The next generation of car guys isn’t being bred in garages and under shade trees; they're growing up playing video games in their parents’ basement. But when little Johnny’s ready to graduate from his smartphone or console system in a wood-paneled suburban subterranean lair to real life racing, how the hell does he do it? Do what I did – just jump in.
The grey-hairs of the cult of cars are freaking out over where the next generation of car guys will come from. In a world where having the latest smartphone makes you cooler than having a new car, the old farts should be worried.
Shop class? Driver’s ed.? Good luck finding either in a modern high school curriculum.
I know that for a lot of you, going from “Real Racing” to real racing feels intimidating as hell.
Trust me, I know. I didn’t have anyone to teach me about cars. My dad wasn’t a car guy, most of my friends weren’t car guys – hell, I didn’t even know something like “shop class” existed. I’m entirely self-taught.
As such, I’m confident in my knowledge of cars. I’m confident I can write about cars. I’m confident I can drive cars. But racing on a team? I’m confident that it scares me shitless.
But it’s not the track that intimidates me. It’s that everyone else seems to be so confident with their abilities – not only behind the wheel but behind the wrench.
Frankly, it’s what kept me away from being more involved with racing. And it also explains the trepidation I felt as I accepted an offer from PEAK to race with their 24 Hours of LeMons team this past weekend at Gingerman Raceway.
For the handful of Jalopnik readers who don’t know it, the concept of the 24 Hours of LeMons is simple – an endurance race featuring cars that only cost $500 (plus an unlimited budget for safety equipment). It’s real racing on real tracks with cheap-ass cars.
PEAK’s involvement with LeMons is precisely the kind of marketing decision that big-oil veeps often get fired for. Rather than just trying to take over the series with a huge sponsorship, the antifreeze and motor oil brand's sponsorship is all about joining in on the fun. For each of the races they’re participating in, PEAK’s launched a contest where you can join their employee team of wrenchers and drivers.
And that team's certainly not taking themselves too seriously. Their team name? The "PEAK Marketing Tools." Also, you can't even use antifreeze in a LeMons car (but many teams were in desperate need of both their motor oil and likely could have used their PEAK-branded mobile power outlets, jump start kits, lights and chargers as they wrenched throughout the night).
PEAK’s first contest winner joined a team of drivers that was like everything else at LeMons – a mish-mash of parts that barely seems to fit together, let alone work. We had amateur LeMons veterans and pseudo-veterans like me on a team with professionals like seven-time AMA National Championship winner Ricky Johnson and his son Luke.
But LeMons is designed for grassroots race teams that prefer Bondo over carbon fiber and set up their vehicles using a little homemade engineering and a lot of fun.
But it also means these guys know their cars. Inside and out. And like Cole Trickle, I sometimes worry I lack the language to talk with them. I was more worried about whether I’d be asked how to change a head gasket than I was to be teammates with Ricky friggin’ Johnson.
But as I walked through the pits this weekend I realized just how wrong I had been. I found guys (and a few women) who were just like me. Quite a few were at their first track race, and while intimidated at first, they realized just how fun it could be once you stopped worrying and just jumped in.
So I did just that. This weekend I jumped in. I helped where I could. I listened. I watched. I raced. I even got the 'Bart Simpson' penalty.
Sure, driving a Lambo around the most famous racetracks in the world from the comfort of your living room is fun. But I actually had more fun racing a $500 '89 Ford Mustang than I could have ever imagined.
So the solution to little Johnny’s problem is an easy one – find a LeMons team and jump in. Don’t know anyone to jump in with? Easy. Just head to PEAK’s website and enter their 24 Hours of LeMons Sweepstakes for a chance to win an all-expenses paid trip to join the team – and me – at the next race in Joliet, Illinois. You’ll be glad you did.