MILLVILLE — The third time Alex Aponte went to the penalty box for driving fouls, the judges had something special waiting for the Philadelphia resident.
They wrapped him in (plastic) chains and made him scour the New Jersey Motorsports Park for a “giubo,” a small, round rubber part buried deep within some cars’ engines.
Only after he returned and presented the part would they allow him to crawl back into his far-from-excellent 1987 Alfa Romeo Eccellente for more laps around the track.
“It’s a fun time,” he said as he hurried back to his team’s car to jump in the field.
Saturday was the start of 24 Hours of LeMons, a novelty race held at the New Jersey Motorsports Park. Like the more-famous race in Le Mans, drivers have 24 hours to go as far as they can on the track. It continues today.
The catch in this race? The cars can’t cost more than $500.
So, instead of a field of high-priced sports cars piloted by professional drivers, staffed by seasoned pros and bankrolled by deep pockets, this course of LeMons attracted a 1969 Range Rover, a bunch of mid-’90s junkers and this … thing … brought to the course by brothers Jeff and Jim Wakemen, of Washington Township, Gloucester County.
Their Frankenride on Saturday somehow combined the chassis of a 1994 Chevy S-10 pickup truck with the $100 shell of a boat bought off of Craigslist. The brothers’ team, Three Pedal Mafia, has been entering these races since 2010.
“We wanted to race, and we didn’t have a whole lot of money,” Jeff Wakemen explained. Up close, the “car,” like others on Saturday, looked a little rough. It was dented and scraped, with raw, unpainted fiberglass and jokey slogans painted along the side.
The LeMons organizers have held several dozen of these races at different tracks across the country over the past eight years. They are the brainchild of Jay Lamm, a California resident and automobile journalist who decided to combine humor and racing. And that thing about $500? They’re serious about that.
One joker tried to enter a 2004 Mazda RX8, which in no known universe would cost less than $500.
“He got 4 billion penalty laps,” Lamm said.
Cars that go off the track, bump into others and generally cause havoc are sent to the penalty box. The first one or two times gets the driver a stern talking-to. Then there are silly challenges, like faking soccer injuries. Keep up the bad driving, and cars are ordered off the track for safety.
The key to the race, Lamm said, was to outlast the competitors. The winners don’t typically have the fastest lap times. Instead, they stay on the track longer than anybody else by avoiding breakdowns or penalties.
At the end of Saturday’s racing, the leader was car 242, a 1979 Volvo 242 coupe driven by the Keystone Kops team with 246 laps. That alleged $500 RX-8? Dead last with negative 814 laps.
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