Plymouth-Dakar Challenge

24 Hours of LeMons

Gumball 3000

California Melee

Red Bull Soapbox Race

This response to the grueling, professional Paris-to-Dakar rally is organized by Julian Nowill, a stockbroker from Devon, England, to "take the piss out of the real Dakar" in the words of its Web site. Participating cars are to cost less than 100 British pounds with a generous extra 15 British pounds allowed for preparation, and are auctioned for local charities at the finish, assuming they get there. No support is offered whatsoever--entrants are on their own crossing the Sahara in their "bangers," although videos from the event like this one featuring a relaxing cigar interlude and a scratch-heavy remix of the "A-Team" theme song suggest that no one's too worried.

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Nowhere is the spirit of automotive irreverence more celebrated than at this now-nationwide series of on-track endurance races for cars costing less than $500, including all prep except safety items, brakes, and wheels/tires. The brainchild of journalist and Chief Perpetrator Jay Lamm, the LeMons 24 evolved from the Double 500, a 500-kilometer road rally for $500 cars, and fairly brims with hilariously absurd rules. Some races are real LeMans-style 24-straight-hour runs; others give breaks overnight. Silliness abounds, and as with the Plymouth-Dakar, don't get too attached to your car (or bring an over-$500 cheater). Midway through, the participants vote on one car that gets crushed on the spot.

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The Gumball is a little different than our other choices, as it actually requires substantial investment and is less a race than a globe-trotting mobile party where the transportation is mostly of the newer, deep-into-six-figures variety. But it warrants inclusion as nothing else like it exists these days, at least openly. The next rally starts on May 1, 2010, in London, and takes the scenic route to New York City via Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Stockholm, Boston, Quebec City, and Toronto. Expanding on the theme of its spiritual forebear, the original coast-to-coast Cannonball Run, serious parties are part of the deal, second only to seriously (and illegally) fast driving. Get your 30,000-British-pound entry fee in, start Murcielago shopping, and check out the YouTube channel to see what you're in for.

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Another low-budget response to a high-dollar event, in this case Martin Swig's top-flight California Mille, the Melee is a three-day road tour through Northern California with stops at brewpubs and motels rather than wineries and four-star resorts. To the credit of the event itself and its participants, it manages to draw an entry list nearly as interesting and broad as the fancier Mille, which is open to cars that could have participated in the original Mille Miglia 1,000-mile race through Italy (i.e., were built from 1927-1957). We daresay the Melee wouldn't be the same outside California, where an amazing number of preserved-but-not-pristine classics can come out of the woodwork. A huge collection of photos from past events is here.
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The now-defunct, strictly gravity-fueled Soapbox Race didn't involve cars per se, but most of the participants were gearheads of one stripe or another who built extravagantly decorated racers and bravely piloted them downhill towards a bunch of hay bales. Popular with spectators, the races were held in major cities in the U.S. and Canada, and team presentation and prerun choreography were considered alongside elapsed times to determine the ultimate winners. Videos from these events are often a sadist's dream come true.

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