As low-dollar endurance racing has flourished, options have expanded for those looking to get the most bang for their crapcan buck. At the top of the heaps are the two biggest series: The 24 Hours of LeMons and ChumpCar World Series. Both have put their unique stamp on budget road racing and attracted their dedicated followings, although many teams regularly cross over between the two.
However, crapcan racing’s growth has found a few enterprising racers tossing their hat into the Ring o’ Burning Calipers get a slice of that oil-stained pie. If that sounds confusing, fret not: Hooniverse is here to give you the lowdown on your 2014 crapcan options.
ON THE TERM ‘CRAPCAN’
Some may consider this section entirely unnecessary, but it seems that some participants and series organizers take umbrage with this writer referring to all low-buck endurance racers as “crapcan” because their cars “aren’t beaters.” In truth, this term emerged out of the necessity to refer to LeMons and ChumpCar collectively, since they have offered similar-enough products (also a claim some will dispute at length) to merit discussion collectively.
Yes, it may be more accurate wholesale to say “budget endurance racing,” but this writer dislikes typing three words, 21 characters, and seven syllables when one catchy two-syllable word gets the point across. That’s called ZAZZ in this business. We’re talking about cars that were very likely headed to The Crusher and instead live a second life constantly on the verge of Viking funeral. For the intents and purposes of this article (and all prior and subsequent uses), the word “crapcan” refers to “budget endurance racing.” Don’t like it? Give me a single, zazzier word to replace it.
Now, let’s get to the point(lessness).
THE 24 HOURS OF LEMONS
LeMons is the grandaddy of crapcan racing, founded in 2006 as a testament to irreverence and thumbing collective noses at the motorsports establishment. The series is the brainchild of former auto journalist Jay Lamm and has run full seasons since 2008 after the first handful of races in ’06 and ’07. LeMons will run 19 events this year, though its focus remains races close to home in California. The 24 Hours of LeMons is the motorsports version of The Ramones: Loud, ugly, flippant, and somehow ground-breaking.
Race Format: Most weekends are one race split into two sessions, totaling 14-1/2 hours. Typically, the series holds one or two 24-hour races each year.
Car Value: Cars must be $500 for running gear and suspension. Safety equipment—which includes rollcage, seat, wheels, tires, exhaust after the manifold, and some other parts— is exempt from the limit. Accounting is allowed, so relevant items sold decrease the car’s value and go-fast/stay-reliable parts increase the car’s value. Car value is determined via an appointed panel of “experts” who review each car’s documentation and examine each car during BS Inspection before the race. For every $10 spent over the $500 limit, one penalty lap is assessed.
Basic Rules: BS Inspection will also separate cars into three competition classes: Class A (Prayer of Winning/The Good), Class B (Prayer of Finishing/The Bad), and Class C (No Prayer of Finishing/The Ugly). Infractions—both on the track and in the pits—may result in a black flag, which necessitates a visit to the LeMons judges in the Penalty Box. Multiple visits may result in embarrassing punitive measures to shame drivers and teams into driving better. No limits are placed on driver stint length and no standard cars-per-mile calculation is used to determine maximum number of entries.
Tracks: LeMons visits a variety of road courses, though they also race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway’s “roval” course. The tracks used range from club tracks like Gingerman Raceway to world-renowned circuits like Sebring International Raceway.
Prizes: Race organizers hand out prize money for each of the three class winners, based on farthest distance driven: $600 for Class C, $500 for Class B, and $400 for Class A. The top prize—the Index of Effluency—is given to the worst car that does the best (as determined by the organizers and/or judges) and it comes with $601 and a free race entry. Trophies are also handed out at each race for Judges’ Choice, Organizer’s Choice, I Got Screwed, Heroic Fix, and usually an event-specific trophy. None of these latter five awards come with a monetary prize.
