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Do you have a $500 piece junk car lying around? Or do you have $500 to go on Craigslist and buy one? Why not turn that cheap car into a race car! You read that right: if you’re crazy enough, you can take your hooptie to the track and race it in the big leagues. Well, maybe not the big leagues, but the big leagues in terms of beater car racing. Whether it’s the car’s final hurrah, or you want to get some track action, the 24 Hours of Lemons and HooptieX racing series are two ways to turn that broken-down jalopy into a race car.

CR-V at 24 Hours of LeMons Cheap Car Race
Honda CR-V at LeMons Race | 24 Hours of LeMons

The LeMons 500 is the cheapest racing series around.

If you’ve never heard of the 24 Hours of LeMons (its name derived from the much more professional 24 Hours of LeMans), it’s the cheapest endurance racing series you can enter. Decorated junkers and clunkers racing around actual tracks across the US, each laced with humor and embarrassment as cars conk out. Bring a car and some friends to help you get it race ready.

While the events are meant to be fun, in terms of safety and professionalism, the coordinators don’t mess around. It says $500 racing, there will be other entry fees and expenses you’ll have to pay. For starters, you can’t just bring a car and expect to race. In order for the car to be up to code, it needs a roll cage, racing seat belts, a fire extinguisher, and other necessary precautions. And you’ll need a certified racing helmet and firesuit as well, especially if you find yourself in a Ford Pinto.

The costs for participating will rack up, but at the end of the day, this is real racing. And anyone who’s participated will tell you it’s a ridiculously amazing (or amazingly ridiculous) experience. Pit lanes and pit stops, teams with spare parts, servicing the car on the fly. These are all things LeMons participants can and should expect. That, as well as lots of love for the reject cars. And while it can be a real blast, it can also be intense. If you’re not quite at that level, direct your attention to HooptieX.

HooptieX is off-road rally cross for clunkers

Beetle Rally Racing At HooptieX
Volkswagen Beetle At HooptieX | HooptieX

The HooptieX racing series and its parent organization the Gambler 500 put a slight twist on cheap car racing. Rather than taking your car to a track, you’ll be welcomed to thrash it around in the dirt for a much smaller fee and with less regulation. The cars don’t require roll cages or safety equipment (unless you drive a soft-top convertible), though they’re highly recommended. And all you need to bring is a race helmet, just be sure to buy the right kind.

The one trick to this equation is your hooptie has to be able to handle the dirt. Otherwise, it’s either going to break, get stuck, or worse, both. It’s called the Gambler 500 because you’re gambling on your car, and whether it’ll make it out or not. Provided, the helpful folks at HooptieX would likely lend a hand. But it’s best to prepare your car for this harsher terrain ahead of time.

Off-road tires are common at these events, even if they don’t fit. And lifted suspension setups help keep the car from bottoming out, and makes it look more off road ready. Though there’s no limit to how much modification you can do.

But HooptieX isn’t just offroad racing. One of the perks is that Gambler 500 events help clean up garbage in national parks and communities. The philosophy is to get a group together, hit the trails in your clunkers, and pick up trash. No entry fees and so forth, just tidying up the planet.

Which cheap car racing series is right for you?

The two cheap car races: HooptieX (top) vs LeMons (bottom)
HooptieX (top) vs LeMons (bottom)| HooptieX/24 Hours of LeMons

5 Cheap Cars That can Last at Least 500,000 Miles

Make no mistake, both of these events have strong communities and plenty of support for newcomers. You may feel out of place in your first few events, but as you get in the swing of things, eventually, newbies will flock to you for advice and assistance.

If you’re new to junk car racing or don’t have a car to begin with, I’d suggest HooptieX. At some events, they offer rentals. Or if you hang out with some folks long enough they may let you tag along. It’s much more casual, the teams are friendy, and the upfront costs are ludicrously low in comparison to LeMons. However, if you’re looking for a full weekend of fun and a taste of professional racing (minus the car selection), then the 24 Hours of LeMons can provide that. Just bring a car and a team and you’re sure to have a blast.