A Rookie at 24 Hours of Lemons: Finding Fulfillment, Community, and Satan in My First Endurance Race

Racing a $500 Cadillac with a huge fake poop on the roof for 24 hours straight will teach you many things—almost none of it about driving.

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A Rookie at 24 Hours of Lemons: Finding Fulfillment, Community, and Satan in My First Endurance Race © A Rookie at 24 Hours of Lemons: Finding Fulfillment, Community, and Satan in My First Endurance Race

It's about 3:30 in the afternoon on Saturday, June 9. High Plains Raceway in Colorado drones with the sound of the ongoing 24 Hours of Lemons. Me and teammates Rafi, Rick, and Marcus, along with our Cadillac Deville, sit in a circle. We're on camping chairs; the car is on jack stands. Our prematurely-ended B.F.E. GP has gone as badly as any first-time racing experience could, and we couldn't be more excited about coming back in October for the Get Yer Phil 500. 

We are the latest victims of the Lemons affliction, and we don't want no cure.

Murilee Martin

Genesis 1:1 In the beginning, Phil created the tech and BS inspection

Friday, June 8. I arrived at High Plains Raceway, a racing oasis in the rural nothingness that is eastern Colorado, hence the B.F.E GP name (it stands for "Butt Fuck, Egypt"). The scenery is so dull that it may as well be Kansas, but the weather is decidedly Nevada: most daylight hours this weekend would be above 90 degrees. As soon as I found a parking space, Rafi and I donned our robes. Mine trimmed with golden crosses, his with First Order Stormtroopers. We're Holy Crap Racing: The Second Coming, named to celebrate the holy roller Cadillac's second race entry.

I climbed in to the Caddy to pilot it down to tech and BS inspection. BS inspection is where a team presents its ledger for the car's construction and race preparation, which has to cost a net of $500, max. Our car, initially built and campaigned by a Texan team, was already kosher. Judge Phil adored the combination of car and costumes, and snapped photos for his Lemons archive.

As part of BS inspection, teams are assigned classes based on anticipated competitiveness. Class A, for teams that may win; Class B, for those that may finish; Class C, for those with a snowball's chance in hell of either; and Class F, exclusively for automotive journalists. We narrowly avoid F and end up in C instead, due to our inexperience and ticking time bomb Cadillac Northstar V8.

Tech inspection verifies that a car's safety equipment—roll cage, harnesses, seat, kill switch—is safe for racing. Here, we were less successful. The cage and all driver restraints cut the mustard, but the kill switch didn't do what its name implies. We were shooed away with the promise of a pass if we could make the switch functional. 

James Gilboy

We set to work diagnosing why the kill switch was unruly. The idea is to have an accessible switch that cuts all power, from both the battery and alternator to the rest of the car, when there's a risk of fire. Probing with a multimeter revealed our switch was hooked up solely to the battery, and that when the kill switch was flipped with the engine running, the alternator continued to power the ignition system. The Caddy's constructors wired the switch incorrectly, and we suspect that they passed inspection using slight of hand, turning the key as they flipped the semi-functional kill switch.

Rick and I consulted other teams in the paddock for solutions. We had limited wire, cable, and tools, and could only fudge so much. Salty Thunder Racing, who ran twin Pontiac Fieros, provided us with direction. Repair efforts were interrupted by the mandatory rookie meeting. The judges gave a briefing on race flags and the mistakes rookies often make. Overtaking during yellow flags, exuberant driving, and sojourns through the dirt are grounds for a black flag—a penalty. It's a five-strikes-you're-out system, the likes of which would benefit Giancarlo Stanton.

According to the judges, rookies usually don't finish the race. A challenge.

Meeting concluded, Rick crawled back beneath the Cadillac. Hours on, at 8:30, he signaled us to crank the car for a test of his fiddlings. The car rumbled to life, we flipped the kill switch, and it functioned as billed. The magical man that is Rick Frickin' Steinbauer has guaranteed us a place on track in the morning, when we pass our next trip through tech.

