- May 26, 2009
Behind the Robe: A Judicial Perspective on the 24 Hours of LeMons
The 24 Hours of LeMons Penalty Pit - Click above for a high-res image gallery
Want to win LeMons? This isn't the ticket. But it will give you a glimpse into what awaits you in the B.S. inspection and what (not) to do when you've been black-flagged on race day.
After spending three days toiling under the Nevada sun, we've got a unique perspective on what it's like to inspect, enforce and generally wreak havoc on the throngs of budding amateur racers that made up this past weekend's Goin' For Broken 24 Hours of LeMons at Reno-Fernley Raceway. Although this guide isn't the end-all-be-all of LeMons judging (there's plenty of snap judgments made throughout the long weekend), if you're planning to compete, or even if you're
To begin with, understand that our attendance in Fernley marks the beginning – or possibly the end – of a rotating journalist justice element that began with David E. Davis in Ohio and continued through to Zerin Dube exacting LeMons' patented blend of morality in Houston, TX. In all, expect between three and four "judges" at any given LeMons race, with the final word coming down from on high, courtesy of the race's founder, Jay Lamm. Note: if you're holding court with Justice Jay, you're day is likely over, or at least seriously at risk, as most of the judges defer to him on matters that involve safety, attitude or general asshattery.
Bribery: If there was any element of the judging duties we were put-off by, bribery was it. Not only did it rub us the wrong way from a ethical perspective (this is a race, after all), we weren't going to ignore some egregiously expensive part because you hid a nice bottle of bourbon under the driver seat or sprinkled a few dollars under the hood.
That said, some justices are more easily swayed than others, but nothing – we repeat, nothing – is going to help you when we discover a trick set of adjustable coilovers obscured by grease, electrical tape and hastily applied black paint. You don't have to contribute to our alcoholism and general anti-social behavior – and at the risk of pissing off our fellow justices, we might even advise against it – but if you're offering something up, you're assumed guilty. This could cause us to take a closer look at things we might have ignored if you hadn't zip-tied bargain bin fetish porn to your beefy sway bar.
B.S. Inspection: After you get through the ruthless tech inspection carried out by the LeMons safety nuts, you'll be handed off to the judges for the B.S. inspection. This is where the aforementioned bribes (if you choose to donate to "the cause") should be offered up before the inspection ensues. If they're hidden, that's cute. But generally, we're lazy. Just hand it to us and hold on tight.
Your "theme" goes a long way here, because as a whole, justices are easily distracted by shiny objects. As an example, the Fernley event's Judge's Choice went to a Mad Max-style Supra and its three drivers who were both utterly entertaining and thoroughly insane. It helped that their Supra was perfectly stock, save for the 500+ pounds of random detritus stuck to the body and interior. It didn't do anything for performance, but it was proof that one team got "it."
As for performance parts, we've got a well-honed eye and Judge Lieberman is a merciless bastard. We can and will find every non-stock component and assign a split-second ruling on its estimated cost – beginning with the car as a whole. Here, documentation goes a long way.
If you crack open a well-organized binder that contains the car's bill-of-sale, the parts that were sold off and every – and we mean every – component that was purchased (excluding safety equipment, which isn't factored in to the $500 ceiling), you'll have a trio of well-adjusted judges on your hands. If you say "it's on our website" (we can post anything online too), have limited documentation that includes poorly-forged papers (we have Photoshop too) or – God forbid – no documentation at all, be prepared to suffer the wrath of three delusional, dehydrated, power-mad justices that have been on their feet for far too long.
"Free" vehicles are always suspect and part of the inspection may include calling up the previous owner. If you don't have the official documentation on hand, have their phone number. They will be called, and if they sold (or purchased) the vehicle for $1,200, you've just racked up 70 extra laps ($1,200 – 500 = 700, divided by 10 = 70). If they're unavailable, good luck. We're going to assign a "fair" value and you're screwed. Also, if you've run a previous LeMons race, it's essential that you email photos of your car post-race to Mr. Lamm so he can assign a residual value to your racer. If he deems your hunk-of-junk is worth $270, you've got an extra $230 to spend before the next event. Use it wisely.
Back to the go-fast bits. While we're sure you found those H&R springs and Bilstein shocks at the junkyard, understand that Justice Martin spends more time at Pick 'n Pulls than the employees themselves. He is sadistically schooled in the art of junkyard pillaging and knows what's available to both the common and uncommon wrecking yard devotee. There's no way you discovered a perfect set of DC headers for your Integra for $12, but if you did, at least have the foresight to shave off the plaque welded on top of the tubes. Also, we can find intakes on eBay for $9 too. We also know that shipping from China costs $60. Consider that part of the expense. We do.
As for everything else, just two bits of advice: be smart and be honest. We attempt to be both and expect the same in return. Also, if you own or work for a mechanic or performance shop, we hate you. People that build their cars in their garages rock and speak to the LeMons ethos. Anything else draws our ire and it's safe to expect us to exact horrible things on your car, your driver and your team throughout the weekend. So if nothing else, don't admit it.
