The 24 Hours of LeMons racing series was designed to encourage people to have fun with cheap cars, but even $500 racing gets pricey so LeMons came up with a plan that didn’t require helmets, rollcages, or race tracks. That became the LeMons Rally, a four-day tour that sends unsuitable hoopties almost 2000 miles over backroads and mountain passes.
We covered the first LeMons rally in the Summer 2016 issue of Roadkill, and it looked like so much fun that Freiburger and Fin decided to enter the next one–which saw cars limping through the snow from Moscow, PA to Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Alabama. F&F were on their own in their stinky, crappy, rally car, but Elana hitched a ride with the camera crew, and stayed in touch through the week with Roadkill contributor and LeMons judge, Eric Rood to find out how the other competitors were stacking up against the Roadkill crew. At the end of the week, it felt like our text messages told the story better than our notes, so we’ve recreated them here, with photo help from Wes Allison.
Co-writer Eric Rood, texting me from Buffalo, New York.
[January 24 – 7 Days Until Rally]
Hey dude, are you running the winter rally for LeMons? I think we’re gonna go for Roadkill.
1,800 miles of masochism in cars that probably should mostly have been crushed decades ago? I wouldn’t miss it.
Sweet. Finnegan and Freiburger told me they’re buying a Meyers Manx dune buggy and it’s going to snow. We’re all going to die.
Only the first day is blizzard country. If they don’t freeze then, they’ll probably be fine on the remaining 1,200 or so miles. See you next week.
There were many good cars to choose from on Craigslist near Philly. F&F did not choose any of them. Instead, we ended up with a customized 1978 Lincoln that smelled bad and ran worse.
[January 29 – 2 Days Until Rally]
I’m in Pittsburgh for the night to finalize plans with Steve McDaniel. He’s the Rally Boss who cooked up this whole ridiculous idea and he’s coaxed 55 teams to register. Four are LeMons race cars with rollcages. Three are from the Sloppy Mechanics guys and their buds.
Two come from Jeff “Speedycop” Bloch. You’ve seen Speedycop’s LeMons cars before, like the Upside-Down Camaro. He’s got a three-wheeled Reliant Regal that hasn’t run since the early 1990s. Last I heard, they were pressure-washing the engine’s coolant passages.
Speaking of bad ideas, did F&F buy the Meyers Manx buggy you said they were considering?
55 people are as dumb as us? Who’da thunk? I’m with DF looking at cars. They gave up on the Manx, so maybe less dead? Only, they bought well, I don’t know how to describe what they bought. Didn’t you say there are extra points for a “Bill Blass” edition 1976 Lincoln? What kind of points do we get for a 1978 Lincoln that’s been shortened, pinstriped, has a blue fur interior, and says “Missing Linc” on the back? DF is calling it the “Bill Ass” edition. We bought it from a guy who does chainsaw art. It was parked in-between a mermaid and a giant middle finger. We’re heading to Moscow in the morning.
Between a mermaid and a middle finger? I’ve had that dream before. Definite bonus points for the Bill Ass Lincoln. Can’t wait to see it in person.
[January 30 – Rally Start T-1 day]
I checked into the hotel and found some great early arrivals: a Smokey and the Bandit Snowman-themed early ‘80s Eldorado, the Knoxvegas Lowballers’ clattering old diesel Mercedes 200D, and a diesel Land Rover that a guy named Joerg shipped from Germany to run the rally. Let me know when the Roadkill convoy straggles into town and we’ll find some food.
Sorry, we were a little behind schedule. Apparently the PA troopers think a car should have some sort of registration or something? And then I made us stop at a sporting goods store because my California warm coat doesn’t fit over the 200 other layers I need to survive in this icy hellscape. And then Fin demanded “the kind of food where they do a show,” which apparently means teppanyaki. You’d think they’d get enough of stuff being on fire. See you at registration in the morning.
[January 31 – Day 1]
Hey, what time did you think you’ll show up? It’s 8:45 and we want to be done here at 9. The snow is starting to pick up a bit.
I think the guys are rewiring the Linc. It don’t run, and it is also snowing here. What are we missing?
A Morris Minor body on a Miata chassis, the Sloppy Mechanics’ cars (a Volare Wagon, a Fury Wagon, and an early ‘80s Ford LTD), a ’73 Beetle with a 250-horsepower Honda V6 and a rollcage, and a Lada Niva that drove to the rally start from Saskatchewan.
Reed and Chastin from Georgia have this unbelievably cool International Metro Van. They dug it out of a field a month ago and put the body over a Tahoe frame. They’re numb because it’s not insulated, but they’ve got a kerosene heater in it. They used an old freezer for the engine’s firewall; they can probably put their fingers on it to warm up.
Oh, Jeff and Kevin from the first rally turned up in this crusty old Cadillac Limo. It’s painted like the Toyota Corolla from Initial D, has shipwreck levels of rust, and smells like it was a zoo exhibit. Kevin said he saw a raccoon scamper out of it when they went to buy it. I’d put the over/under at 75 miles before it breaks in half. So it’s pretty much perfect for this event.
Speedycop is still MIA, though he’s texted for an hour that he’s only 5 minutes away.
