Jay Lamm is a long-time friend. Back in 2006, when he first thought of “LeMons,” I encouraged him. I told him he should simply go ahead and do it; the sooner he started, the quicker he’d discover exactly how it should be done. “Just make your mistakes and move on.”
The first 24 Hours of LeMons at Altamont Speedway, near Livermore, California, was a huge success. I had never seen so many people having such a good time at any motorsports event. The wacky car decorations, off-the-wall penalties for driving infractions, and total improbability of anyone even enduring to the finish, all made it work.
There were some improvements needed, including the need to eliminate rough driving, and to find better tracks to run on. Jay made the necessary changes. Now, it’s five years later. The entries have gotten better and better. The best tracks compete to host a 24 Hours of LeMons event.
But there’s a nasty little secret that threatens the whole enterprise. At the outset, in a tongue-in-cheek way, Lamm encouraged entrants to bribe the B.S. inspectors – the guys who eyeballed each entry to see if it really was a $500 car, with just those modifications required to ensure safety. Cars suspected of being cheaters were assigned penalty laps. Twenty-dollar bills were taped to air cleaners. Bottles of wine were presented. All in good fun. The judges got to keep those bribes.
Now the B.S. inspectors are out of control. Here’s what happened to my son, David Swig, at the recent Infineon Raceway Sears Point 24 Hours of LeMons. He entered his Acura ex SCCA-ITx that had already run at LeMons and was disliked by the judges because it’s really quick. How David acquired it is important. For the second LeMons in 2007 he bought, for $450, a Toyota MR-2 off the street in Berkeley. He traded that car even-up for this Acura. So clearly the Acura is within the spirit of LeMons: $500 or cheaper, plus safety stuff.
At this LeMons’ tech inspection, motoring journalist Jonny Leiberman was serving as a judge. He proposed to David a 41-lap penalty, clearly stating that he “hated” the car. David countered with “would $100 for charity help?” Leiberman demanded $1,000 “on-the-hood.” David countered with “$200 for charity.” Leiberman refused and reiterated “$1,000 on-the-hood” (no mention of charity).
Incidentally, the third-place finisher at this event, a previous winner, was an equally-prepared, almost identical Acura, also an ex-race car, that arrived in a three car trailer with a crew of at least a dozen. That car was assessed no penalty laps.
There’s also the matter of buying one’s way out of black-flag infractions. Jay Lamm claims to me that’s not possible, but many people came away from the drivers’ meeting thinking it was. Clear communication needed.
In this rant, I’m not pleading my son’s case. He can take care of himself. This is a plea for Lamm to take management control, to insist on ethical behavior and consistency from top to bottom. Without these elements, any organization will fail. I think 24 Hours of LeMons is a fabulous addition to the motoring hobby, so I want to see it thrive.