Loverman: How did the 24 Hours of LeMons start?
Jay Lamm: Basically, with way too much beer and chinese food. We'd been doing this road-rally thing called the Double 500, a 500-kilometer road rally for $500 cars, for years. I came up with the general idea for the Double 500 one day after the California MIlle, while I was taunting Martin Swig that it was too easy for the Mille guys to just solve all their mechanical problems with a check wrench. I was pretty much just busting his chops, but Martin isn't one to take that lying down. He called my bluff, and actually wound up organizing and hosting the Double 500 as a street rally. Anyway, a few years later, a bunch of us SF car guys were sitting around at our regular Saturday lunch one day, and we all kind of agreed that the Double 500 had gotten too easy...
There were really great $500 cars everywhere, and just about any of them could make it 500 kilometers. So I just figured a 24-hour race on a track was the next level of difficulty.
In retrospect, adding the racetrack and the 24-hour duration was my way of guaranteeing that you'd have more of those panicky, hilarious mechanical crises that make vintage rallies and vintage racing so much fun. (You know, fun for the other people who are watching you suffer....)
Loverman: What took you so long to think it up?
Jay Lamm: The waitress was slow with the refills.
Loverman: I didn't read your answer to the first question. Where did the $500 limit come from? Like why not $250, or $1,000? Or $5,000?
Jay Lamm: It just seemed like the right number, really. Martin was originally lobbying for $1000 before the first Double 500, but I really felt that would be way too easy, which it basically turned out to be. And I kept thinking back to my $500 Porsche 928S, which was the greatest $500 car of all time. (If I still had that thing I would've RULED Thunderhill.)
Loverman: You pay the $1,500 prize money in nickels. Care to explain that?
Jay Lamm: Well, I didn't want people taking this thing too seriously, and I definitely didn't want anyone there who thought they could come out and make their investment back. If you care that much, you're definitely in the wrong race. It's actually $3000 in nickels, since first place wins $1500, People's Choice gets a grand, and Organizer's Choice gets $500. Brilliant me, it failed to occur to me that this gag meant I'd have to get 1200 pounds of nickels out of the bank every time and haul them all the damn way to the track. I actually blew the struts out of my Volvo wagon moving them around at the last Altamont race.
Loverman: Can you compare and contrast the early race(s) to the Thunderhill event? Are the races improving? Trends you like/dislike?
Jay Lamm: The early races were just knuckledusters, really. I swear—and it's incredible now to even say it—but before the first race it just NEVER EVEN OCCURRED TO ME that I ought to stand up beforehand and tell the drivers, the corners workers, and the flaggers what I wanted to see in terms of contact and black flags and general behavior. In general, as I've learned how to express and enforce my desire for clean racing, the races themselves have gotten better. The last Altamont event was an exception, though—there was way, way more bumping and shortcutting than I wanted to see—so Dan Radowicz, whose LeMons' chief steward, and I went back to the drawing board and developed some new rules, new penalties, and a new drill for the driver's meeting to combat that. I think it worked really well at Thunderhill, so I'd say the positive trend is really back in force now.
Loverman: What's your favorite all time LeMons race? Your least favorite?
Jay Lamm: My favorite so far has to be the Detroit '07 race. It was a straight 24 hours, and we'd never done one outside California before that. Those seemed like two really big challenges going in, and the fact that it all came together made me totally smug at the end—even though it was really the ARCA guys working at Flat Rock Speedway who made it all come together. I would've ended up flat on my butt without them—they were really, really good. Which, now that I think of it, is probably another big reason I liked that one so much.
Anyway, my least favorite was definitely the last October '07 Altamont race. I stupidly let the bumper-car guys get out of hand at the start, and then we all had to fight the whole rest of the weekend just to keep trying to rein it back in. That was a total frickin' drag.
Loverman: Please explain the People's Curse. The Mazdasaurus Wrecks guys seemed pretty upset — do some Cursed teams take it better than others? At the Altamont race, the People's Curse — a 7-Series that you penalized 3,000 laps — got crushed but was still able to get back on the track. This time out, the engine was ripped out of the Mazdasaurus and destroyed. Why the discrepancy?
