Have you heard of the 24 Hours of Lemons? No, not LeMans, the city in France, lemons, the citrus fruit, or in the vernacular, horrible cars that can’t be fixed and nobody wants. Years ago an automotive magazine writer with a sense of humor created a race for cars that don’t belong on a racetrack, and likely won’t be for long. The #1 rule was the cars had to cost $500. It quickly grew from one race to a nationwide series with hundreds of teams and at least 1 imitator.
In 2011 I pitched the idea of entering to my corporate overlords and got a green light, so I bought a 1979 Ford and recruited a team of co-worker/drivers before the lawyers pulled the plug. But I pressed on with just my 2 car garage and meager desk jockey earnings. Six months later, after investing nearly $5000 (and 5 months labor) on personal safety gear, safety improvements to the car, and other budget exempt items we were ready, or so we thought. We rolled through tech inspection and made the starting line in December with no problems, because I read the rules and followed them to the letter.
Our first race was uneventful, but slow. I believe we were in the bottom dozen of cars on the track, out of 150+ racers, but we persevered. Unfortunately, over the course of the second day of racing the car started smoking and losing power. We failed to make the finish that day, our tired six cylinder motor not making enough power to keep moving gave up about 2 hours from the end. But we still had a great time, and we did better than about 75% of Lemons racers in their first race.
And I learned a great deal: Project management, Personnel management, Budgeting, Bookkeeping, Working under a deadline, Keeping cool under pressure, Teamwork, Collaboration, Delegation, Improvisation, Lateral thinking, Creative problem solving… In short, think of anything you have ever been told a corporate team building exercise was going to teach you (but didn’t), I have learned it either in that race of one of the seven that followed.
Firing an employee for gross incompetence without hurt feelings? Cut a team member.
Unforeseen nightmare on deadline? Last minute driveshaft shortening.
Murphy’s Law strikes? 4 hour pit lane motor swaps or impromptu transmission re-engineering during the race.
Slowly we’ve improved.
Our second race statistically had us finishing 2.5 times better than our lap times would suggest, because we were organized.
Our third race we blew up after 6 hours of racing.
Our fourth race we were better, stronger and faster and finished in the top half of the field.
Our fifth race looked like it was going to THE RACE, at the end of 8 hours we lead our class by 5 laps. At the end of the ninth hour we had a blown motor due to driver error. We didn’t give up though, and 4 hours later we had swapped our motor and had a running car again.
Race number 6 was the bad transmission, but again, we never gave up and we did finish the race, shifting from first, to second, then fourth.
That brings us to today, a week after race number seven. We had some minor problem with overheating (the ambient temp was about 105 all weekend). We had some sloppy handling due to loose bolts and hot, greasy tires. We cut a brake line when a tire rubbed through, and lost 30 minutes finding a fix for it. But we never gave up, and in the end we managed third in our class and the top third of the field, beating more than 100 other teams in the process.
Now comes the hardest lesson, letting go. I am currently looking for someone else to adopt the car and serve as the team captain, because my finances this year just can’t support my hobby. And that is why I am writing this, and how you can help: Give me a job. I can do just about anything, and if I can’t do it now I can learn it quick. Plus, you’d be surprised at how cheaply I can be had.
To quote the song, $50 thou a year will buy a lot of beer.