Enough of the details. If I go, what will I see? In the most basic terms, you’ll see a lot of good racing. It can be hard to keep track of at the race, but the lack of restriction on stint length means that teams follow a variety of strategies that only play out after many hours of racing. You’ll also see cars you simply cannot identify because of obscurity, “modification,” and obscure modifications. Car counts tend to be very high, so you’ll also see lots and lots of cars on the track together. On both coasts (not so much the middle of the country), traffic management is the name of the game for successful teams. Team themes and liveries carry a good bit of absurdity, puns, and inside jokes. If you wander through the paddock, you’ll inevitably find many teams repairing their hella-broke hoopties, sometimes in ways that would make engineers cringe and sometimes in ways that would make engineers grin from ear to ear.
CHUMPCAR WORLD SERIES
For sheer numbers, ChumpCar offers the most events of any crapcan series. Nearly every weekend from February to October will feature a ChumpCar race somewhere. John Condren, who managed Altamont Speedway during LeMons’ early days there, started ChumpCar in 2009 and has turned it into a haven for competitive low-buck racers. Condren has claimed in the past that he views the series as a throwback to the long-ago days of club racing and his series provides plenty of good, close racing for the buck.
Race Format: All of them. The two-race Double 7 was ChumpCar’s main format for its first four seasons, but the series this year will run everything from sprint races to a 37-hour mega-enduro at Heartland Park Raceway in Kansas. For 2014, ChumpCar will also introduce ice racing and drifting.
Car Value: The most recent rulebook assigns values for specific makes, models, and engine/transmission choices. Performance parts also have assigned value. A car’s assigned value plus modifications may not exceed $500 with 1 lap assessed for every $10 in excess. Notice that value is assigned, so nowhere does the rulebook address what you can pay for the car. You’re also largely allowed to replace parts with OEM components.
Basic Rules: The rulebook is a 44-page tome plus another 23 pages of appendices, so we’ll cover the very basics. Only ChumpCar sprint races have classes (determined by engine displacement); endurance races are all single-class racing. Endurance races place a two-hour maximum on drivers’ stints and a minimum five-minute pit stop for fueling. Driving and pit infractions usually result in a stop-and-hold penalty, but minor mistakes like wheels off and spins may not necessarily merit a visit to the Sin Bin. The series also limits the number of cars allowed per mile of racetrack, so races don’t see as much traffic as LeMons races. Race winners are assessed penalty laps at the next race depending on their margin of victory as a performance-balancing measure. The top five finishers at each race must be inspected at a post-race impound.
Tracks: ChumpCar races many of the same tracks as LeMons, but they also visit historic and famous tracks like Watkins Glen, Daytona International Speedway, and Laguna Seca in addition to several circuits in Canada. You’ll see more “roval” courses in ChumpCar and, generally speaking, higher top speeds.
Prizes: Prizes pay out in Chump Change, which is basically vouchers good for ChumpCar entries and fees.
What You’ll See: While you’ll see a lot of jokes and parodies in car liveries, don’t expect as much silliness and irreverence as a LeMons race. It’s not super-serious, but the Maginot Line-themed Simcas of the world may be considered, well, weird here. The rules regarding driver maximum times mean that you’ll see a lot of close racing. Most teams will all run the same or a very similar strategy with two-hour stints followed by five-minute fuel stops. The general product of that is that races are usually decided on the track by driving ability primarily and cars with drastically differing performance envelopes can be, surprisingly, very evenly matched over many hours. Generally, there will be less traffic and more fast cars, though the fastest ChumpCars tend to run about the same pace as the fastest LeMons cars. It’s important to note that most cars that you’ll see are not $500 cars, since replacing OEM components is allowed. As a result, probably a lower percentage of cars break than in LeMons, though a stroll through the paddock will find plenty of teams wrenching. Endurance racing is hard, as it turns out.
WORLD RACING LEAGUE
The WRL is one of a few upstarts in 2014 and probably the one with the biggest ambitions. Started by ex-ChumpCar regional director Joey Todd, the series has a handful of dates booked as of this writing. They may add some more, since the WRL got a late start. Todd seems to be trying to take a similar (non-$500-car) slant as ChumpCar, although the field will include several classes dicing each other and paying out class winners.