We agreed in the fading light that our 2.5-mile track walk was best saved for the morning. Eighteen hours deep into the day, on minimal sleep, I was grateful for the decision. Up and down the paddock, teams that passed inspection celebrated over a beer, and those that failed mourned or worried, also over a beer.

James Gilboy

Hebrews 12:1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us

Overnight, I learned to identify every power tool known to man by the sound it makes. Lesson learned: don't try to sleep near the pits as late arrivals grind away at their Plymouth Arrows. Come six-something in the morning, my brain saw daylight, and gave up on further rest.

We set off on our 2.5-mile hike of High Plains Raceway before the morning's driver meeting. Of us four, only Marcus had any racing experience, from his SCCA sprint days. The rest of us had no track driving experience whatsoever, let alone a history of endurance racing. Nevertheless, our track walk left us with confidence. Sure, with a V8 and front-wheel-drive, handling suffers, but with what's under the hood, we could keep pace with the Saturn V down the back straight. Our unparalleled stability could even the odds through High Plains' infamous turn 10, a short downhill braking zone into a slow square right, known for catching out overconfident drivers.

The drivers' meeting reiterated the rules, and offered an overview of track specifics, like the locations of flag stations and the onsite fuel pump. Set free to prepare for the race, teams got to work suiting up their drivers for the first stint of the race, due to start at 10:00. We agreed on a driver order based on the order in which we joined the team: Rafi, myself, Rick, Marcus. All fronted money to get here, but as the car's owner, Rafi had the greatest investment in the weekend. He would start the race, and with everyone else's chance for seat time on his shoulders, he knew not to ruin it for his team by rolling the car. We helped him suit up, and once in the car, he lined up with the rest of the race starters.

James Gilboy

A race marshal waved Rafi out on the track for two slow parade laps, allowing the cars to reach operating temperature. The green flag fell at 10:00, beginning the B.F.E. GP.

Rafi spent his first lap finding footing, and his second making good use of it: his second-ever lap of High Plains Raceway would be the fastest our team would record over the entire weekend, a 2:51.662. The confidence he gained from his lap came back to bite him soon thereafter, and at 10:10, he became one of the race's first black flag recipients after a slip-up in turn one. The number 81 Ford Pinto of C*R*A*S*H captured his misadventure in its dash cam.

Concerned about the condition of the car's brakes after his mishap, Rafi radioed in to tell us he would return to the pits to serve his time in the penalty box, and have us inspect the brakes. While we lifted the car on jack stands, Rafi extricated himself to help check for overheating or brake drag. The pedal felt fine, he said, and we found neither drag nor cause for alarm.

Come 10:26, Rafi's back in the car, cranking the Northstar before a return to the track. At 10:35, the Saturn of Team Lemo'ktoberfest two pits down announced its return with a cloud of smoke and the drumming of rod knock, only five laps in.

Murilee Martin

Rafi makes mention of power loss over the radio, but his tone doesn't suggest a critical situation. At 10:45, he goes off the track again, earning black flag number two, this time after the back straight. He doesn't express concern for the brakes, but having sat in the car for over an hour, he volunteers a driver swap ahead of our predicted one-hour rotations. As the next man in line, I don't object. Already suited up, I'm strapped in by my teammates, and clip a radio to my pocket, its headset snaking into my helmet. The marshal checks for a driver wristband at the pit exit and waves me out for my first taste of track driving.

Murilee Martin

2 Peter 1:6 And knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness

As I trundle out to the track on the pit road, an undercurrent of anxiety burbles in my brain. It's the middle of a race, and I have no track experience, let alone racing experience. My time behind the wheel of this car totals less than 15 minutes, and Lemons rules dictate that a third black flag means a one-hour campout in the penalty box. If I make one mistake, my teammates will lose track time. No pressure.

Exiting the pit road, I check my mirrors for cars to wave past. There are plenty. While my right arm works the marshmallowy power steering, my left hangs out the window, pointing pursuers past me. This language is understood by all but the drivers of Team Scream, assembled from multiple Car & Driver staff, past and present. How they too dodged Class F I can't fathom. Yes, this is shade I'm throwing their way.

