Friday, October 21, 2011

A LeMons BS Primer: Lessons in bribing and smugness

Most who read this blog will be at least passingly familiar with the concept of the 24 Hours of LeMons: Buy [and fix] a car for $500 or less and bring it to the race. But the casual reader may question how the budget limit is enforced, so this post is intended for those inquisitive types and to explain Team Resignation's approach to the fuzzy math of budgets.

The budget enforcement team is better known as the LeMons Supreme Court, which in the Midwest consists primarily of Gonzo automotive journalist and smut writer Murilee Martin (known as Judge Phil in LeMons circles) and his cousin, Judge Sam1. They process each team's budget through a scientific process known as "BS Inspection," during which they inspect the car and sort through the obviously cooked books which will almost certainly show a budget of $500 to the penny. They then assess penalty laps to those who have obviously violated the $500 budget; 1 penalty lap is assessed for each $10 spent overbudget.

However, there are methods to deflect the scrutiny of the Supreme Court's harsh interrogation methods. Judge Phil/Murilee Martin himself wrote the definitive guide, which can be found here. But let's explore Team Resignation's methods:

1) Pick a terrible car (or at least an unassuming one). Ford Escorts aren't really known for their racing pedigree2. Or for much else besides there being a whole bunch of them anywhere. Alternately, pick a car you know and have worked on before. In our case, we killed two birds with one grille cover and chose a model that was closely related to Alan's daily driver at the time (and his two previous daily drivers).

2) Choose an awesome theme. This can be related in some ways to your car of choice, or it can be something awesome. The main point is this: Be original. Classic race car liveries (Gulf Oil anyone?) have mostly been done, and they're boring. But if you're going to do one, make it a parody. Observe the Charnal House MetSHO:
And the car they parodied:

In our case, we chose our theme from a LeMons Supreme Court request made on the forum for a Nixon/Agnew theme. The Agnew part got largely pushed to the background, but it showed up in a few places. Which leads us to...

3) The devil is in the details. When you're theming the car, pay attention to little things. Like a Ford emblem that says "Agnew" on it. The judges appreciate the effort. (The "Escape to Milwaukee" sticker came with the car. It's not related to the theme but is too good to remove.)

4) Dress like fools. It helps deliver the theme and looks great in photos. If you're willing to humiliate yourself [further; you're already racing a crapheap, remember] for the entertainment of those at the track and the Supreme Court, the gesture may spare you a few penalty laps. We dressed like Nixon volunteers, complete with campaign pins and name tags.

5) Bring some documentation. We at Team Resignation are terrible about keeping track of all the damn receipts for all the crap that goes into the car. But we make sure to have a closely estimated budget that is actually semi-realistic. And if we can, we print out part prices and emails in which we've bought or traded for parts. But it helps to make your paperwork part of the theme.

6) Update your theme in subsequent races. If you have a winner of a theme, make some adjustments to entertain the judges. In our case, we took our full-body mannequin that had been in the back of the car and mounted the torso of it to the roof. And we gave Nixon eyes. Then we had our graphics partner Phil Rood design an amazing stencil, which is loosely based on the old Thrush Mufflers bird. We have plans for our next two races in the works now.

7) Bribe, bribe, bribe. This is so important that we'll now discuss it at length.

We ran our first race in 2010 at Autobahn Country Club, and our bribe and theme was good enough to get a post of its own on Judge Phil's blog. The key to bribing is the same as the key to a good theme: Be original. Sure, everyone loves to bribe the judges with booze and/or food, but the judges and organizers are writers and creative types who love their bribes to be unique.

So our 2010 bribe included:

- A homebrewed American Pale Ale. Alan and Eric made labels to dub it "Nixon/Agnew Nattering Nabob Nuclear Beer." It was brewed by Eric's brother-in-law, Dan Meyer. The team also drank it in the post-race hours and traded it for other homebrew. Additional benefit: Homebrew (and any beer, really) can be a bartering item in the pit.

- A copy of the definitive Nixon biography by Roger Morris. Eric hollowed it out like some kind of LeMony movie and put a small bottle of Johnny Walker in there (well, booze is always a decent idea). The book itself was an incredible thrift-store find, having at some time been a Valentine's Day gift to a man's [soon-to-be-ex-]wife. Note the underlined words, which suggest that a 500+ page biography of the only impeached president should be synonymous with "real quality" time. Yikes.

