When life offers lemons, crash em

On Wheels
by: ©2007 CARRIE SUTHERLAND, Driver Jamie Smith, part of a local team that competed in the 24 Hours of Lemons last month in California, shows off his two-wheeling ability in the team’s Mazda Protégé, purchased for $100. The team won the event’s $1,500 purse, paid out in nickels.

A lot of people just love a demolition derby. They might not like to admit it, but some people love to abuse junky old cars.

I think that's because it takes so much time and effort maintaining those iron beasts. Every once in a while, you just want to take a sledgehammer to one of them. That's partly why car chase scenes are popular in the movies.

A few years ago, some Californians put a new spin on the demolition derby. Their event is called the 24 Hours of Lemons - a lighthearted endurance race for cars that cost no more than $500.

That $500 includes the purchase price, any necessary repairs and all track preparation, not including safety gear.

You can imagine what the cars look like even before the race gets under way.

Organizers take their fun seriously. At any time during the event, they may call a car into the pits and summarily destroy it, or give the team a cash prize. A driver who hits another car may end up covered in chocolate syrup and feathers, or he could end up with a bucket of crushed eggs screwed to the hood of his car.

Does this sound like fun to you? Brian Towey of Hood River decided to give it a try. His team included Sean Hedrick of Vancouver, Wash., Ken and Carrie Sutherland of Sherwood, Bruce Wilson of West Linn, Peter Lovejoy of Lyle, and professional stunt driver Jamie Smith, also of Lyle.

'We entered a totaled 1999 Mazda Protégé that we purchased from a teenager for $100,' Towey says.

A couple of weeks ago, the team brought the car to Thunderhill Raceway in Willows, Calif., for the two-day event.

The officials divide the cars into four competition classes: Prayer of Winning, No Prayer of Winning, Slight Prayer of Finishing, and Won't Finish in a Million Frickin' Years.

If anyone cheats by bringing a more expensive car, the officials immediately damage it until they bring its cash value down into compliance with the rules.

'It's kind of a race, but kind of a car party. There's nothing stuffy about it,' Towey says.

Because the event lasts a full 24 hours, teams are encouraged to prepare food on their car's engine while they race. The organizers taste the competition-cooked goodies and award special prizes such as the 'Least Repulsive-Looking Entree' and the 'How in the Hell Did You Bake a Dessert on an Intake Manifold?' trophy.

The race is divided into two legs, with an overnight break. Teams can earn extra credit by getting creative.

'Jamie's specialty is driving on two wheels,' Hedrick says, 'so we arranged to do a stunt during the break. We set up a ramp and brought out the car. He hit the ramp at about 25 mph and drove it around the paddock on two wheels.'

Towey's team won -and the $1,500 purse was paid in sacks of nickels.

In keeping with the spirit of the season, Towey's team decided to share the wealth. 'The Red Cross was there at the event, and we donated $200 of the purse to them,' he says.

For more online, go to 24hoursoflemons.com.

But the only question to ask is, 'How do we get one of these events in Portland?'

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