In the world of endurance racing, millions of dollars are spent to build technically advanced machines, with every aspect engineered to shave milliseconds off lap times.
At the yearly 24 hours of Le Mans, the world’s best drivers and mechanics congregate, going around the famous track non-stop for 24 hours, hoping to have their names recorded in the halls of motorsport history.
But in Aotearoa, there’s an endurance racing series that throws every rule and assumption about motorsport out the window.
The Nazcar endurance series, more specifically the 24 hours of Nazcar, is held across the country and is a class of racing designed for everybody, racing enthusiast or not.
Its organiser, self-professed “guru'” Jacob Simonsen, explained it pretty simply to 1News: “Buying a crap car, putting a roll cage in it and going racing.”
The series is based on “Lemons” in the USA, a class of racing where teams can only spend a maximum of US$500 to buy and prepare a car – then race it for 24 hours straight.
While teams have an unlimited budget for safety, they’re limited in what improvements they can make to the car – meaning modifications are improvised, giving each car a unique appearance.
This ethos has been carried across to New Zealand, where Nazcar has adapted it to fit the country’s unique motorsports culture.
“The whole idea is that you buy a cheap car and make sure it can run for the whole race,” Simonsen said.
“You’re supposed to go onto Trade Me, find a crap car for $500 to $1000, and turn it into a race car.”
It means anyone can try racing, even if racing can seem daunting.
“We’ve had people of all ages race, 12-year-olds can go in the track when they start getting a perception of danger.
“We even had an 87-year-old race. He was a former professional driver making his track return, so that was great.”
All up, after safety is taken into account, it will cost a team between $5000 and $10,000 to race Nazcar, which is cheap given the cost of other series.
“It may seem pricey up front, but if you think about it, $10,000 divided up between four people is only two and a half grand.”
“Here, you’re getting around three hours of driving and a full weekend.”
While it may be cheap, safety is something organisers always strive for.
“If you make contact with another car on the track, you’ll be called in for a penalty. Even if another car makes contract with you, we’ll pull both cars in,” Simonsen said.
“It means people are driving with care and safety in mind.”
This year, the race was held at Hampton Downs and saw 70 cars line up on the grid – more than any other motorsport in New Zealand. They raced over two stretches across 48 hours.
Racing with an ethos of ‘fun’
Racing ‘crap’ has never been about winning – and Nazcar makes sure to fully embrace that.
“Our entire ethos is about coming together and putting on a really fun, slightly silly event.”
When cars line up on the grid, there is a marked difference to what you’d see in a professional racing series.
Teams are dressed in full costume, painting their cars with different themes.
“This year, we had all kinds of stuff. There were fake police cars.”
“The Heart Foundation, the charity we work with, lined up with four VW Beatles.”
In Nazcar, speed is usually the last thing teams think about – and that’s no accident.
“Kiwis are probably some of the most innovative people in the world, and it got to the point where the cars were getting really fast.”
“To keep that ethos of fun, we introduced speed limits, and if your lap is too fast, we’ll pull you in, and you’ll get a penalty.”
“You might be forced to take your shirt off, put a wig on and hula-hoop while we tell you not to be a speedy speedster.”
Having the best time isn’t even something that’s celebrated.
“When we present the awards at the end of the race, we have a plastic trophy for the fastest lap. We don’t get the driver to come up and accept it. We throw it on the ground and make them pick it up because it doesn’t matter.”
The winner of this year’s grand prize went to a minivan with a bike and surfboard bolted to it, even though it didn’t complete many laps.
“They would do 10 laps, bring it in to fix it, and repeat that all over,” Simonsen said.
“But they really got into it and materialised the whole ethos of what we do.”
He said that ethos has created a tight community and a positive race event.
“Everybody here knows each other, and race day kind of feels like a family reunion.”
“Somebody might be struggling with their car, and because your car is working perfectly, you’ll help them.”
Lemons will once again take to the track in Taupō in February for the ‘BadThurst 12 Hour Lemons’.
“Come and give it a go!” Simonsen said.