Yeah, let’s say we’re only five minutes away too. I know the metro van guys. That’s the dude who pinstriped Fin’s boat!
No kidding? Small world; he’s a hell of a nice guy.
Speedycop and his “Gang of Outlaws” showed up, finally. He brought the Speedycopter, which is a road-legal helicopter with a rollcage that can also float. They also brought the three-wheeled Reliant in the back of his pickup truck. Watching them unload both cars was entertaining; the Reliant is tiny enough their guys can pick it up and set it on ramps. They’re now struggling to leave the parking lot.
Any chance the Missing Linc will get here of its own volition?
Is a Reliant the same as a Robin? I’m gonna go out on a limb and say, no, not going to make it. How important is registration anyway?
Ugh. I’ll be right over. We’re officially like 11 minutes into the rally and Roadkill is already failing.
This is surprising in what way?
[Later that day]
Good seeing you. Does Freiburger always say “This is the dumbest idea ever,” so much when filming episodes? I’m on the road toward Buffalo. It’s probably snowed an inch or so, but the forecast said I’d get clear of it soon. Is the Missing Linc running yet?
He does say that a lot. So, this morning it had no spark. They checked all the wiring, bypassed the stock Duraspark ignition module and used an MSD 6A box instead, but that didn’t work either. Put on a new coil, nothing. Finally narrowed it down to the magnetic pickup in the distributor dying. We’re on our way. We might skip today’s checkpoints, seeing as how we’re already six hours behind.
Right, the checkpoints. Since you guys are skipping all of them today (shocking), here’s how that works if/when you accidentally end up at one: The packet I gave the guys today lists the whole rally itinerary. All you have to do is get to the endpoints for each day, but you can score extra points by stopping at the checkpoints. After you find the checkpoint, you’ll go up to it, snap a photo with your car’s small mascot at the checkpoint item (like the super-creepy Shark Girl statue in Buffalo), and post it to the LeMons Rally Facebook page. What did Finn and Freiburger pick for a mascot?
Can the mold in the blue fur dashboard be our mascot? Kidding, kidding, the guy who sold us Missing Linc is an actor, and the car had one of his headshots in it, so say hello to Roadkill LeMons Rally Mascot, Vince Lanza.
Now that’s a copilot!
[Some time later still]
Hey, I found all our bad weather stashed around Erie on the way to Pittsburgh. It was pretty gnarly, but I ran across Reed and Chastin in their IH Van during a white-out. Their taillights were flickering on and off, so I followed them the last couple hours make sure they didn’t get into any trouble. The van is apparently a bit dicey at highway speeds, but we all made it to the hotel bar. How far out are you?
Good news, is we got new tires and did lots of snow donuts. Bad news is that the heater doesn’t work, Fin is allergic to the interior, we had a problem with a short, then a clogged fuel filter, and a distributor cap that is now held down with zip ties and we’re still about two hours from Pittsburgh. Is there beer there?
February 1 – Day 2
Wes Allison is with me today. We’re following the trail of checkpoints that goes along the two-lane mountain roads through West Virginia and hopefully find some cool places for him to shoot photos without falling off a mountain. What’s Roadkill’s plan for today?
What is this word you say, “Plaaan?” I don’t think we know this word.
A plan is…You know, I won’t ruin the surprise in case you ever need to have one.
We met up with the Limo near Philippi, West Virginia; the checkpoint there was the site of the first Civil War amputation. The Limo guys, Kevin and Jeff, parked it the only place with enough room for 27 feet of Cadillac. The local constabulary gave them some grief because it was a No Parking zone, as labeled by a small rusty sign across the street. The Fairlane drove by us, dragging its exhaust, while we were there. Did you guys get to Philippi yet?
We’re in West Virginia, I saw the sign. Philippi is where the creepy statue of Barney Fife is, right? Or was that Morgantown? Anyway, we made it to that. The car stalled in front of it and while they were getting it started again a homeless man who told me to call him Spider said, “Know why that thing won’t start?” and I said, “Why?” and he said, “Cause it’s a Ford,” and then he laughed so hard he started coughing and I had to go so I hope he didn’t die.
Man, cell service is sketchy here; that last text took 20 minutes to send.
You guys still alive? This area is gorgeous, like fairy-tale pretty…if fairy tales had more coal mining. Fin keeps opening the door on the Linc, he says there’s a pretty bad exhaust leak in it, but I suspect it’s just one of them farting. We’ve eaten some questionable things this week. They wanted to trade the Lincoln for an AMC Spirit at the Diary Queen, but we couldn’t find the owner, so I guess we’re stuck with Missing Linc.
We saw that AMC; it had a rollbar! Sorry, we were out of cell phone reception for three more hours. Routes 219 and 250 are fantastic driving roads—curvy and with amazing views—though they had lots of ravines to fall into. Pretty sure nobody would ever find you at the bottom of them.
