We love Lemons – 24 Hours of Lemons, that is, and when we saw that they’d officially achieved their goal of getting into the Guinness Book of World Records for most participants in an auto race (216 officially for the September 13-14, 2014 race at Thunderhill Speedway) we reached out to organizer Nick Pon to get the scoop on how they did it, and what it means for Lemons Lovers and the series in general.
The Burnout: What was the incentive to try for the Guinness recognition? And why with this particular feat?
Nick Pon: In a very philosophical sense, a Guinness record, like racing cars, is one of those things that many people fantasize about as a kid. So maybe we’re just projecting our inner child! But, more practically, we’ve been doing races with 150+ cars for years now and there aren’t really any other American race organizations doing that. So, we’d sit around joking about one of our races, saying “Man, this must be a record.” Eventually we thought, “Wait, I wonder if this really COULD be a record.”
The Burnout: Has LeMons attempted a world record before?
Nick Pon:Yes and no. We’ve contacted Guinness in the past about setting a record for most cars in a road race, and they gave us a fairly arbitrary number to beat–I think it was 175. There was no existing record, so they set the bar there. I understand that–if they said that the number to beat was one car, since there was no record on file, every race organization would say “Hey, we’ve done more than that.” But at the beginning, we weren’t particularly organized in documenting our numbers. While we’ve had over 175 entries on several occasions, there is still the difference between the number of teams signed up, the number of teams that took the green flag, and the number of teams that eventually turn a lap during the weekend. That’s true of ANY form of racing–if you look at the real Le Mans, there’s always entries that did not start, or did not finish.
For the event at Thunderhill that finally did set the record, one of our regular participants, Julian Cordle, volunteered to take care of all the documentation that Guinness wanted. Turns out he’s been through the process before–he set a record for the longest game of Wiffle Ball! It wound up being a LOT of work, but that work was necessary to convince Guinness that we weren’t making these numbers up. So, because of Julian’s efforts, this attempt was much more serious than our previous efforts. Even at that, the discrepancies in our numbers (240+ registered, 216 taking the green flag, and 230ish turning a lap sometime during the weekend) was something that required a lot of working with Guinness to convince them. Our timing and scoring chief, Roland Hahn of Specialty Timing, was also instrumental in providing Guinness what they wanted. In the end, we were certified for 216, the number of cars that took the green flag.
The Burnout: How did you prepare for the event? What sort of incentive did you give all those people to show up?
Nick Pon: Thunderhill has always been one of our largest events. It has the paddock and track space to accommodate more cars than some of our other popular venues. This year, they expanded their track from just under three miles to FIVE miles, so we figured that was as good a place as any to give it a shot. People were excited about the new five-mile layout, and the chance to be part of a record was further incentive.
The Burnout: With this many people on the track, were you prepared for any extra collisions or wrecks?
Nick Pon: Interestingly, with 216 cars on the five-mile layout, the density of cars-per-mile is actually less than what we have at other venues. And, although you’re naturally going to have some correlation between number of cars and number of incidents, LeMons drivers are generally very clean. Between their knowledge that it’s a long race and it doesn’t pay to fight for every single corner, and the fact that we make them dance the YMCA when they screw up, on-track behavior is remarkably good. I’d bet that a two-day LeMons race with 200+ cars has fewer incidents than other races with significantly smaller fields and shorter races.
Practically, though, because of the distances involved in the five-mile layout, we did have to add extra tow trucks and ambulances for the back side of the track. We didn’t want people breaking down in turn 27 and then having to sit there for an hour waiting for a tow!
The Burnout: Did the chance to be in the World Records book affect the crowd/participants. Was there a different vibe, or the same type of crazy, focused enthusiasm:) Did you get any unusual participants or vehicles as a result (more than normal)?
Nick Pon: I think people were excited about it. Guinness provided us with little stickers commemorating the attempt that we stuck on every car. Again, I think it appealed to the inner kid in people to feel like they might set a record. Thunderhill’s director David Vodden did a lot of great work in spreading the word to the local media. I think the normal zaniness that goes with a LeMons race was there, but there was this extra feeling that we were all part of something more exciting than usual.
The Burnout: Was it a clean race or did you guys run out of tar-and-feathers?
Nick Pon: Proportionally, it was no worse than a normal LeMons event. So by the sheer numbers, there were a LOT of black flags, but again, compared to other, smaller races, I don’t think it was really that bad. We’d certainly feel safe doing it again.
The Burnout: Are there any other records that LeMons has their eyes on?
Nick Pon: Good question! I dunno, maybe most people dancing the YMCA at once? Although, I bet they’ve done that one at a football game or something, so maybe we need to set our sights somewhere else. Maybe dancing the Macho Man.