Race Format: A mix of Double-8 weekends and single 12-hour races at the moment, though that’s subject to change.
Car Value: There are no specific rules regarding the cost or value of a car, but classes will be determined by power-to-weight ratio. Cars with a power-to-weight ratio lower than 1:11 (11 pounds per horsepower) are not allowed in an attempt to limit the power wars.
Basic Rules: The rulebook is pretty short and includes the phrase “Nobody likes a ‘rules lawyer.’” Penalties are doled out similarly to ChumpCar’s with stop-and-hold penalties or assigned driver changes. WRL has no driver maximums, although each registered driver must log at least one hour. Other than that, they’re basically derivative of LeMons and/or ChumpCar.
Tracks: So far, WRL has listed five events, four of which are at club-type circuits in the middle of the country while the fifth is at Joey Todd’s home track, Texas World Speedway. More races are appear in the the works for 2014.
Prizes: Each race pays out a purse that totals 5 percent of the entry fees. Class winners take home 25 percent of the purse with the remaining quarter given out for “other awards, regional/national championships, or local charities.” Each of the class podium winners takes home a trophy, as well.
What you’ll see: The WRL has yet to run a race, so it’s hard to know exactly what the races will look like. On paper, it looks to occupy some crapcan middle ground. From LeMons, it borrows multiple classes and unlimited driver stints. From ChumpCar, it borrows the slightly-more-serious attitude with no penalties and a general frowning at cars donning strange appendages. Time will tell if (A) the series is successful and (B) what it looks like if it succeeds.
SILVER CUP EAST RACE SERIES
The Silver Cup is one of two series planned to debut in 2014 in the country’s east. Planned as a series for and by racers, it should prove to be a worthy venue for crapcan teams to get some more seat time. Some of Rally Baby Racing (2013 LeMons National Champions) are behind this and they have indicated that fun is mandatory and nothing too serious (safety aside) is at stake.
Race Format: “Multi-hour” endurance races.
Car Value: Nothing published yet, but this is intended to be a venue for already-running ChumpCar and LeMons builds. Early indications are that there will be two race classes determined by power-to-weight ratios.
Basic Rules: This is open to basically any LeMons- (with the addition of window nets) or Chump-legal car .
Tracks: A track or two on the eastern half of the country will host Silver Cup’s inaugural race(s). Dates aren’t 100 percent set, but the series should debut in June with a possible second date after that.
Prizes: No word on that yet.
What you’ll see: Probably some familiar faces from the Eastern crapcan regions mixing it up in battle-tested crapcans. There’ll probably be a hell of a party after the racing’s over, too. Expect an atmosphere not dissimilar to an adult softball league or dodgeball league.
Website: www.silvercupracing.com (Not live yet, though I’m told it will be up soon)
AMERICAN ENDURANCE RACING
American Endurance Racing begin as something of a counterpoint to the Silver Cup, trying to attract the best crapcans from the region as well as a variety of club racers from the PCA, BMWCCA, SCCA, NASA, and just about any other sanctioning body. With race qualifying, mandatory pit stop numbers, and multiple classes, this should look pretty similar to a “real” race weekend.
Race Format: Long-form endurance racing with a Friday qualifying session. Some weekends will feature one race divided into two sessions on Saturday and Sunday.
Car Value: Virtually irrelevant. This series is open to production-based racecars built for most major club racing and also for LeMons and ChumpCar builds with the idea that car will classed together by performance.
Basic Rules: Typical crapcan 180-treadwear minimum for tires. Cars will be assigned to classes based on Friday qualifying times. Based on fastest qualifying time, cars will be assigned to a class with a handful of similar-performing cars (Sandbagging that becomes apparent during the race will result in a bump up in class). There are a mandatory number of four-minute stops with an aim toward 90-minute stints. For example, a six-hour race (with 360 minutes) will be broken up into four stints with three mandatory four-minute stops.
Tracks: As this is also a regional series, you’ll see AER hosting events in country’s eastern part and trying to capture a broader audience than just crapcan drivers. Series organizers have booked Lime Rock Park Raceway as their inaugural offering in March. Bring long underwear.