I wrangle the unwilling Cadillac as I learn my way around High Plains Raceway. The only response the Deville's front end returns is the constant, audible protest of its tiny tires, which object to the burdens of steering, braking, and acceleration. The brakes are not reassuring; they slow the car, but often shudder the wheel as they do so. With new rotors, I can rule out warpage, and as there is no ABS, I suspect wheel hop.

Our only weapon—the 200 and change horsepower of the Northstar—is blunted by an automatic transmission that someone presumably filled with NyQuil instead of Dexron. Double-tapping the go pedal to force a downshift works only half the time, and even if it succeeds at downshifting, there's no guarantee it will shift back up again. I do a lot of hanging out at the rev limit on straights, waiting to see if the transmission will shift. When all is well, I can keep up with the fastest cars out there on the straights, many of whom reported later to me that they saw speeds of around 100 at the end of the back straight. Our sole gauge is a multimeter hooked to the fuel sender, so I have no guess as to how fast the Caddy could go.

Murilee Martin

Trying to stay in contact with my team, I cue the radio with the wire-mounted button and report systems normal, save for the transmission. No responses but the occasional beep. Radio contact was spotty during Rafi's stint, and apparently, gone entirely for mine.

As I settled in, I had to wave cars past less and less often. Sure, some indecisive and impatient drivers couldn't decide whether to heed my finger (pointer) telling them to pass on the right or left, but most figured it out fast enough. I came close to collisions a couple times when cars snuck in behind those I waved past, invisible in my mirrors at the back of the group. I waved by some poor sap in the Rattenpakung Racing #111 BMW 318ti through turn 10, only to watch him spin off into the dirt after stomping the throttle. For his bravado, he was awarded a black flag.

1 John 1:9 If we confess our sins, Phil is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness

Between the 90 degree heat, high altitude, dehydration, and breathing plenty of carbon monoxide, I was feeling plenty queasy. With no clock in the car or working radio, I had no clue how long I had spent in the car, or how many laps I had completed. After a small brake lockup that came close to sending me off the track, I saw the corner marshals waving a black flag next to a sign with our car number, 316. Though the judges like us, and didn't enforce an embarrassing punishment as promised for Rafi after his second detour, flag three was no good, and called for a visit to the penalty box.

Entering the pits, I pondered the injustice of being penalized having made a punishable mistake. Arguing with the judges does no good in Lemons, so I decided to take it on the chin. When I arrived to check why I was flagged, the marshal said I had no penalty, and that a pit stop had been requested by my team, with a black flag being a reliable way to get me into the pits.

My teammates were befuddled when I asked whose idea it was to give me that heart attack. They said they never went to race officials to request a pit stop, and were discussing how to bring me in when I arrived.

I think it was a miracle, an act of the Lord. For my piety regarding track limits, I was blessed with bottled water. I felt too hungover to wish it were wine.

Murilee Martin

Book of Job

I was told my stint lasted an hour and ten, ending at about 12:10, which isn't bad. Though slow, I cranked out consistent laps, putting us in 48th place. We're not doing well per se, but I succeeded at not adding to our black flag tally. Rick promises a similar cruising-to-church performance before we pack him into the car, and ship him out onto the track for what would too be his first track drive.

Rafi and I corroborate our findings of weak power and reluctant shifting. We toy with the idea of a Getrag five-speed manual swap for our next race, as some Fiero owners add when swapping Northstar V8s into their cars. Both of us are convinced that despite our weak handling, consistent access to our horsepower would keep us in play for more of the lap. The Cadillac is among the fastest cars on the back straight, and a responsive transmission would surely give us some overtaking opportunities.

As we converse, Rick radioes in to report weak acceleration. We think nothing of it, having both experienced such firsthand. What we didn't experience was a total shutdown of the engine—accompanied by clouds of steam—that Rick did shortly thereafter. He reported the issue via radio at 12:45 before coasting in to the pits, transmission in neutral.