- An iron-on Team Resignation T-shirt (Logo, again, designed by the great Phil Rood). These have since [BUY OUR STUFF] been supplanted by [BUY OUR STUFF] our wide variety[BUY OUR STUFF] of choices at the Team Resignation Cafe Press shop. Buy our stuff.

- A poster-sized copy of the famous Nixon-Elvis Oval Office photo. On the back, this poster had the entire handwritten manuscript (on American Airlines stationery) of Elvis' hippie-bustin' note to the Head Honcho.

In 2011, Eric added in some items that he felt fit the bill after reading Judge Phil's excellent Project Impala Hell series. We also decided to forego the booze bribes, since the judges have typically received more booze than they know what to do with:

- Several copies of Watergate-era Newsweek magazine, which were found in the same thrift store at the same time as the above-mentioned Valentine's Day biography. These feature some amazing old car ads and a sweet picture of Gerald Ford in commencement-speech garb, smoking a stogie and probably writing about how awesome it will be to have his own presidential jet when Nixon gets skewered by those vengeful liberal media types.

- A re-elect Nixon in '72 sticker, which Judge Phil promptly placed on his laptop. Also, a Nixon-Lodge volunteer postcard and a Nixon-Lodge campaign postcard.

- A Bricklin SV-1 watch, which keeps in line with Judge Phil's love of terrible, terrible cars. This was purchased on Ebay from a seller in Hong Kong, who has them in all manner of bizarre car brands. The Chrysler TC by Maserati watch that was purchased at the same time failed to arrive in time, so Eric wears it on occasion and laughs at it whenever he checks the time. If you opt to purchase a watch from the seller for these ends (or for your own), allow at least three weeks' shipping time.

- A mixtape of LeMons-related songs. This one stems from several Murilee Martin posts about his old mixtapes. The tracklist was compiled by mixing bands listed in these posts with bands of the same ilk, which basically led to it being the strangest (but pretty decent, really) mixtape ever compiled. Also, the titles and/or band names more or less create a half-assed narrative of a typical LeMons weekend. Track list:

"My Hooptie" - Sir Mix-A-Lot
"Waitin' for a Train" - Beck
"D's Car Jam/Anxious MoFo" - Minutemen
"Sweet Willy Rollbar" - Melvins
"Rodeo in Joliet" - The Jesus Lizard
"Trust Your Mechanic" - Dead Kennedys
"Ulcer Breakout" - Butthole Surfers
"Race Car Ya-Yas" - Cake
"Third Gear Scratch" - Shiner
"The Good Humor Mustard Gas Truck" - Murilee Arraiac
"Everything Falls Apart" - Husker Du
"Corvette Bummer" - Beck
"It's Gonna Be a Long Night" - Ween
"4,738 Regrets" - Trans Am
"The Race is On Again" - Yo La Tengo
"BMW Man" - Local H

"Rubber Car" - Enon
"Bump" - Mucca Pazza
"Everything Crash" - The Ethiopians
"Spoke" - Shellac
"Motor City Melanoma" - Murilee Arraiac
"Knucklehead" - The Bar-Kays
"Behave Yourself" - Booker T. & the MGs
"Yakety Axe" - Chet Atkins
"Super-Charger Heaven" - White Zombie
"Go To Bruises" - U.S. Maple
"Motion Sickness" - Eleventh Dream Day
"One More Mile" - Muddy Waters
"Sometimes Our Dreams Float Like Anchors" - William Elliott Whitmore
"The Easy Winners" - Scott Joplin

- Upon request, a copy of the Nixon stencil was provided to Judge Phil. The judges then liberally applied Nixon to "cars that needed it."

To date, our car (which is actually within the budget constraints, we swear) has barely been sweated at BS Inspection. In two races, we've accumulated 0 penalty laps and 2 Class B placements. Which is fitting, since the car has yet to be reliable for a full race.

So the long-winded advice is pretty much broken down like this: Don't be afraid to kiss some ass and be original.

1 The LeMons Supreme Court varies by region. Automotive journalist Johnny Lieberman is one of the original judges who has since semi-retired though he carries a big stick at the California races still. In addition to BS judging, they also dole out punishments to drivers who do stupid things on track. Additionally, the title of "smut writer" was an edit by Alan. Just sayin'.

2 At least not in America. In Europe, of course, Ford Escorts of a different ilk were big in rallying and touring car racing. Do want.

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