Road Rally For the Rest of Us: A Lemons Rally Primer

By: Eric Rood Photo Credits: Eric Rood
February 20, 2019

Road Rally - 24 Hours of Lemons

By now, you’ve hopefully seen stories here and there about the Lemons Rally. We’ve had appearances and runs from Roadkill, Regular Car Reviews, more Roadkill, VINWiki (twice), and Hagerty. All of them have given a pretty great look at the road rally companion to the 24 Hours of Lemons. However, we wanted to give just a slightly more detailed FAQ on this janky, grueling, ugly road rally that we call Lemons.

Road Rally - 24 Hours of Lemons

The Lemons Rally follows in the tracks of other low-buck road rally predecessors like the BABE Rally or the slightly more high-end California Melee. The goal isn’t to show off your $300,000 collector car and be fawned over. Instead, this road rally of outcasts hopes to put a little adventure (and perhaps a little anguish) through several thousand road miles. In other words, YouTube features no shortage of tools in supercars showing off. The Lemons Rally, well, it’s for the rest of us who live in the real world.

Road Rally - 24 Hours of Lemons

What is this messed up Lemons Rally thing?

In short, the Lemons Rally is a long-distance scavenger hunt. One particularly astute competitor called it the “Speed Dating of Tourism.” Each competitor gets a Route Book at the rally start with checkpoints for each day. The routes sometimes lay out the navigation and sometimes you have to figure out the best route. All of the checkpoints—often oddball landmarks and out-of-the-way places on two-lane backroads—carry a point value. So navigating to the most points possible contributes to winning.

Being a Lemons event, the road rally also emphasizes running terrible cars. All cars are assigned a point value based on general hooptieness, which serves to handicap those crappiest of cars against more reliable ones.

Road Rally - 24 Hours of Lemons

Who is this Lemons Rally for?

This road rally really appeals to everyone. You don’t need to be a “car guy,” an enthusiast, or a shade-tree mechanic to enjoy the rallies. While we do name “winners,” the object is for everyone to have a good time, to see new/weird stuff, and to deepen the well of automotive fish tales. If you want to have fun in a car—any car, really—this is exactly the kind of trip you want to take.

It’s not uncommon to find rally entries with parents, spouses, children, siblings, race-team buddies, business partners, old friends, neighbors, and even pets along for the adventure. You’ll inevitably make a few new road rally friends, kind of like bonding over shared trauma.

Road Rally - 24 Hours of Lemons

Do the cars have to be crap?

Nah, you can bring anything. Crappier cars get more starting points, a better chance at winning, and more-frequent character-building “stops.” That said, plenty of people have brought modern cars as backups or even knocked out a few thousand miles on a brand-new rental car. We don’t really care; you’ll have fun in whatever you bring.

Road Rally - 24 Hours of Lemons

Where do the rallies go?

We’ve run about a half-dozen different routes, so far, with times covering three to seven days and mileage counts north of 2,000 at times. That packs a lot of roadtrip into a short time, making this an endurance exercise the same way as the 24 Hours of Lemons. Keep that crap a-movin’! In 2019, we have rallies scheduled on both coasts, across Appalachia, through the Great Lakes region, and all over Texas. That will likely change in 2020 as we consider another Route 66 Rally and other places around the country.

Road Rally - 24 Hours of Lemons

What makes this fun?

The Lemons Rally is the very epitome of pointless fun, the very embodiment of “It’s the journey not the destination,” and the very turbulent/inevitable slap-happiness that comes from 12 hours a day in an enclosed space with friends, family, significant others, and/or mortal enemies. Things get a little goofy and as long as you can have fun while searching an American backwater for a junkyard advertises with a car on a stick, you can really enjoy what Lemons Rally brings.

Road Rally - 24 Hours of Lemons

So what’s the real challenge to the rally?

Rally entrants have to manage a whole bunch of things that vary from car to car and team to team in their crappiness. Those may include the teammates, the car, the route, the technology, limited cell service (*GASP*), road conditions, crappy weather, fairly vague Route Book directions, ample amount of snacks, and the aforementioned slap-happiness. Feelings of dread and regret are also common, usually washed away entirely by a sense of accomplishment after 4-7 days on the road.

Road Rally - 24 Hours of Lemons

Sounds like a pretty good time, Where can I learn more?

Check out the Lemons Rally page here. That lists all the rallies for the year and you can find out most info in the very-short Lemons Rally Rulebook. You’ll also find the scoring rules on the main page. Follow the Lemons Rally Instagram account and the Lemons Rally Facebook page for even more daily content.

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