Once in our pit box, we tried the starter, but the Northstar refused to crank. Bad juju. Pulling up the hood reveals the lower radiator hose has popped off the block. Presumably, we ran the engine dry of coolant, and it shut down to save itself. How thoughtful. Rafi volunteers as fall guy, saying he may not have correctly reinstalled the hose clamp when we changed out the car's coolant for distilled water before the race. We brought plenty of spare distilled water, so no biggie, but Rick's concerned.

As a former BMW master technician, he has, as the Bavarians say, seen some Scheiße. Sure, the clamp may have worked itself loose, but an unsavory possibility has crossed his mind. Coolant hoses can blow themselves off if system pressure gets too high, such as when coolant passages are somehow exposed to combustion pressures. He drops the bomb we haven't prepared for: a blown head gasket.

Northstars are notorious for this problem, owing to factory head bolts that stretch out either over time, or when the engine is overheated. The team that built this car said it installed aftermarket head studs that prevent this problem, and they successfully raced in the summer heat of Houston last year, so we believe them. We didn't expect this to be a problem for us, and it's one we are not equipped to handle—mentally, or with tools and parts.

With my two years' community college automotive program experience, I chime in that we may instead have a cracked cylinder head. This does morale no favor. I'm glad I didn't mention the possibility of a cracked block.

Rafi Ward

While we investigate the cause of our problems, attrition strikes other teams. In a span of 15 minutes, three cars return to the pits with front wheel issues of varying extremity. Cuzzin Racing's #990 Volkswagen Golf Cabriolet meanders through the pit lane with an angle of positive camber on its front right wheel that I'm sure exceeds factory spec. The Blues Brothers' cop tires on their #96 Ford Crown Victoria apparently weren't built for racing, as their front right flopped deflated on the wheel, its bead de-seated.

These two at least arrived under their own steam. The same cannot be said for DreadNots' #5 Plymouth Arrow, which caught a ride on the back of a flatbed, its front left wheel voting to secede from the car on its first lap after a pit stop. Polish Kielbasa Racing would later copycat this, their #102 Ford Escort throwing its own wheel free less spectacularly down the pit lane.

  • Rafi Ward
  • Wiley Gilboy

We refill the engine with water after letting it cool, and crank. It comes back to life. Rick wanders around back and spots heavy vapor puffing from the exhaust. There's only one unfortunate source for that volume of water in an engine, and it serves as confirmation of a failed head gasket. Or head. Or block.

Our pit neighbors, Team Crapa, sympathize with our plight. They've called in their #888 pickup "Big Red" in for the umpteenth time today, each time trying a new solution to repeated overheating problems. This time, it's total removal of the front bumper.

Judge Phil wanders by to dangle the Heroic Fix award over us, offering it in return for an engine swap. We have the necessary tooling on hand to complete the job: an engine crane, a truck to haul a junkyard Northstar, and a full professional's tool chest. Our professional, however, having spent exponentially more time diagnosing and fixing problems on this Cadillac than actually racing it, has checked out for the weekend. Not a soul in the paddock faults him.

I maintain some hope, and suggest a compression test. If we determine the failed head gasket is accessible, a fix might be in the cards. A pain in the heinie, but a possibility nonetheless.

  • The Good: after asking around, I hunt down a tester in possession by 3 Under Par Racing, whose #218 BMW E28 is still out on track. They lend their tool, which I thread into the Northstar's cylinders, one at a time.
  • The Bad: I record 140-155 psi on six cylinders, which stretches the definition of "within tolerance." Cylinders three and five, adjacent one another, come up far short, at 45 and 55 psi respectively.
  • The Ugly: the Northstar is a transverse-mounted engine, and cylinders three and five are on the rear bank, by the firewall. My hopes of a fix go the way of the Northstar's head gasket.

It's here we reach where this story opened, us kids in a circle, talking replacement engines or starting anew while browsing craigslist. The names LS4, HT4100, and 3.8 supercharged float through the air. Rafi lusts after a Cadillac 4.9 V8, like the one powering the fastest, rattiest car on track: Petrosexual Racing's #10 Mazda Miata. 