Jay Lamm: Every team gets one ballot at the start of the race, and on it they can nominate their favorite car (the People's Choice) and their most hated car (the People's Curse). The Curse was intended to keep awful behavior, and/or blatant cheating, in check, since it's a way for the other teams to all police one particularly egregious offender. As it turns out, we've only had one or two recipients who I thought really deserved it. The rest just got caught up in bad luck or sort of a mob mentality. Interestingly, the guys that I think really didn't deserve it—the BMW 7-series leaps to mind, and the Car & Driver Oldsmobile, and the Rubber Biscuit Impala at Flat Rock—have all taken it incredibly well.
We try to beat the car to just this side of destruction, really, because in those cases I really wanted to see them get back on the track after a suitable amount of humbling repairs had been done. In the last race at Thunderhill, it just sort of happened that the guy operating the excavator was also driving on one of the teams, and the car that got the Curse had just punted him out on the track a few times. He wasn't in much of a mood to be gentle, and I can't say I felt very bad about that. I really like the guys who were driving that Mazda, and they're all really talented, experienced racers in much bigger venues than this one, but they definitely pushed all the other teams' buttons. I thought it was probably appropriate that their car wound up 16 inches tall this time.
Loverman: Why do you black flag teams? Is it purely subjective? Lots of teams seemed to be griping that they were in fact hit and then penalized for the aftermath. Not that I trust 'em, but most busted teams had the same story.
Jay Lamm: It's amazing. We've got about 120 years' worth of combined professional flagging and race-operation experience watching the track at any given moment. They're all in constant radio communication, and they're always comparing observations from different angles, double-checking race numbers, cooperatively deciding who's really screwing the pooch and who's basically doing okay.... And yet we always, without fail, ONE HUNDRED PERCENT OF THE TIME, end up black-flagging the wrong guy. I really can't understand it.
Loverman: Yeah, well, keep trying. You'll get it right one day. Anyhow, what does the future hold for the 24 Hours of LeMons?
Jay Lamm: Lots of pissed-off French attorneys, I'm thinking.
Loverman: You're the editor of Sports Car International. Could you please share with our readers the contents of your personal garage? Also, are you involved with the California Mille? or do you just have a really cool blue jacket?
Jay Lamm: No, I USED to be the editor of Sports Car International, back in the '90s. I've also been editor at various times of Vintage Motorsport, Corvette Magazine, and a few other titles. Now I have my own company, DriversDoor Inc., that produces cover-to-cover books and magazines for outside clients who don't want to run their own editorial staffs. Which, when I look at the poeple we've got working here, I can totally understand.
My personal garage, which is unfortunately also my living room, currently has a '71 Alfa GTV racecar in it, which sounds really boss until you realize that the entire exterior is painted in green Hammerite and that the brakes haven't been re-connected ever since I welded new floors into it 17 months ago. I also have a really nice '73 240Z in here that I love, despite being a nose-heavy sow. (The Datsun, that is. I'm more of a gut-heavy swine.) There's a gorgeous '58 MGA in here too, but that belongs to my friend Johnathan. His wife made him move out to the garage—I'm not making this up—so he needed a new place to store it. Outside I've got an old Miata and an '01 Volvo T5 wagon that's totally covered in dog hair, plus an execreble Airstream camper and, someplace, a couple of LeMons racecars. (There's a Porsche I'm pretty sure I could find if I had to, but my Celica GTS might as well be orbiting Pluto.) Ummm...there's probably a couple more, but that's all I can remember.
My involvement with the California Mille just extends to driving in it. I agree that my blue jacket is really cool, but then again it should be—it cost me $2400, ie half the entry fee for a '51 Alfa 1900. Which, I might add, took a giant dump a day-and-a-half into the rally. (What are the chances?)
Loverman:Writers from both Jalopnik and Autoblog will most likely have cars entered into the may race at Altamont. Who
will you be would you place money on, and why?
Jay Lamm: If we keep getting this much good coverage on Jalopnik, definitely your car. If not, I'd have to predict a rousing come-from-behind win for Autoblog. Call it a gut feeling.
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