What Is the 24 Hours of Lemons and How Do I Get Started?

Even rank beginners can compete in this endurance-racing series.

Race car with puppet on roof at 24 Hours of LemonsMurilee Martin

QuickTakes:

If you like cars and the idea of putting together a racing machine to take on the track for some wheel-to-wheel competition, the 24 Hours of Lemons series may be for you.

Lemons racing can be an exciting opportunity to get experience with racing and stiff competition. The series features eccentric costumes, pit parties, memorable adventures, and a mix of some of the best amateur and professional racers in the world.

As the (now-retired) chief justice of the 24 Hours of Lemons Supreme Court, I'd like to discuss a few details about the way this series works.

24 Hours of Lemons series team Murilee Martin

How the 24 Hours of Lemons Started

The series founder and automotive journalist John "Jay" Lamm sarcastically told The New York Times in 2010, "Racing isn't just for rich idiots. It's for all idiots." In 2006, Lamm decided it would be a fine idea to rent Altamont Speedway in Tracy, California, and host a race with vehicles required to cost less than $500. This proved to be well received, and the series is now in its 17th year — well past 275 total events in 28 states.

What You Can Expect

You can expect road racing with twisty, curvy tracks, from Sonoma Raceway in California (formerly Sears Point) to Road Atlanta in Georgia and various points in between.

Most Lemons events involve two racing sessions, from dusk to dawn on Saturday and Sunday, but there's always at least one event per season that runs for 24 hours straight. The winner is determined by who gets the highest number of complete laps in their class.

Lemons used to include a ritual called the people's curse that involved car crushing after the race, but as of 2009 this is no longer practiced, due to safety issues.

These days, beyond the on-track entertainment, Lemons races are full of outlandish costumes, legendary pit parties, heroic wrenching adventures, and a mix of some of the best amateur and professional racers in the world.

Race cars on track at the 24 Hours of LemonsMurilee Martin

Types of Cars That Race in Lemons

The vehicle will qualify as long it meets the following criteria:

  • It is a mass-produced four-wheeled vehicle that was highway legal in the United States at the time of manufacture
  • It has a factory curb weight of less than 4,200 pounds and a wheelbase of at least 82 inches
  • It has all of the required safety gear and modifications

The Cost to Prepare a Lemons Team

Lemons racing can be cheaper than most road racing, but you should expect to invest at least some money in order to meet all the requirements.

Once you have a qualifying car or truck, you'll need to purchase a Lemons-legal roll cage to put inside the vehicle, a driver's seat and harness, a fire-suppression system, personal safety gear such as a helmet and neck protection, and proper fireproof clothing. Drivers must also hold a valid U.S. or international driver's license.

The entry fee for a race as of 2024 is $1,775 per team, which covers four drivers. Additional drivers cost $245 and additional crew members cost $75. You will also need to pay for fuel, tires, and food.

Car parts at 24 Hours of LemonsMurilee Martin

The $500 Rule Explained

If you bring a car that probably won't perform well on a racetrack or impress the judges — for example, a Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow — the judges will usually disregard the $500 limit.

You can also sell off parts to subtract from the original purchase price, keeping in mind that certain categories of parts, such as safety gear, don't count toward the $500 limit. If the judges decide that your car went over budget and might be successful on the track, they could deduct laps from your team's total but still allow you to race according to the rules.

How to Learn More

You can watch the race wrap-up videos, join the biggest Facebook group for Lemons racers, and read the Lemons website if you'd like more detailed information on the series. If you still have questions, contact Lemons HQ on the site's contact page.

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Murilee Martin
Murilee Martin is the pen name of Phil Greden, a Colorado-based writer who appreciates Broughams d'Elegance, kei cars, Warsaw Pact hoopties, and the Simca Esplanada.