How to Go from Backseat Driver to Real (LeMons) Racer

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Source: stephanzuercher, Flikr

If you’re determined to get behind the wheel of a race car, you’ve undoubtedly searched the internet for the most economical way. You may as well search for the least painful way to be torn limb from limb. Racing is expensive. There’s just no getting around it. But you can mitigate costs by lowering your expectations of how a race car should look, run, and smell.

You can get yourself some real-deal honest-to-goodness seat time in a car prepped for racing through a so-called crapcan racing series such as World Racing League, ChumpCar, or my personal favorite, the 24 Hours of Lemons. I’ll assume for the purposes of this article that the reader has a passing familiarity with these series so that I may focus on how to get involved.There are three basic levels of involvement. Do them in order or face the wrath of Khan. He’s been working on his wrath, and he won’t be nearly so easily dealt with as before.

Step 1 – Get Internetty

The internet is your friend. Get yourself on some forums and start chatting with people who do LeMons. Find out when the next race near you is. Teams have many drivers to split up the work. Sooner or later you are bound to hit upon a team that has an open seat which needs buttocks, and, but for the small matter of some money, there’s no reason those buttocks could not be your buttocks. Buttocks!

Most LeMons teams have a Facebook page as well. Join up with them there too. They’ll post videos of them spinning out. I even have video of one of our cars blowing its engine in a smoky oily mess. Fun times!

You may be tempted to prep a car yourself. Don’t do it. You might think “Hey, $500 race car? I can swing that!” but that figure is nowhere near what it’ll actually cost to get your car prepped, let alone get you through race weekend. In fact, that’s probably the neighborhood of what it’s going to cost you to get an arrive-and-drive seat. Save your money for now. There will be plenty of time to blow it later.

LeMons is a weird many-layered zoo, and like a zoo, it takes time to fully sample its odor. If you try building a car yourself before you get a sense of it, there’s a better-than-average chance you’ll screw something up and not be able to race at all, which will mean you’ve just played what I call money golf.

Go outside. Dig a hole. Throw some money into it. Hole in one! You just played money golf.

Step 2 – Attend a Race

LeMons is a race, but it’s also a weird block party where everyone’s trying to coax scrap heaps into simulacrums of performance. If you’re a car guy, Friday and Saturday nights are worth attending just for the fun, wrench turning, and, once the cars have stopped for the day, beer drinking.

It’s not a bad idea to attend a race before you ever drive. Just walk around the paddock saying hello to folks. Maybe offer an extra hand if someone’s in the middle of an overnight engine swap. Most teams will be.

The forums are super active, but there’s no replacement for face to face meetings. At the risk of aggrandizing LeMons, it is a thriving community. Reputation matters, and people remember you, especially in your region. In professional racing its understood that the will to win trumps any sense of human decency, but not so with LeMons.

Step 3 – Arrive and Drive

By now you should have met a team looking for a driver, either by posting on the forums, speaking to people in person, or both. Insane people branch off from existing teams with sorted cars to found floundering teams. They do this all the time for some reason. Get yourself hooked up with just such a deranged individual, and begin the process of assembling your safety gear if you don’t have it already.

You can buy your fire suit and helmet or rent it. If you’re only going to race a couple of times a year it’s probably cheaper to rent it, but if you buy your suit you don’t have to wonder who else’s sweaty buttocks have been inside it.

It will cost you a couple of hundred bucks for your seat, and a few hundred more for your safety gear. But this is still far, far cheaper than running your own team, especially considering that even if you had your own car there would still be entry fees and safety gear to buy.

Step 4 – Forget About Winning

Everyone wants to be a winner. Sure, you may be the toast of the Internet because of your Playstation driving prowess, or the talk of the carpool lane because of your speedy commutes, but the fact is that car racing is a wildly different thing. (As an aside, the more I drive competitively, the more every day drivers scare the feces out of me.) Driving a car on its limit is something that takes a lot of time to learn. Most drivers never learn to do it, and attempting it as a novice invites a host of consequences.

For one thing, you will undoubtedly wear your tires unnecessarily. For another, you’re likely to dip a wheel off the track or contact another racing car, either of which will net you the attention of the black flag swinging authorities. You’ll face penalties and the irate glares of your new teammates. Don’t be that person. Relax. Stay clear of penalties, and work on your pace with care.

Winning a LeMons race takes five things: a lack of penalties, super long stints, lightening fast pit stops, and a flawless vehicle. Sure, that’s four things, but I’m calling it five because there’s a whole other undefinable thing that for the purposes of discussion I’ll call “Giveadamn.”

Racing is fun, but after about an hour in the car you’ll understand why racing drivers are all so fit. Yeah, it’s because they have to keep their weight and size down, but it’s also because driving a racing car is work. Your body just isn’t exposed to the loads that flogging even a rusty heap can put on it. To do the sort of stints you’d have to pull to win you’d need a whole heaping bucketful of Giveadamn. I say save that for later.

Remember that you are driving a heap that is better suited to being melted down and turned into toilet handles than farting smoke around a race course. The car will undoubtedly have an issue over the weekend. You might not get all the seat time you thought you were going to get. If you experience Giveadamn about this, knock it off. That’s LeMons.

As much as I’d like to someday win a LeMons race, I don’t want to spend the weekend working. I want to drive a bit and goof around with some fellow car people. Come on out and see if you like it too.

About Jim Hodgson 6 Articles
Jim Hodgson is a published novelist and car guy. He's run on track and in parking lots with SCCA and the world famous buffoon menagerie that is 24 Hours of LeMons. He's the co-host of homemade car show Crossthreaded, and a thanker of corner workers. Thank you, corner workers! Link: http://crossthreaded.us
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