Murilee Martin

My napkin math says we would sacrifice no power at this altitude running the 3.8, and may even shave some weight. A lower center of gravity would follow, too, as the 3.8 is a pushrod engine as opposed to overhead cam. GM espouses pushrods for the Corvette, so a Cadillac is worthy of the same refinement.

Regardless, we realize that while almost any General Motors power plant we can think of might bolt up to the Deville's 4T80E transaxle, there would be fabrication involved. Engine mounts, intake, and exhaust systems would need to be custom-built. The ECU would need a reprogramming, and on top of it all, the transmission's shift issue still needs attention. We sigh collectively and continue to trawl craigslist.

Murilee Martin

The Last Supper (at High Plains Raceway)

The checkered flag for day one waves at 6:30; Lemons doesn't race at night. Lemons also doesn't drink while the track is hot, but after the last car returns to its pit box, the booze comes out. The potluck planned over facebook before the race by members of the paddock kicks off, complete with street tacos, enough Doritos to fill the bed of Panda Expresso's #156 BMW E30 Ute, and bum wine.

Over tacos, I bemoan our situation to Salty Thunder Racing, recounting our speculative ideas for an entry in October's Get Yer Phil 500. They reveal to me that one of their pit neighbors, S&MR2 Support Group, is selling off their #44 Toyota MR2 and all its spare parts because they don't feel like trailering it back to California. The asking price is considerable, but within reach when split between four or more people. After informing my team, we agree with the car's owner to trailer it back to Rick's shop. Our October race is secure, thanks to the generosity of S&MR2 Support Group.

Murilee Martin

Philippians 2:4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others

We have all decided we've had a good enough time with Lemons—despite our difficulties—to return for more later this year. It's still Saturday evening, however, and there is a day of racing left in the weekend.

Rafi, Rick, and myself all got some seat time, and Marcus, the short end of the stick. Marcus brought the expensive HANS neck restraint to the team, without which we could not race. Nobody is comfortable letting him go home Sunday without something for his troubles. All agree that if there is a chance to get Marcus out on track before the weekend is over, we'll take it. We won't go to the extremes of peeling off the firewall-side head of a Northstar, but we'll try something.

Rick proposes a last ditch option: head gasket in a can. Snake oils line the aisles of every auto shop; their bright packaging promises to do everything from sealing up cracked heads to raising horsepower and increasing your proficiency as a lover. Most are bunk, but Rick says head gasket sealer might patch things up enough to get Marcus his much-deserved stint. The course of action is approved, and Rafi dashes off to the nearest auto parts store (20 miles away) for a can of the crap and a quart of ATF (we dipped the transmission and found it a quart low).

Murilee Martin

Dealing with the Devil

Rafi returns from the store with a quart of ATF and a blue plastic bottle labeled Blue Devil Pour-N-Go Head Gasket Sealer, with a label that appears to have been designed on a budget in 1973, and never updated since. Pouring this into your cooling system as the bottle recommends runs the risk of gumming up your radiator, water jacket, and pump. It'd be a nightmare to clean out if it doesn't work.

It's still going in there.

While reading the instructions, I note that the bottle says it's for use on four- and six-cylinder engines only. I bring this up to the team, speculating that this could be due to coolant capacity, and that the Northstar's gargantuan 12.5 quart coolant system may dilute the sealer too much to be effective. I offer to fetch a second bottle in the morning, but I am turned down.

We finish the day with 36 laps completed, 61st among 64 teams.

Murilee Martin

The Sabbath

Sunday, June 10. We twist off the coolant fill cap to desecrate the goodly Cadillac with the unholy ooze that is Blue Devil head gasket sealer. Bottle empty, we start the car and let it warm as instructed. The flow of steam out the exhaust thins as residual water is blown out, and eventually disappears entirely. Successful, we all don our race gear, anticipating stints after Marcus. Our quart of ATF is added, bringing the fluid level in the transmission exactly up to spec. Maybe it'll fix the shifting problems.

