Here’s a brief history of amateur road racing in the US as I understand it.
- The SCCA formed shortly after WW2 and became the major racing organization for amateurs. In the 1960s they started having national championships, which they continue to run today. Over the years, the SCCA has become increasingly bureaucratic, complex, and expensive. Some people got annoyed enough that they started a new series.
- In 1991, NASA was formed. Unlike the SCCA, which is a network of regional clubs run largely by volunteers, NASA is a business. While NASA started out with inexpensive slow cars, like the Pro-7 (Mazda RX-7), most of the cars that run today are neither inexpensive nor slow. From an outsider perspective, racing in NASA and SCCA appear pretty similar: expensive cars and hundreds of pages of rules.
- In 2006, the 24 Hours of Lemons was created. One of the biggest differences between Lemons and SCCA/NASA is that you don’t need a racing license. Considering that a racing license usually costs several thousands of dollars, that’s a big barrier for the general public. Another big difference is the cost of the vehicles: in Lemons, the base vehicle without safety equipment is supposed to be under $500. Looking at Lemons cars, many of them look like they should have another zero added to the price tag. What’s going on? Another big difference is the rules themselves. They are sometimes loosely interpreted. It’s okay to bring a Rolls Royce to Lemons. It’s actually very Lemony.
- When hundreds of cars show up for endurance racing, people notice. ChumpCar, decided to offer a similar product but with more rules and less humor. ChumpCar eventually fractured into World Racing League and Lucky Dog Racing League. And then American Endurance Racing added themselves to the mix. Now NASA and SCCA are also trying to get in on the action. Meanwhile, in Canada, they had their own series, first branded with Chump, and now branded with Lucky Dog. Overseas, Lemons invaded Australia and New Zealand.
Today, you can race on world class tracks for less money than you might expect. Everyone owes the 24 Hours of Lemons a huge thank you as they were the ones who figured out the formula. While all of the budget series are seeing speed and cost creep, Lemons has stayed very close to its original conception. People still show up in terrible cars and dress their cars, if not themselves, in silly themes.
Myself, I started out racing in Lemons. After a couple years, I decided I wanted to take driving a little more seriously. So I built a car that could compete in as many types of events as possible. After a couple years of that I realized that I didn’t really want to be serious about racing. The culture of winning is full of cheating, bad tempers, and open checkbooks, none of which appeal to me.
If you’ve never tried Lemons, I suggest you check it out. The racing on track will keep you on your toes as you dice with a mixture of professionals and rank amateurs. And the atmosphere in the paddock is uniquely Lemons.
I’ve worked for Lemons a few times, but this last weekend was the first time I was a judge. That means I helped class cars, dole out penalties, and decide on awards. The whole process is really wholesome and the staff’s #1 concern (well #2 if you count safety) is making an enjoyable event.