One thing that sets the 24 Hours of Lemons series apart from other, less interesting forms of motorsport is its just and fair system of bribes for the judges. Yes, the Lemons Supreme Court’s tradition of accepting baksheesh, cumshaw, squeeze, la mordida, sweeteners, and/or lagniappes has become an integral part of the BS inspection, where cars are placed into racing classes and cheaty teams get punished with penalty laps. Perhaps you’re new to the series, you’ve seen the BRIBED stencils on cars, or you’ve heard the rumors about how a sufficient gratuity could get your F1 car into Class C with no penalty laps. What’s the deal here? Do the rich get whatever they want and the poor get shafted in Lemons, just like in real life? Of course not— Lemons racing is far superior to real life! I’m Judge Phil, Chief Justice of the Lemons Supreme Court, and I’m in the house to give you a bribery explainer that will clear up the myths around this subject.
Unlike the furtive sort of bribery you might see on a golf course, the just and fair judges of the Lemons Supreme Court have established a system of bribery rituals right out in the open. This didn’t happen randomly or evolve gradually; instead, it was the result of conscious decisions made by the two wise men who created the image of the Lemons Judge as we know it today.
In the early days of the series, 2006 through mid-2008, the judges were series founder Jay Lamm and a couple of his weirdo car-expert buddies. They wore robes and wigs and dispensed instant justice during the BS inspections and, during the race, to black-flagged teams. They had some great penalties for bad drivers (including a remotely-actuated electric-shock dog collar and a Larry Craig “wide stance” leg-with-shoe attachment for cars), but the image of the Lemons Supreme Court judge hadn’t been fully formed at that point.
That’s when Jonny Lieberman, my car-writing colleague and Black Metal V8olvo racing teammate, stepped in and convinced Lemons Chief Perp Lamm to put us in as the judges at the 2008 South Carolina race, the ninth-ever 24 Hours of Lemons event. We donned the sacred robes of the Lemons Supreme Court and promptly created the persona of the Lemons judges you know and
dread love today.
The Lemons Supreme Court v1.0 justices modeled themselves after the stern, Inclosure Act-enforcin’, gin-soaked judges of hookwormy, rickets-addled 17th-century England. For Lemons Supreme Court v2.0, Jonny and I opted for two different judicial role models: the whiskey-sodden, chaw-spittin’ American Wild West frontier judge and the cold-eyed Lubyanka-packin’ commissars of Stalin’s Moscow Show Trials. A large part about the appeal of these archetypes was the look they enabled us to cultivate: unsavory facial hair and cruel-looking spectacles.
The main reason we chose the Wild West and Moscow Show Trials judges as our inspiration, however, was philosophical. One important way in which the 24 Hours of Lemons differs from other race series is the simplicity of the rules; we have a thin rulebook and the word of our officials is law. Instant law, with no time-consuming, headache-inducing appeal process. Other race series have rulebooks the size of a set of encyclopedias… but, in the end, everything always comes down to some human’s decision, anyway. By adopting the Wild West and Show Trials judges as our judicial ideal, we made the statement that racers will get quick decisions from us, and that we will put our fat thumbs on the scales of justice whenever necessary to preserve the greatness of our beloved racing series.
Just to make it more clear to hard-headed “I HAD THE LINE” racers accustomed to the rule-crazed tedium of SCCA or NASA that there’s no point weeping about Constitutional rights, hallowed racing traditions, or even right and wrong with the Lemons judges, we decided to encourage open, out-front bribery of the judges. After all, if these judges take bribes, why even waste everyone’s time arguing about fairness with them?
While alcoholic beverages have always been the most common type of Lemons judicial bribe, many teams assumed that these scurvy-looking characters with burned-mattress facial hair and tattered, Soviet-medal-covered robes must be aficionados of icky pornography.
Some teams have been touchingly creative with their bribes; I have this diorama of my formative ’65 Impala on display in my office as I write this.
Nearly all of the bribes we get end up being given to track workers, because even Andrey Vyshinksky couldn’t consume as much booze as we get at a typical race. For this reason, it’s a good idea to write your car number and team name on your bribe, so the bleary-eyed flagger who sees you drop a half-tread-width in the dirt might remember that tasty bottle of Fireball she consumed last night and cut you some slack.
Do the bribes help your team get away with outrageous cheating, or maybe get your Class A car put into Class B, or perhaps allow your drivers to behave like red-misty Spec Miata bozos on the track? Sorry, no. The dirty little secret of Lemons judicial bribes is that they won’t help you get away with anything if you really need help in that department. The bribery system gives us an entertaining ritual that reinforces the central core of the Lemons Supreme Court’s belief system to would-be Smokey Yunick-style rule-stretchers: The only loopholes are the ones we allow.
We’ll wrap this up with some handy bribery pointers for your next race:
The best bribe is to bring a car that we want to see on the track. Bring that Datsun F-10 or Packardbaker or airplane-engined MR2 and we’ll roll out the red carpet. Bring a BMW 3-Series or Mustang and we’ll glare coldly at you through our iron-framed Soviet eyewear.
Bribes won’t really help you if you need help getting through the BS Inspection. We might reduce the number of penalty laps on your Full Cheatonium™ Integra from 500 to 50 if you give us a nice bottle of Angel’s Envy, but you still ain’t gonna get the penalty laps low enough to win the race.
Bribing the corner workers is a smart move. You can specify that your bribe be handed to the flaggers and we’ll make it happen. Write your car number on the bribe when you do this, so that the workers who put in 14-hour days huffing your clutch dust in the blazing sun and/or freezing rain know who to watch for.
Bribes help establish a warm and caring relationship between judge and racer. Bribe early! Bribe often!