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Lemons Live Their NASCAR Dreams At Conn. Racetrack

Clunkers-turned-race cars have their day to shine as Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park plays host to 24 Hours of Lemons, an endurance race for cars made with less than $500.
Tyler Russell
/
Connecticut Public
Clunkers-turned-race cars have their day to shine as Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park plays host to 24 Hours of Lemons, an endurance race for cars made with less than $500.

The world’s oldest active endurance racing event is the 24 Hours of Le Mans. But 24 Hours of Lemons might be the world’s strangest endurance racing event. Both challenge drivers to complete as many laps as possible within a set amount of time with the victory going to whoever completes the most. The main difference? At Lemons, “Vehicles must be acquired and prepared for a maximum of $500.”

The legend of Lemons begins with company owner Jay Lamm, then an auto journalist, looking around at a high-end car rally and saying to himself, “What if we did this, but all the cars were terrible? Wouldn’t that be more fun?” So a race involving $500 cars was held. And much to his surprise, he discovered that the cars … held up just fine.

The next natural step was to make the race harder on the cars. Thus, an endurance race based on Le Mans was born. That first 24-hour rally went great — it was everything Lamm could have hoped for. But then he got an unexpected question. “When’s the next one?” Fifteen years and over 200 races later, 24 Hours of Lemons is still going strong, and what keeps it going is an enthusiastic base of competitors who just keep showing up.

Race results were as varied as the cars. Class A winners Team 444, the Bostonwhiners, completed 517 laps. At the other end of the spectrum Team 74, Super Soft Raceday, completed four. Arguably the highest award at a Lemons race is the Index of Effluency. The IOE is decided with a highly complex formula (how well your car did/how awful your car is). This race’s IOE went to Team 77 and their 1978 Chrysler Cordoba. They completed a respectable 314 laps.

If the 24 Hours of Lemons experience interests you, you are not alone. There are 20 Lemons races across the country scheduled for the next year, and judge Eric Rood says, “That’s a little light.” Cheap cars, goofy themes, and a low barrier to entry make these races events for everyone who wants in. “It’s a chance to race your dream car,” said Rood, “even if it’s not how you might expect.”