Wes and I met up with the Knoxvegas Lowballers and their two Mercedes—both the old diesel and their ’80s luxury LeMons race car—in Grafton. The diesel Merc is blowing oil through the piston rings like they’re not even there. “That’s because they aren’t there,” Gary Mitchell from the Lowballers says. I think he said that; I was busy choking on diesel smoke and didn’t hear everything he said. He bought it for $900 not far from Grafton, actually, and then rebuilt the brakes, clutch, and floors before the rally. Everything but the engine.
One of the checkpoints was also this cool old “Kissing Bridge” in Slatyfork, where we found Erica and Zane. They won the first LeMons Rally last summer, the one that ran through Death Valley in August. They bought this old diesel school bus for cheap just three days before the rally started. All they’ve done is taken some of the seats out of it to make room for sleeping.
The mountain roads are beating the hell out of me, but we’re almost to Virginia, where I’ll have to be careful not to speed.
Don’t speed! We didn’t go to the kissing bridge, because nobody on our team wants to kiss, but we did go through Grafton and that town is amazing! It looks like an old west scene, only instead of prostitutes on the wooden balconies, there are satellite dishes.
I sped: 80 in a 70. Dang.
I found a huge crowd of rally people in Ashevile hanging out in the hotel parking lot, drinking beer from the keg in the back of a BMW. The hotel staff chased most of us off to a nearby watering hole. How far along are you? I’m headed to bed. Sixteen hours on the road today!
We made it to the burger bar where Hank Williams didn’t eat because he was already dead in the car or something. How do you guys find these spots? Anyhow, we ran into the Metro Van dudes and there was a family there waiting to meet F&F and the little boy kept yelling, “FryBooger!” at David and I wonder if he’d fire me if I start calling him that. This was a long day!
February 2 – Day 3
Today has two things Steve wanted in this rally: Tail of the Dragon and Waffle Houses. Specifically, the day’s checkpoints are only the Tail of the Dragon, a narrow road over the mountain pass between North Carolina and Tennessee, and stops at any six Waffle Houses between Asheville and Memphis. You get points for nabbing waffles from each of the six restaurants and bringing them to Memphis. There are like 398 Waffle Houses along I-40 or something.
We’re following Vinny and his New Jersey crew in the V6 Beetle this morning to the Waffle Houses around Asheville. The Beetle guys are terrible with directions. This morning, they were telling me how in Buffalo, they took a wrong turn and ended up at the border crossing into Canada. When they realized where they were, the Beetle driver tried to turn around, the car stalled, and it wouldn’t restart. They got out to push-start and it/they freaked out the border agents, who detained them for a couple hours and searched all their stuff.
So we’re probably going to get lost or worse.
I think we wake up lost. F&F have a new vision of winning the rally because they saw that they aren’t currently last, so they are filling the car with waffles. Fin says it’s a great improvement in smell.
We’re lost, but we found a Waffle House. Can you ever truly be lost if there’s a Waffle House around?
A question for the ages, indeed. I think we’re ahead of you for once! We stopped at Wolf Creek just before Tail of the Dragon.
We made it to the Tail of the Dragon just behind you. The assembly of crappy old cars at the top was truly awe-inspiring. The motorcycle club at the top has never seen so many hoopties gathered there at once. It brings a tear to my eye. Maybe that’s rust flakes in the breeze.
Yeah, definitely rust.
We’ve adopted your V-dub crew. Vinny just told me the Canada story. There is currently a waffle-battle happening here. Did you already make it over the hill?
We stopped at a gas station near the bottom of the Dragon; the Sloppy Mechanics guys were frightening the locals. The Dragon was a fun drive, even in a rental car. I guess the Reliant was a hoot on Tail of the Dragon. Steve drove it and almost tipped over into a ravine a half-dozen times. The Speedycopter burned up a transmission yesterday and the Reliant won’t keep up on I-40 without getting its occupants getting steamrolled by an 18-wheeler so he’s towing both cars to Memphis.
Because these rallies are as much or more about food than anything else: What are you guys eating for lunch?
Grease posing as Mexican food. DF is mad that you guys let cars use trailers, but I keep telling him that this isn’t Drag Week, and he can’t make the rules. Where do we meet tonight?
Handy Park on Beale Street.
See you there.
[February 3 – Day 4]
I have to work the 24 Hours of LeMons race at Barber Motorsports Park so I’m jumping into Murilee Martin’s press-loaner Mercedes Autobahn-cruiser and cannonballing to the track. Gary Mitchell from the Lowballers texted me this morning to say he thought the diesel Mercedes’ engine was mostly dead, but the Sloppy Mechanics guys were going to tow-start them and they’d just try to keep the Merc running all the way to Birmingham. Let me know if you see anything fun—like a broken Mercedes 200D—in Paris, Waterloo, or anywhere else along the way.
Sooo, we kinda skipped all the checkpoints today and ate bbq and then met a guy with a Jeep and he told us to go out to this old gravel mine for a place to do donuts and they called the cops on us, probably because we looked like we’re about to dump a body out of the trunk. The cop was just like, “I’m leaving, don’t hurt anybody or yourselves,” and now the exhaust is tied on with electrical wire and our tires are bald but we’re almost to Barber Motorsports Park. Do we get any points for that? Do we win?
You guys know you can’t win, right?
What else is new?
Watch it for yourself, Roadkill Episode 63 right here: