lemons it’s a procession of weird things whizzing by; Some dreadful Saturn, a bovine-themed Ford Moo-stang, a knackered Lancia Scorpion and a Ford in John Deere colours with a huge spoiler made of antlers. How can they all be so fast? Why are they not on fire? I tried some overtakes, reminding myself of that Senna quote about racing drivers and gaps, before remembering that Senna is dead. I pitted, Steve jumped in for his session, and I saw that we’d gone from being almost last to 130-somethingth. I felt great. I felt like Senna in his Toleman at Monaco, and like James Hunt getting noshed off at the Japanese Grand Prix all in one, tear-streaked, sweaty, knackered heap. I was a racing driver.

As Steve, Tim, Chas and then Jonathan took turns to claw our little car up the leaderboard, I took the opportunity to nobble some competitors. Dave and co. in GM V6 engine swapped RX7 were our pit garage neighbours and, on paper at least, competitors in our class. I cursed their car by secreting a postcard of Prince Andrew in it. I hadn’t realized that they had simultaneously jinxed our car by secreting a burned out RX7 rotor in it. Both Mazdas soon suffered mechanical maladies. Chas took the perfect racing line though two particularly tricky corners, albeit backwards, earning a black flag. But we were making up places. Penalties were dished out – miscreants having to carve a pumpkin, or take a selfie with a dog. We were glued to the race app, watching the Porsche 944 and 928 run out of reliability, and marveling at the Lancia Scorpion (a US spec. Beta Montecarlo) happily lapping away. As the day’s racing ended we shared lobster and beer and music with our new-found friends. The trip was also a cultural one. Brits and Yanks are linguistically sort-of on the same page, but culturally we’re probably not even in the same library. We enjoyed lively debate about Dale Earnhardt (his face is the inspiration for this race’s logo, as seen on the patch worn by competitors here), the Vietnam war, and I managed not to get punched for being foreign by a man with a MAGA hat on. Cars, and alternative cars in particular, are a great leveler, and I learned a lot. I now want a Ford LTD. And a gun. I want to see NASCAR. There, I said it.

Sunday was the final day of racing. I couldn’t help but look at some of the more alternative cars here with the feeling that the judges and marshals were somehow giving them an easy ride. A wonky Triumph TR-8 held together with a million rivets, for example, and a Dodge Omni. When that went past I assumed it was a Lotus Sunbeam but no, this is Lemons. The Omni is the Sunbeam’s Chrysler cousin and when launched was publicly criticized for losing control during hard maneuvering. Another one that caught my attention was a Volvo 262C, an etch-a-sketch shape built by Bertone. Just as Italdesign airbrushed their work on the Morris Ital out of history, I reckon Bertone are denying all knowledge of having been involved in that Swedish dollop. I reckon a Morris Ital would be a great Lemons car, actually. Such machines are perfect for this nonsense race – cars with a dash of style, scuppered by dreadful reliability, or a glamorous badge but hopeless performance. We could have chosen something less reliable for our team but, as first timers, I wanted to complete at least a few laps. And our class A Miata wasn’t behaving. The five-speed box had become a three-speeder, and suspension bits were going astray. Refuelling is a palaver. Tim had saved a few grams of weight by removing superfluous, decorative items such as the speedo and bloody fuel guage. So we had to guess at consumption and hot fuel in the pits, following a strict procedure laid down by Lemons (for all the tomfoolery, they do take safety seriously). That means heavy fuel jugs, drip trays, fire extinguishers and a rehearsed refuelling routine that didn’t fall foul of the rules as competitors swept by gaining precious laps advantage.

You’ll find some great racing footage of Lemons on YouTube, where you’ll also find an infamous advert for the 1975 Chrysler Cordoba, with actor Ricardo Montalban admiring its “rich Corinthian leather”. In the paddock here was the same make and model with the same crap interior and a driver laughing at his “rich Corinthian leather”. Finding such brilliant self-deprecation in racing is rare, particularly in the U.S., and is a huge part of the appeal of Lemons. They’ve previously featured some brilliant reverse-engine swaps such as a VW Beetle engine in a Boxster, and someday someone will write a book about Lemons stalwart ‘SpeedyCop’ who built race cars such as the Honda Accordian – a concertinaed, musical, Japanese saloon. Our Miata was wearing a royal flag livery and British plates in recognition to dearly-departed Queen Liz, Ben not quite getting the memo on sartorial expectations and dressing as Freddie Mercury. Our tinfoil crown was wired to the roll cage and we flashed by the timing tower lap after lap, slowly improving. The 24 hours were running out. I drove another stint and the team kept the car on the road. A Golf rolled over. Something exploded a bit. Drivers were warned that any contact would mean instant disqualification for all cars involved. Towtrucks would just barge stranded cars off the circuit to keep the race rolling. Sitting on the roof of a fellow teams RV with a cold beer in hand in the autumn sunlight, watching a tight pack of racy but ramshackle cars stream past, I was having the time of my life. I had no regrets about having told ‘er back home it’s green bin day when it was probably black bin day.

Paddock transport included what appeared to be a military version of a segway, tracks and all, a train of machinery with a parasol and dedication to a drag racer, weird pushbikes and many-wheeled things, some that would take your finger off if you touched it in the wrong place. A marshall named Dale is a Lemons regular and summed it up, beer in hand, by comparing Lemons racing to F1. “In F1” he said, “one tiny fart will cost you the race. Here, everyone is farting everywhere”. His favourite F1 race that he had worked at was the 2005 US Grand Prix, just because Michelin cocked-up the tyres and all the slick ,corporate F1 hype turned to shit. He, and others we met, were great company. And it was massively entertaining, alternative, racing. Tim got the honour of driving the final session past the chequered flag.

“It’s not the winning, it’s the taking part” someone once said. Someone who hadn’t spent a huge sum of money to fly halfway around the world, risking life, limb and liver to compete here while the recycling bin overflowed. Team Three Pedal Mafia won, we came 80th out of c.150 starters overall, and were jovially heckled when singing the national anthem when collecting the trophy for Judges Choice. The trophy is a piece of spray-painted plywood with googly eyes stuck to it. I am very proud of it. An alternative trophy for an alternative race.

I’d like to thank Tim Bradley for being such a good sport, Jonathan Mills for his ability to charm the knickers off a nun, Darryl Sleath for arranging V8 powered accommodation, Steve Swanson for the endless good vibes in insanitary living conditions, C.E.O. of sprinkles Chas Drury for cultural guidance, and to our good friend Ben Wardle for the tips on romantic visits to Nottingham Caves. We will return to Lemons in 2023.


Words – Rich Duisberg.  Pics – Rich Dusiberg, Aaron Cole, Steve Swanson, Interpol.

About The Author

Rich Duisberg

Rich Duisberg* has had work published in Classic & Sportscar, Practical Performance Car, Modern Mini, Banzai, MogMag, Evo, GT Porsche, Complete Kit Car, Absolute Lotus, Alternative Cars, Classic Retro Modern, and elsewhere. Rich often appears on CBS’s XCAR and Carfection channels, and Motors TV, plus JayEmm on Cars, enthusing about historic motoring. His latest book (find his work on Amazon) was described by SniffPetrol as "hilarious", although he was also threatened with legal action by elderly DJ Tim Westwood. In his Midlands man cave is a 1972 Fiat 500, a Lotus Elise, a BMW barge and a vintage Royal Enfield pushbike. Previous machines of interest include an Mk1 MX5 (owned for 14 years!), an Alfa GTV6, a Porsche 968 and a Sinclair C5. The Metro (right) was bought for an experiment, and abandoned in Africa. "I am not getting in a car with him" -  said Le Mans winner, Derek Bell. *A nom-de-plume inspired by the BBC's League of Gentlemen.

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