I don't want to press the limits of the Devil's generosity, and I suggest unhooking the injectors and pulling the plugs from cylinders three and five, where the break was. My concerns are not shared, and Marcus is given all eight cylinders to play with for his first stint of the weekend. The track goes live, and Marcus rumbles out under full power.

Under full power he does not return. The radio crackles with a report of overheating, and when he arrives in the paddock, steam blows from the fender-mounted vent hose. At least the steam is coming from the right place this time.

No wait, it's not; it's coming out the exhaust again. We yank the spark plugs again for another crank after the engine cools. Pistons three and five slam to top dead center, ejecting diluted gasket sealer onto the firewall, splashing on to me as I try to reattach the air filter to the intake to block the literal trillions of moths present from invading the intake.

The Northstar came from the factory with an already strange 1-2-7-3-4-5-6-8 firing order. With two cylinders out for the count, it becomes 1-2-7-cough-4-cough-6-8. We joke about it becoming a Shortstar, the little-known Northstar-based V6. I wonder to myself if two bottles would have done the trick, or if we could have kept the engine alive in limp mode by disabling the bad cylinders. I suspect having to bear the burden of full throttle was the bale of straw dropped from orbit that broke the camel's back.

The point is moot. The engine is trash, and maybe the transmission too, as fresh ATF didn't help the shifting.

Rafi Ward

Luke 14:28-30 For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, "this man began to build and was not able to finish"

The engine may be toast, but we still have enough jugs of distilled water left over to refill the engine for one more lap. Judge Phil confirms we can still send the car out with seconds to spare; we can finish the race beneath the waving checkered flag. Marcus has had his fill of the Cadillac for a weekend, and isn't interested in driving our final lap. Rick too. I drove more than Rafi, so I look to him for a decision. He accepts the honor, allowing Rick and Marcus to shed the race gear they won't be using today.

Sunday's race session runs from nine to three. It's not even 10 yet, so we perform a preliminary pack-up, and walk through the pits, trying to sell off our remaining fuel to under-prepared teams. We make two sales, totaling 20 gallons, averaging $3.75 a gallon after being told to keep some change. Could have charged more, but we aren't going to scalp family.

That's right, family. Lemons is not quite the cakewalk to enter that its supposed $500 price tag suggests. We as a team are probably $6-7,000 deep into this race entry, never mind what previously-owned equipment like Rick's truck, trailer, and tools cost. Everyone else here has spent similar sums, if not more, to race. I don't even want to know what two-car teams like Salty Thunder Racing or Volatile RAM/Waiting For Data have invested.

This is a tall financial hurdle to leap, and it does a pretty good job of dissuading the impulsive and uncommitted. Cheap racing and its analogs (simulators and video games) demand minimal commitment. $200 on craigslist will get you an Xbox and a copy of Forza Motorsport. Because of Forza's emphasis on making a semi-realistic motorsport experience accessible (of which it does too good a job) it appeals to the lowest common denominator: tweens content with playing bumper cars. Enclaves of worthwhile online companions exist, but are rare and insular.

By virtue of its slight inaccessibility, Lemons turns away those that are not invested enough to integrate into its community. Those that can and do commit to scaling the barrier of entry will find themselves amongst others who sympathize with the challenge of assembling a racing endeavor. Everyone in the paddock has some idea of what it took for you to get there, and they see an equal in you.

Come early afternoon, we fill the Northstar up with coolant one last time. The temperature has already crawled back above 90 degrees, and Rafi isn't as enthusiastic about zipping back into his Nomex to drive a car without air conditioning. Out of sheer laziness, I am the only one among us that never even bothered peeling my race gear off, and Rafi asks if I would rather drive our final lap.

I don't object.

2:45. Suited back up, I slot the Crapillac's column shifter into neutral, so my teammates may push me to the pit exit. The engine, switched off so we don't waste coolant, does not drive its power steering pump, and the steering that once felt intoxicated is now hungover and sluggish. We make it to the track's entrance with time to spare, which I spend wondering if I'll even complete a lap of the track before blowing coolant every which way.