The Black Flag: First of all, look for them. We had one lady – a mother that was called in last minute to substitute for a flaky team member – unwittingly ignore more than 12 black flags before she came into the pits. Granted, she couldn't see them due to the glare from her white knuckles, but the lesson still stands: check the damn flaggers.
When you finally recognize the race marshall frantically waving the flag and pointing at you, complete your lap and slowly enter the pits. We can't stress slowly enough. Nothing irritates the rube manning the entrance to the penalty box more than some wannabe Hamilton Button running into the pits at break-neck speed. Slow the hell down. Also, avoid the subconscious desire to throw your hands in the air in the international LeMons WTF? pose. It strikes contempt into the judge's heart before you've even said a word. After you've entered The Box, keep the car running (you may just go back out if there was a miscommunication), stay in the vehicle and attempt to bend over.
Eventually – and it could take a while, so now's a good time to call your team on the radio or curse the fact that none of the idiots on your crew was acting as a spotter – one of the justices will approach and ask you to kill the engine. Do so post haste. At this point, understand that humility, honestly and a calm demeanor will go a long way. Hubris, indignation and a general bad attitude will not.
You will be asked if you know why you've been summoned to our little subdivision in Hell. Again, honesty is key. If you know you put two wheels off, then four, spun, took out a cone, hit another car and then desecrated the Virgin Mary, tell us in the most honest yet succinct, fashion. Admit your mistake, assure us that it was a momentarily lapse of an otherwise spotless stint and you may be let off with a warning. If we decide that your offense was too egregious, a penalty will be issued. Do. Not. Bitch. Accept your fate and move on. Also, make sure your relief driver is suited up and ready to go at all times. If you've been black-flagged, it's almost assured we'll instruct your team to swap drivers. Have someone ready at a moment's notice.
As for the bad attitude, needless to say, we frown on such behavior. If you're screaming, flailing, blaming other drivers, the track, the marshalls or us, you are fully, totally and inexorably screwed. If someone hit you, guaranteed, they'll be hauled in as well. LeMons has an "all fault" policy, so if you're involved in a collision, all parties will be black flagged and in all likelihood, it was a combination of factors that led to the crash. One or more of you were going too slow, too fast, too sideways or too stupid, so prepare to suffer the consequences, including, but not limited to being duct-taped to each other and asked to bring us a pulled-pork sandwich and a cold Gatorade.
If you've passed under yellow, put two wheels off, four wheels off, spun or done anything else that would cause you to be called in, make your way to the Penalty Pit before you're black-flagged. The marshalls will catch you eventually, and your virtue will be rewarded as few things please us more than someone willing to admit their mistake.
Overall, understand – again – judges... are... lazy. Even though we get a perverse thrill from pouring a 40 of Ol' E in your car, having you complete complicated math problems on your hood, mime your crime in white-face, do a reverse slalom (when you don't have reverse) and/or throw you into a tent with your team and blare the most awful, ear-searing techno you've ever heard, at the end of the day, we don't want to see you and you don't want to see us. The less you're in the Penalty Pit, the more you're respected. Even if we never know your name.
A few other items to note:
Whiners will not be tolerated. We decided pacifiers were too expensive and opted for baby food. Complain, and you're eating pureed peas and carrots left out in the sun on a 100-degree day.
Keep in contact with your team. Have a radio or the aforementioned spotter. It will work to your advantage.
Run clean. Surprise! You may not be the fastest car/driver out there, so if someone is coming up hard on your six, move over and give 'em a wave. If you're a rolling road-block, you're a shoe-in for the People's Curse. And even if you're car isn't destroyed, you'll be hated by the only people that matter: your fellow competitors.
Balance aggression with intelligence. You may be God's gift to the racetrack, but even if you've got a turbo poking through your hood and reproductive organs that would rival an elephant's, that doesn't mean the rules of physics don't apply. Be smart, be smooth and be considerate.
Make friends with your competitors. If your tie-rod breaks, there's a good chance a suitable replacement may be unused in the pits. Let someone with access to the PA system know, be ready to swap cash/beer/food and pray to your preferred deity. If you're lucky and well-liked, you'll be back on the track. If you're loathed, you're done.
Make friends with the judges. Bribes aside, being entertaining, witty and a general pleasure to be around goes a long way. So does excellent BBQ and the sausage-filled pasta we had on Saturday night. That doesn't mean we'll give you a get-out-of-jail-free card (it could), but it'll certainly make things more pleasant when you're hauled into the pits.
Respect. The organizers, the track, the marshalls, the pits, the rules, the teams, the judges, etc. 'Nuff said?
And that's it. We likely missed a few judicial gems, but if you stick to these tips, we guarantee you'll have fewer issues with your car, your competitors or the halfwits in the black robes. And more importantly, you'll get at the core of the LeMons experience: pure, unadulterated, four-wheeled fun.
Special thanks to Justice Jonny Lieberman, Magistrate Murilee Martin and Jay Lamm for the opportunity, and big ups to Dat Nguyen for manning the lens while were exacting justice.