Prizes: Awards are given out to the top three finishes in each class as well as the top qualifer in each class.
What you’ll see: Fast cars from a mix of competitive series dicing it up and racing each other. Crossover from different club series and some serious racing.
On the opposite side of the country, Star Productions’ series gives another venue for Pacific Northwest racers. Rat Race is generally tied to Oregon Raceway Park, a roller coaster of a track. Races are pretty laid back, by all accounts.
Race Format: Could be anything. Last year’s race featured qualifying and a sprint race on Day One with an endurance race on Day Two. Past weekends have included night-only races and reverse-configuration races.
Car Value: $500. Or bring a LeMons car. Or a ChumpCar. They even have some cars you can rent for the weekend.
Basic Rules: I don’t really see a rulebook on their website, but from what I can deduce from other sites, tires at one time were supposed to feature a treadwear rating of 300 or higher. The general rules seem to follow a LeMons style formatting: Bring a crappy car, race it, and have fun.
Tracks: The series is based at Oregon Raceway Park and has run there primarily.
Prizes: Cash payouts for the winners seems to be the usual order of the day.
What you’ll see: Car counts tend not to be staggering, but the cars that show up are there for fun and to get some seat time. So fun.
Just as Rat Race is pretty much a one-track pony, Pacific Raceways’ Roll-X is a small event whose appeal is primarily in giving regional racers another venue for their jalopies.
Race Format: A long-format endurance race. The most recent was 16 hours.
Car Value: Follows similar $500 valuation rules to 24 Hours of LeMons.
Basic Rules: Rules are pretty basic and minimal, though they do implement a two-hour maximum for driver time.
Tracks: Pacific Raceways in South Auburn, Washington.
Prizes: Purses have paid out cash in the past.
What you’ll see: An assortment of the usual Pacific Northwest crapcan regulars getting some extra track time for their heaps.
SPORTS CAR CLUB OF AMERICA (SCCA)
Yes, that’s right. After scorning low-buck endurance racing and watching LeMons and ChumpCar attract big numbers, those “real racers” in the club racing world recently started extending the olive branch to crapcans.
It’s not an appeal to all crapcan racers, but for those who started racing heaps and discovered they really like road racing, the SCCA seems happy to facilitate the next level of addiction. Different regions have different names and rules for it. The Portland Region started ITJ (Improved Touring – Junk) and several other regions have adopted it. The Atlanta Region has ITX (a class for cars that meet safety regulations but not class rules) that has seen some crapcans in it. New Jersey’s club racing has its own classes for crapcans (LeChump Class with three sub-classes) and the New England Region recently announced plans for ITEZ as a means to use your crapcan to obtain a competition license.
Race Format: Normal SCCA sprint and enduro formats.
Car Value: It doesn’t really matter, because you’re not there to compete with anyone. Since sanctioning is done regionally, check with your region to see if they’ve adopted any of the ITJ, ITX, or ITEZ rules.
Basic Rules: Make sure your car will pass SCCA safety tech (which may require removing oversized LeMons theme items that killjoys will probably call “unsafe” and/or “unseemly”). Bring your car and practice racecraft, mostly.
Tracks: Any of your friendly club-racing tracks in regions adopting ITX, ITJ, or ITEZ rules.
Prizes: Nope. ITEZ, ITX, and ITJ are intended a “fun run” class with no payouts, although ITEZ does facilitate earning your competition license.
What you’ll see: Few regions have found actual success at drawing crapcan racers, although the new-for-2014 ITEZ seems like it might have the best chance at succeeding since its goal is to earn a racing license at the lowest cost possible for new drivers. Time will tell if the SCCA’s efforts to capture part of the low-buck pie.
Website: www.scca.com (Sanctioning is by region, each of which has its own website)
Late addition: RaceDaze
RaceDaze looks to be yet another addition to the East Coast in a similar vein to American Endurance Racing with entry open to crapcans and club racers. It’ll hold its inaugural event at Summit Point Raceway on July 5 and 6.