Tom Gilboy

Romans 8:18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us

2:56. Rick is the only one among us tall enough to reach the dash-mounted start button when strapped in. I am not Rick, and must enlist Rafi's help. Though the Northstar tries to hit the snooze button on us again, I kick it out of bed with a boot full of throttle, and it groans to life. I get the go-ahead to enter the track, the engine immediately resorting to limp mode in an effort to save itself again.

As I pull out, spectators at the first corner cheer the return of a car they have seen go by precisely once in the last 26 hours. They continue cheering my 20 mile per hour plod along the outside of the track, where I stay to make myself as small a hazard as possible. The pedal is floored, but neither the engine nor transmission react; the two are controlled by the same ECU, which is going into shock from the conditions in which we force it to operate.

Many of the same cars I yielded to yesterday I yield to again today. They race around me, and I am almost convinced they would be ignorant to my presence if not for the white flags my slog around the track elicits from the corner marshals. Though my Saturday drive was far from competitive, today's is most definitely a Sunday drive. I long for the horsepower of yesterday, inconsistent though it was. Anything to at least give chase to the rest of the cars on track, no matter how futile.

Though most of the way around the lap, the car struggles up the track's hills. I would be unsurprised to groan to a halt at any second. Once we crest the hill through turn 13, coming within sight of the checkered flag, the car at last offers some cooperation. Oh, why the hell not, I imagine it thinking as it accepts the aid of gravity to accelerate downhill, through the chicane, and onto the pit straight. It's come this far, it may as well enjoy the glory too.

The experience of urging this former church chariot around a racetrack in limp mode is so metal that I throw the horns up as I cross the finish line.

Race over, the Cadillac eases back into its death rattle for the cool-down lap. Many slow to parade their successful finish and celebrate a job well done. I slow because I can do nothing else. Even on the parade lap, I find myself pointing cars by. Despite some uneasy hill climbs, the Cadillac is again motivated by gravity, and takes full advantage to heave itself into the pit lane. Phil is calling; it can see the light of heaven.

2 Timothy 4:7-8 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which Phil, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing

Haha, just kidding. We didn't win shit. We finished a triumphant 63rd of 64 teams, with 38 laps complete. Only the Saturn of Team Lemo'ktoberfest that died in the race's first half hour finished behind.

There are real trophies to be dispensed at the awards ceremony. Not kids' soccer league trophies one often sees at tongue-in-cheek awards ceremonies, but indeed trophies built just for Lemons. They're as janky as the cars raced this weekend, but none would complain about receiving a trophy. There is a song performed, written about Judge Phil, to which the entire audience claps along.

Awards are given for class winners, and a number of arbitrary categories. The ones for which we saw ourselves in contention were Organizers' Choice (awarded to C*R*A*S*H) and I Got Screwed. To our surprise, the latter was not given to Team Lemo'ktoberfest, but instead Team Scream. They lost the chance to capitalize on the judges' good graces of an exemption for their over-budget car, spending much of the race in the pits chasing mysterious electrical problems.

  • Murilee Martin
  • Murilee Martin
  • Murilee Martin

In theory, our having leapt the barrier of entry, future hurdles we face won't be as tall. We have our safety gear, we have cars, the equipment to transport them, and the expertise to maintain or improve them. Candidates to fill the additional slots have come our way, should we wish to further reduce individual costs. Okay, buying a new car technically adds to what we'll spend to enter the Get Yer Phil 500, and it may be some time before we can get a weekend's cost down to $500 per head—lord knows we spent much more than that to prepare for our first race.

If my romanticism has rubbed off on you, keep in mind that I am one man, writing the story of one weekend shared between the members of one team. There were 63 other teams at the B.F.E. GP whose enthralling stories I couldn't recount to you—just imagine how their weekends went. Just imagine the story you might be left with if you squeeze the Lemon, because when life gives you Lemons, you race shitboxes and have a jolly old time of finishing second to last, and making friends along the way.

If you are now thinking of following in my footsteps, I also wrote an outline of what it really takes to kickstart a Lemons team. Give it a read if my tale hasn't soured your view of the 24 Hours of Lemons.

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