The full race name is the “24 Hours of Lemons GP Du Lac Chargoggagoggmanchauggagoggchaubunagungamaugg.” The name is taken from a lake just north of the track in Thompson.
Tyler Russell
The full race name is the “24 Hours of Lemons GP Du Lac Chargoggagoggmanchauggagoggchaubunagungamaugg.” The name is taken from a lake just north of the track in Thompson.
Team 36, Stupid Myth Racing from Glastonbury brought along a 1977 Pinto. It is not too hard to see how you could cheaply obtain an older car with a bad reputation (more on that later).
Tyler Russell
Team 36, Stupid Myth Racing from Glastonbury, brought along a 1977 Pinto. It is not too hard to see how you could cheaply obtain an older car with a reputation for exploding, the inaccuracies of which driver Bill Rainey was happy to explain. Calling this multiyear Lemons competitor a “Pinto enthusiast” might be an understatement. He says that he and his wife have owned 53 Pintos over the years.
Team 77, Valve Tap Racing out of Collegeville Pa, went one year newer and decidedly less sporty with a 1978 Chrysler Cordoba. (Original Corinthian leather seats no longer included.)
Tyler Russell
Team 77, Valve Tap Racing out of Collegeville, Pa., went one year newer and decidedly less sporty with a 1978 Chrysler Cordoba. (Original Corinthian leather seats no longer included.) Driver Jim Sayre said he loves the absurd car choices. “Cars you’re not supposed to race, weren’t ever made to race.”
“Y U RUIN CLASSIC?” has become a meme in the Lemons community. To deliver the line correctly you need to put emphasis on every syllable while waving your hands above your head in a manner best described as announcing a touchdown while doing the robot. They clearly take the accusation seriously.
Tyler Russell
“Y U RUIN CLASSIC?” has become a meme in the Lemons community. They clearly take the accusation seriously. Team 482, the Dead Horse Beaters from Connecticut, appear to have been driving a 1967 Mustang. In fact, the “Classtroll” is the body of a ’67 Mustang, a partial subframe from a Honda Accord, and it is powered by the engine from a Honda Odyssey. To take things a step further, that engine is center mounted, meaning it sits directly behind the driver.
Team 16, the Pride Boys and the Tiki Torch Take-Back out of Stonington, raced a 1998 Acura Integra. Certainly on the newer end of Lemons cars at Thompson, though the honor of “newest” went to a 2007 Mazda 3. The Pride Boys take pride in their themes, and have had many since they got into Lemons in 2010. Some notable examples include “Game of Crumple Zones” and “50 Shades of AAA.”
Tyler Russell
Team 16, the Pride Boys and the Tiki Torch Take-Back out of Stonington, raced a 1998 Acura Integra. It was certainly on the newer end of Lemons cars at Thompson, though the honor of “newest” went to a 2007 Mazda 3. The Pride Boys take pride in their themes, and they have had many since they got into Lemons in 2010. Some notable examples include “Game of Crumple Zones” and “50 Shades of AAA.”
Team 155, the Lemontarians from New Britain, decorated their 1985 Cadillac Fleetwood Brougham with a fully functional chandelier inspired by the Duke’s car in Escape From New York. If team members are to be believed, the car is registered, insured, and street legal.
Tyler Russell
Team 155, the Lemontarians from New Britain, decorated their 1985 Cadillac Fleetwood Brougham with a fully functional chandelier inspired by the Duke’s car in "Escape from New York." If team members are to be believed, the car is registered, insured and street legal.
Lemons does not fill the stands, but it certainly draws a crowd. 103 teams took part in the 2021 race at Thompson. With each team consisting of multiple drivers and mechanics, there were easily 500 competitors.
Tyler Russell
Lemons does not fill the stands, but it certainly draws a crowd. 103 teams took part in the 2021 race at Thompson. With each team consisting of multiple drivers and mechanics, there were easily 500 competitors.
The Cordoba team is a family affair. Amy Sayre (above) shares the wheel with her son Bo and husband Jim. Jim says he gets a kick out of being able to claim that he is, “the world’s best Cordoba racecar driver.”
Tyler Russell
The Cordoba team is a family affair. Amy Sayre (above) shares the wheel with her son Bo and husband Jim. Jim says he gets a kick out of being able to claim that he is “the world’s best Cordoba race car driver.”
Team member Jacqueline Simonis pointed out that Lemons is just a great way get time on a race track. For the cost of registration the team gets to go out and drive around for two whole days. Under normal circumstances amatures like them might pay a few hundred dollars to get a short session on a track.
Tyler Russell
For Team 16, working on their Lemons car is a social event, a reason to get together throughout the year, and then to spend a whole weekend hanging out during the race. The same seemed to hold true for many teams. When cars were on the track, many paddocks felt more like friends out camping than a garage.
How many years, you might ask? The first driver of the day, Constantine Mantopoulos, is 66 years old and has been racing since the late 80s. His son Aris said that they’ve been learning the Lemons way as they go, and they occasionally have to “resist the urge” to fall back on their rally driving habits on the track.
Tyler Russell
The Scooby Doobies out of Killingworth came to Lemons for the first time this year, but it was far from their first race. Every one of them has been involved in rally car driving for years. How many years, you might ask? The first driver of the day, Constantine Mantopoulos, is 66 years old and has been racing since the late 80s.
While every team in Lemons is a group effort, for some it is about something bigger. Team Lazarus Raced From the Dead races to raise awareness for Lazarus House Ministries, an organization combating poverty and homelessness in Lawrence, Mass.
Tyler Russell
While every team in Lemons is a group effort, for some it is about something bigger. Team Lazarus Raced from the Dead races to raise awareness for Lazarus House Ministries, an organization combating poverty and homelessness in Lawrence, Mass.
