Those of you who read Judge Loverman's account of serving on the 24 Hours of LeMons South Supreme Court might be telling yourselves "That's interesting, but I really want to know how to give my alleged 500-buck race car an unfair advantage at the next race and get away with it!"
Of course you do, because- in the the immortal words of my uncle and early gearhead influence, Dirty Duck: "There's two kinds of racers- losers... and cheaters!"
Back in the 60s and 70s, Dirty Duck was crew chief for quite a few dirt-track racers in rural Minnesota and Wisconsin, and a staple of my childhood was hearing his tales on how he'd discourage any idea of claiming a $5,000 car under a thousand-buck claimer rule.
One particularly effective approach was the installation of a steel plate that could be made to scrape on the driveshaft with the pull of a lever. The driver would wait for the last few laps of race (at which point he'd have a huge lead), pull the lever, and limp around the track trailing a hundred-foot comet-tail of sparks and deafening the audience with the sound of a grenaded transmission. When coupled with a windshield-washer pump spraying diesel and/or water into the exhaust system and simulating a garbooned engine, there was no way in hell anybody was going to claim that car.
Of course, the difference between those races and the 24 Hours of LeMons is that there was real prize money to take home in the former; in the latter, you get bragging rights and a hernia-inducing load of nickels. That means there's no point in hardcore cheating in LeMons racing, especially since word on the street is that Chief Perpetrator Jay Lamm is gearing up to claim a not-so-legit entrant for 500 bucks (as the rules permit) very soon, something that very nearly happened with a certain Miata at LeMons South.
But say you've gone just a few bucks over the limit, and you don't want those mean ol' judges to hammer you with a lot of lap penalties just because we figured out the recipe for your car's secret sauce. Or let's say your car really was built for under $500- suuuuure you did!- and you need to prove it? What do you do then? Either way, Judge Murilee has some tips for ya!
1. Get Your Papers In Order
I can't overemphasize how important this one is. If you show up with no receipts, no list of what you spent on and/or sold off the car, no nothing... well, we're going to go over your car with a relentless "guilty until proven innocent" attitude. That means I'm not going to believe word one of your tale about finding those nice Bilsteins at the junkyard, and it's just going to go downhill from there. The best possible approach is to show up with an inch-thick stack of parts receipts, printouts of eBay pages for the stuff you claim you sold, and a spreadsheet detailing the incoming and outgoing dollars. Even if you've faked every single page- and, yes, we know how much stuff is worth- we'll still cut you some slack, because going to the trouble of Photoshopping up a bunch of fake receipts shows respect for the judges. Second best approach is to have a sheet showing expenditures and parts sales; even with no receipts, you're still better off showing us something (scrawling a list in Sharpie on a shard of cardboard torn from a cereal box after you've had 19 beers is a very distant third-best approach, but still better than nothing at all).
2. All Small-Block Chevy (And Ford) Engines Are Cheating
You know it and we know it- you can build a 400-horsepower small-block for next to nothing, and they all look more or less the same on the outside. Why, then, do you need to lie about A) its displacement, B) that bad-ass lumpy cam, or C) its 12:1 compression? Just provide receipts showing how you bought them hot-rod parts for dirt cheap and we might just believe you. Even if it really is a 305- for some unfathomable reason- just say it's a 350 anyway, because "Thisyer thang got a 305" means "this 406 looks very convincing with cast-iron exhaust manifolds and junkyard valve covers, doesn't it?" in race-speak.
Keep in mind, we've got internet-enabled laptops at the track and we will go online and check head and/or block casting numbers!
3. Old Guys Know All The Tricks
I can just imagine the thought processes at work with some of the teams that sent their oldest members to speak for them at the BS Inspection: "They'll believe good ol' Joe, because he looks so trustworthy!" You gotta be shittin' me! When we see a gnarled-looking 70-year-old with a lifetime of grease-tattooed scar tissue on his knuckles and a honky-tonk road map of every racetrack in the country on his face, we know we're looking at a veteran cheater, a crafty bastid who never found a rule he couldn't stretch beyond recognition. We assume that a team full of old guys- especially old guys who clam up when asked the simplest questions about the car- is a team full of lies, and we approach their car accordingly.
