Reno and Lemons ’09: 10 Years Later

By: Eric Rood Photo Credits: Murilee Martin, Nick Pon
May 22, 2019

As we plan to do all year, we are going to look back to the 24 Hours of Lemons race that happened a decade ago today. This week, we’re remembering “Goin’ for Broken” at Reno-Fernley Raceway in Nevada. Few will accuse the track of proximity to civilization; it sits on U.S. Route 50—aka the Loneliest Road in America—most of an hour from Reno. The track ran out of luck a few years ago and closed, but that won’t stop us from covering some of the noteworthy things from the race.

As with all races in the early years of Lemons, new penalties made up some of the story. Considering Reno-Fernley’s proximity to Burning Man, the Lemons Supreme Court instituted the Burning Man Penalty. It could really apply to any music festival since the main components are setting up a cheap, terrible tent, piling in with your entire team, and blasting the most repellant techno music ever made. PARTY.

Judge Phil, aka Murilee Martin, also began his first foray into the trophy-making world. He built a trophy to celebrate Reno’s gambling history. This skeletal hand rolled snake eyes and, naturally, got pliers applied to its hard-luck finger. Murilee handed it out to Biting Monkey Racing, a team of teachers from Southern California who drove their race car to the track about eight hours without a trailer. They then “raced” at a leisurely pace all weekend. You can read that whole story here.

Carnage was also the rule of the weekend. Blown-up cars mounted throughout the weekend. Murilee kept tally on it and you can read the whole scoop over here. Suffice to say, the Unsafe At Any Speed Chevy Corvair was done after smashing three pistons in one go.

We can’t think of much better than a 1984 Honda Accord wearing a cowboy. Phoney Express made one of Lemons’ true icons here. Just ain’t much else to say; if you don’t find this entertaining, we aren’t sure we can help much.

The Killer ZomBees’ long and sordid Lemons tale began at Reno-Fernley in 2009. Among this car’s lore was its absolutely insane rollover later in 2009, its subsequent straightening with curse words and hammers, and then driving positively everywhere on the roads for most of the last decade. We haven’t seen it for a while, but we know it’s unkillable. We’ll see it pop up again. Someday.

Similarly, the Bernal Dads’ Volvo 245 carries on racing. Its appearance at Reno marked its third race. The tough old naturally aspirated Volvo brick just keeps chugging along. It’s since changed hands a couple of times, but we’re pretty sure it has more than 30 races on it at this point.

The number of liquid-cooled Volkswagens always seems in flux in Lemons, but this race found a glut of early Volkswagen Rabbits and GTIs. The Organizer’s Choice at this race went to ZZ Uber Das and their pair of Spy vs. Spy Rabbits.

Killer costumes all weekend and cars that perfectly nail the theme? That’s surely an easy way to win the coveted Organizer’s Choice.

Eyesore Racing is perhaps the most recognizable team in Lemons history. Their Miata has certainly made the rounds on the internet as one of the better pieces of garage engineering. Eyesore ran Lemons’ early races in a Honda CRX. However, they replaced that with the now-iconic FrankenMiata. Cobbled together from a couple of half-Miatas and boosted with a turbocharger from a Mexican-market Chrysler, the FrankenMiata ran just its second-ever race at Goin’ For Broken. The team and their Miatillac donned their best Elvis Impersonator outfits, which were truly fitting for Reno-caliber Elvi.

And guess what? They managed all the luck. Eyesore’s turbo Miata—with all of the homemade plumbing hanging out—beat Blanco Basura Racing’s Honda Prelude by two laps for their first win. In the time since, Eyesore has racked up a total of 10 overall wins in 46 Lemons races (if we’re counting right). That’s far and away the most for one car in Lemons history. You can see that car race with us for the 47th time at Thunderhill this very weekend.

The top prize for Lemons is, of course, the Index of Effluency. Many extremely effluent cars entered this race and could have taken home the prize. However, the Redneck Racing Cadillac Eldorado managed to beat more than 60 teams. That’s no small feat with any ‘80s General Motors products—even the “good” ones like a Camaro. Curiously, the 1980s “High Technology” Cadillac V8 has seemed to be a pretty solid engine, at least compared to the head-gasket-nuking Northstar or the just-never-worked-right V8-6-4 that Cadillac trotted out before and after the HT series.

The Judges Choice at this race went to The Junkyard Dogs in their first race. In true rural Nevada fashion, their Mad Max-themed Toyota Celica Supra fit perfectly into the desert and the team installed a nitrous system…for the driver. OK, so we hella banned the latter system, but Lemons Judges appreciate that kind of consideration.

Of course, the Junkyard Dogs would rename their team for the next race as The Black Flags. That name has stuck because of their driving “prowess.” Nevertheless, their Supra still races today. Like Eyesore, you can find them racing at Thunderhill this weekend. If we’re counting right, this will be their 40th Lemons race weekend, no small achievement.

We’ll let Murilee Martin tell you about the fantastically themed Dungeons & Dragsters Ford Capri (one of the Greatest Lemons Cars of All Time, mind you), which took home the I Got Screwed trophy:

“It turns out that the rich European racing heritage of the Ford Capri was a fluke! The Dungeons & Dragsters Capri (which became the Mad Maxeltov Capri for the 2010 season) blew its transmission about 19 seconds into the Goin’ For Broken race, the team thrashed on the car all weekend in the Nevada desert heat, and it was all for naught. Screwed!”

Want to know more about the Dungeons & Dragsters Capri? Assistant Perp Nick Pon wrote about the car, its Lemons race, and its startling conclusion as a Lemons race car for Autoweek.

Of course, that only scratches the surface of what any race weekend entails. “Goin’ for Broken” also featured French cars, a Bunny With a Pancake On Its Head, a full-size Chevy C10, the very timely death of Lemons HQ’s spiteful Volkswagen Bus, a dominatrix or two in the Penalty Box (It was near Reno, after all), Carpet Pissers, and so much more.

Lemons races again this weekend at the Yokohama 5-Mile Tyre Festival at Thunderhill Raceway Park in Willows, California. Never been to a Lemons race? Keep cool and check out the remaining Lemons schedule here.

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