As for the Lemontarians… I could tell you about what Halfdan Prahl, seen above talking to driver Nicky Stephens, does for a living or how he came to be in Lemons, but that might ruin the mystique. As Lemons judge Eric Rood jokingly put it, “Halfdan is from another planet… You don’t find these people. They arrive, and it’s their place.”
Tyler Russell
As for the Lemontarians … I could tell you about what Halfdan Prahl, seen above talking to driver Nicky Stephens, does for a living or how he came to be in Lemons, but that might ruin the mystique. As Lemons judge Eric Rood jokingly put it, “Halfdan is from another planet … You don’t find these people. They arrive, and it’s their place.”
 As the Lemontarians parading around on their custom pit “vehicle” demonstrates, this may be a race, but it is really about people having fun.
Tyler Russell
As the Lemontarians parading around on their custom pit “vehicle” demonstrates, this may be a race, but it is really about people having fun.
The constant grind of hundreds of laps was grueling for cars originally designed for a daily commute. When racing paused on Saturday night, it seemed every car at Thompson was up on jacks.
Tyler Russell
The constant grind of hundreds of laps was grueling for cars originally designed for a daily commute. When racing paused on Saturday night, it seemed every car at Thompson was up on jacks.
Of course, cutting it close with their gas can cost drivers even more time. Team 482 were far from the only ones to be found pushing their car over to the gas pumps. “It turns out, homemade cars don’t have good gas gauges,” one of them lamented.
Tyler Russell
The most common things pulling cars off the track were refueling and swapping drivers. Of course, cutting it close with the gas can cost drivers even more time. Team 482 was far from the only one to be found pushing its car over to the gas pumps. “It turns out, homemade cars don’t have good gas gauges,” one of them lamented.
Good gauges or not, the “dashboards” of many Lemons cars are unique. In addition to labyrinthian electrical work many cars feature a full-size wall clock for easy driver reference. In the case of Team 482, they also used it to estimate how much gas they have left.
Tyler Russell
Good gauges or not, the “dashboards” of many Lemons cars are unique. In addition to labyrinthian electrical work, many cars feature a full-size wall clock for easy driver reference. In the case of Team 482, they also used it to estimate how much gas they have left.
Alas, this race was not for them. After fixing their fuel problem the Classtroll spent most of the remaining race time in the pits with an overheating issue the team could not seem to pin down. Heavily modified cars like theirs are certainly more interesting, but also more difficult to work on.
Tyler Russell
Alas, this race was not for these two. After the two fixed the fuel problem, the Classtroll spent most of the remaining race time in the pits with an overheating issue the team could not seem to pin down. Heavily modified cars like theirs are certainly more interesting, but they're also more difficult to work on.
Sometimes the source of a car’s problem is much more obvious. Team Lazarus Raced from the Dead was caught up in a collision when an overzealous driver in front of them lost control of his car while exiting a turn and spun out. Lazarus did indeed race again, but only after some harrowing repair work.
Tyler Russell
Sometimes the source of a car’s problem is much more obvious. Team Lazarus Raced from the Dead was caught up in a collision when an overzealous driver in front of them lost control of his car while exiting a turn and spun out. Lazarus did indeed race again, but only after some harrowing repair work.
 Jim Sayre and his Cordoba were caught in several minor collisions. One dented the passenger side door leading the team to outline it in imitation crime scene tape. Another crash knocked loose the exhaust which was bent back into shape using a chain and another car then held in place with bailing wire.
Tyler Russell
Jim Sayre and his Cordoba were caught in several minor collisions. One dented the passenger side door, leading the team to outline it in imitation crime scene tape. Another crash knocked loose the exhaust, which was bent back into shape using a chain and another car then held in place with bailing wire.
“If it looks dumb but it works, it ain’t that dumb,” said one of the Lemontarians about the fix above. A literal fender-bender bent metal into contact with the tire. After several attempts at more nuanced fixes, the team found success by jamming a board into the wheel well and driving the car back and forth to force the metal back into shape.
Tyler Russell
“If it looks dumb but it works, it ain’t that dumb,” said one of the Lemontarians about the fix above. A literal fender-bender bent metal into the tire. After several attempts at more nuanced fixes, the team found success by jamming a board into the wheel well and driving the car back and forth to force the metal back into shape.
A checkered flag waved in the motley parade just as it would at any other race at the Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park.
Tyler Russell
A checkered flag waved in the motley parade just as it would at any other race at the Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park.
Class A winners also have the honor of their car being used as the judges’ stage for handing out awards. The trophies arrayed before it are for race winners as well as some more unique commendations. The “Heroic Fix” and “I Got Screwed” awards are long standing traditions. This race’s special award (read: made up on the spot by the judges) was the “Varfor Forstorde Du Klassiker” which was their best Google Translate version of “Why You Ruin Classic”. The award went to Team 401, Rust in the Wind, and their 1963 Ford Flacon that was running on a Saab motor.
Tyler Russell
Class A winners also have the honor of their car being used as the judges’ stage for handing out awards. The trophies arrayed before it are for race winners as well as some more unique commendations. The “Heroic Fix” and “I Got Screwed” awards are long-standing traditions. This race’s special award (read: made up on the spot by the judges) was the “Varfor Forstorde Du Klassiker,” which was their best Google Translate version of “Why You Ruin Classic.” The award went to Team 401, Rust in the Wind, and their 1963 Ford Falcon that was running on a Saab motor.