4. Don't Claim Expertise
At least a half-dozen times during the LeMons South BS Inspection, a member of a team whose car was being subjected to what he felt was unfairly intense scrutiny piped up indignantly with a statement like "Hey, don't tell me that's not a factory part- I'm the president of the North American [car make/model] club and I've got a dozen of them in my back yard!" Big mistake. Now we know you know every possible way to hot-rod the living crap out of that car, and we're going to assume your club members dug into their stashes and pooled together $3,000 worth of go-fast parts for the glorious LeMons effort.
5. Have A Good Theme
If your car is fully decorated with some twisted theme, and- better still- the team is dressed up in costumes appropriate for that theme (see the Eyesore Pimpin' CRX), we'll be way more likely to overlook those suspiciously clean-looking suspension bushings and not-so-skinny swaybars. It goes the other way, too; if you've got a lame-ass cardboard shark fin taped to your full-race Miata (we're not mentioning any names) as your last-second attempt to get into the spirit of the 24 Hours of LeMons, we're going to take that as a sign of disrespect.
6. Bring A Hopelessly Slow Car
If we think you're going for the Index Of Effluency trophy (which goes to the team with the car that exceeds all expectations given its utter crapitude and is, in the minds of LeMons purists, the most prestigious prize of the event) and not the overall win, we'll put on some rose-colored glasses when we get under your car and start poking around the engine compartment. In fact, if the car looks really hopeless (e.g., the Karmann Geddon Golf Diesel), we might even skip the BS Inspection altogether!
7. Bribe The Judges
That Bribe Jar was there for a reason, because LeMons justice is neither blind nor expensive! Cash, beer, barbecue, and team T-shirts all do an excellent job of lubricating the gears of the LeMons legal system; even a sixer of Milwaukee's Best sends a message. While you probably can't afford a bribe of the magnitude necessary to convince us that your rusty Corolla "just came with" that 4A-GZE under the hood, you might be able to persuade us to refrain from dishing out lap penalties just because your team has a vague, can't-put-my-finger-on-it air of cheating about it. Maybe.
8. Get Your Lies Straight
We don't mind being lied to during the BS Inspection- hell, we know you're all lying- but we want to hear good lies, and we want to see teams that have put the time in to coordinate their stories. If each member of a trio of smacked-out liquor-store heisters can tell the same phony alibi to the cops after being busted with a getaway car full of needles and rusty .22s, we expect no less from your team! You see, a good, consistent tapestry of lies shows respect for the LeMons Supreme Court (and makes our jobs way more fun). So if one team member says he bought that turbo kit for $75 on Craigslist, another says it was "just lying around" his garage, and a third claims it was $50 at the junkyard, you're going to spend most of the first day just getting your lap count up to zero.
9. Suspension Modifications Arouse More Suspicion Than Anything Else
You might think that we'd be looking hardest for engine cheats, but the reality of the 24 Hours of LeMons is such that added engine power doesn't help much; in fact, those extra horses make it all the more likely that your engine will blow up and/or you'll break stuff, because only Smokey Himself could hide all the other components you need to beef up in order to make the car survive with a hot engine. That's why we always take a good hard look at your car's underpinnings. We're going to look for big swaybars, high-buck strut tower braces (the homemade ones bring smiles to our faces; see the photo above), adjustable coil-overs, top-shelf shocks, and so on. Sure, you can find some of that stuff in the junkyard, if you're lucky... but you'd better have proof!
10. Other Teams Will Be Watching You
If your car's pencil-diameter swaybars magically become thick as baseball bats after the BS Inspection, and those 200-treadwear tires turn into gooey racing slicks (hey, it's happened), someone from another team is going to notice... and they'll rat you out to us right away! Word spreads fast in the pits, and eyes are everywhere... so think twice before you try a component switcheroo.