Asking Questions About Low-Buck Racing

Evil genius Nick Pon has been involved in the 24 Hours of LeMons series since it began at Altamont in 2006, and had no clue it would turn into a nationwide series. The series set out to create a venue for wheel-to-wheel road racing that was less serious, less expensive and less focused on actual driving talent than other racing options. LeMons still accomplishes that, while also being much safer than before. At a recent race, they had an all-female rookie team with one driver who had never driven a manual transmission.

The Chump Car World Series has a similar rule set—the same $500 price limit being the important one—but series CEO John Condren has worked hard to quickly nab time at big-name tracks despite the series being just three years old. ChumpCar also boasts having held the world’s longest endurance race, at 25 hours, 25 minutes and 25 seconds long. With low-buck cars going fast around high-dollar tracks, John emphasizes that these cars are as safe as anything you’ll see at races for more expensive machines.

We asked both Pon and Condren these questions.

GRM: How many events did you do in 2012?

Nick Pon, 24 Hours of LeMons: Twenty.

John Condren, ChumpCar World Series: ChumpCar held 43 race weekends.

How many do you have planned in 2013?

Nick Pon, 24 Hours of LeMons: We have 18 on our preliminary schedule, but I’d expect to have at least 20 when all is said and done. It’s like we don’t learn.

John Condren, ChumpCar World Series: We have booked 41 events, which will include 65 races

What percentage of your members are new to racing?

Nick Pon, 24 Hours of LeMons: Great question, and we don’t have a precise way of tracking that. We think that maybe 65-75 percent of drivers have done an HPDE (High-Performance Driving Event) or autocross, but those with wheel-to-wheel experience is probably less than half, and maybe as low as 25 percent.

John Condren, ChumpCar World Series: 17% are completely new to motorsports.

What sanctioning bodies are existing racers coming from?

Nick Pon, 24 Hours of LeMons: We don’t have the specifics on that, but the “big four” are SCCA, NASA, PCA and BMW CCA.

John Condren, ChumpCar World Series: 62% are either current or past members of the SCCA or NASA. 21% came to ChumpCar from some other form of motorsports other than sports car-based road racing. A majority of those come from circle track and karting. 57% have been involved in some form of motorsports for more than 5 years.

What products do these people purchase to race with?

Nick Pon, 24 Hours of LeMons: I assume you mean support stuff and not the cars themselves: The biggest thing is probably personal safety gear. Since most of these guys aren’t racers, they need suits, shoes, gloves, helmets, etc. The next biggest chunk would be car consumables and support stuff: gas cans, tires, brake pads, fluids, fire extinguishers.

John Condren, ChumpCar World Series: Products? You mean what cars? Honda Civic, Buick Roadmaster station wagon, BMW E30, Mazda Miata, Chevy Camaro, Saab 900, Nissan Sentra, Toyota MR2, VW Beetle, Geo Metro, Triumph TR6, Ford Mustang, Datsun 240-280Z, Acura Legend, Volvo 240, Austin Mini Copper, Ford Thunderbird, Ford Crown Victoria, Mazda Protegé, Nissan/Datsun pickup truck, Chevy Caprice station wagon, Fiat Spider, Chevy Malibu, MGB, Austin-Healey Sprite, and so on.

Are the cars changing? Are they getting safer, faster more serious?

Nick Pon, 24 Hours of LeMons: The cars have evolved a lot since the beginning. Safety is the biggest area of change. When we started, we thought we didn’t need serious safety standards since the racing wasn’t designed to be serious. We’ve learned that safety really is a universal thing for all forms of racing. Average speeds have gone up, but I’d say that’s just as much a result of improved driver quality as it is improvements to the cars. There are guys who were utter rookies five years ago who can now get around a road course at a fairly respectable pace. Seriousness varies widely: There are teams that take it so seriously that they are miserable when they fail, there are teams who couldn’t care less, and there are teams that have a great attitude and go fast. There’s room for all of those different approaches in a LeMons race—with the possible exception of the miserable serious guy.

John Condren, ChumpCar World Series: Yes, they're becoming safer and more serious (diverging from the themed cars found in LeMons) but they're still $500, basically stock cars. Faster? That's really a by-product of seat-time, prep and good drivers. The caliber of drivers has increased tremendously.

How do you feel Grassroots Motorsports has influenced this market?

Nick Pon, 24 Hours of LeMons: GRM fits into that in a couple of ways. GRM obviously has its roots in autocross, which is one of the first things that pops into mind when you’re talking entry-level motorsports. In autocross, you can be a guy out there just to have fun, or you can be someone serious about winning. You can be a guy who geeks out on the hardware or geeks out on driving techniques. Same goes for LeMons. GRM also caters heavily to the DIYer. There are probably countless guys out there who have tried something mechanically after getting the info and encouragement from a GRM piece. At LeMons, there were guys who initially didn’t know a torque wrench from an air chisel, and through the LeMons experience are now changing head gaskets and transmissions. The overarching theme is accessibility. Both LeMons and GRM put the art of racing and working on cars into reach for the average gearhead. Who, as it turns out, is most of us.

John Condren, ChumpCar World Series: ChumpCar has grown from a concept to over 8,000 member-drivers in three years. We see a continued growth pattern as the series gains more recognition and increases its profile. Brand awareness and market reach plays a huge part of that growth… and that's where Grassroots Motorsports has helped a great deal. GRM's demographics are ChumpCar's demographics.

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icaneat50eggs
icaneat50eggs HalfDork
11/12/14 9:40 a.m.

Chump is running a 37 hour this weekend outside Dallas. Over under in frostbite for drivers is currently 22

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