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Racing is expensive. Preparing a car takes big bucks. Racing is a serious matter for serious people.

Except when it's not.

The 24 Hours of Lemons began with a bit too much beer and chinese. Somewhere between belches automotive journalist and miata racer Jay Lamm dreamed up the idea of an endurance race for the little people. No Ferraris, or expensive Bimmers, The car and all preparation (except for safety items, which include tires) must all be done with $500 or less. You know, the price of a beater, a lemon. The idea was to stretch out these cars on their last legs by making them run for 24 hours. A true test of endurance. And the ability to shop for cheap cars.

Of course no one in motorsports cheats. In the unlikely event that someone does, the People's Curse Award helps level the field. At the end of the first 12 hours the car hated the most by the other competitors and witnesses is chosen by unpopular ballot. Then it is destroyed! Sometimes the destruction is completed by pick-axe weilding suffragettes. Sometimes a tracked hoe savages the cår. No matter-- the offending entry must suffer!

There are other tests. Robed and wigged barristers examine each care carefully for details and the appropriate safety equipment (like a roll cage). Brakes are tested by baby carriages rolled in front of the car. Handling is tested when the competitors must drive a slalom course marked by mannequins in restful positions. Hit anything and you'll suffer a ten-lap penalty.

Of course the driving quality is variable as many who have never raced take the wheel on the tight course. Overly aggressive driving (you know, hitting people) is punished by the Wheel of Misfortune. Offending cads and road-hogs are sent to the pits, spin the wheel and accept the appropriate penalty, like having a metal pig welded to the roof. They might have spikes welded in front of your radiator, all courtesy of the arc angel. Worst of all offenders might even be condemned to chin music, namely listening to Afternoon Delight for the rest of the competition.

Could anything be more horrible than 24 hours of the Starland Vocal Band?

At the end of the day, the car that makes the most laps winds a hefty purse, paid in nickels. At the first race the Road & Track was pushed over the line after a failed differential by their competitors at Car & Driver. They shared their winnings for the assist, shattering the CD car's windshield.

So there is racing on a budget! And colorful cars painted with spray cans from Odd Lots. And competition spiced by the fear of crushing a baby carriage. And since the 24 Hours of LeMons has since become a series, it's coming soon to a raceway near you. Well, near me at least. Which has me asking myself, "Just what would Wile E. Coyote do?" I think I know.


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