EMERYVILLE RESIDENT Jay Lam is obviously a little giddy when he asks his passenger to hold on as he speeds over a speed hump on a quiet Oakland street.

THUMP!

The car he's driving takes the bump in stride as Lam fishtails through the rest of the street at hardly the fastest of speeds.

Lam is testing out his new lemon, a $400 piece of junk he bought on Craigslist for the race he is organizing, 24 Hours of LeMons. A nod, or shall we say smirk, to the world-renowned French race 24 Hours of Le Mans, Lam's race will feature cars worth $500 or less instead of pricey racing machines.

They are crap cans. They're rust buckets. And more than 25 of them hit the track at Altamont Motorsports Park in Tracy Saturday and Sunday.

Had run-in with a tow truck

Lam's "new" "race car" is a 1980s model Toyota Corolla GTX that had a run-in with a tow truck that left its driver's side back end dented in so thoroughly a black rubber rope holds its trunk in place.

"It's awesome!" Lam says as he inspects his new car, noting that the brakes, suspension and, shockingly, air conditioning still work. "It's like a meat freezer in there with it on."

The 24 Hours of LeMons is a new event for the Altamont race track and the brainchild of Lam, who also helps organize The Double 500, a 500-kilometer tour from Sausalito to Fort Bragg in $500 cars held at the end of September.

To understand the logic behind the 24 Hours of LeMons, you first have to, well, shed your want for logic. There isn't any.

"This is just a terrible idea," Lam says. "How could it not be entertaining?"

Driver has a love of cars

Lam is a writer, editor and humorist with a love for cars. He owns five of them.

After participating in several car events in the Bay Area and beyond for years, Lam thought he could create his own with two simple ingredients, humor and chutzpah. He created the humorous Web site http://www.24hoursoflemons.com, and word about the race spread quickly.

"It's kind of virally spreading through the Internet," Lam says. "People like reading the site. Whether or not that translates into driving in a circle for 24 hours is another thing, I think."

The rules are simple, purchase a car for $500 or less, gather a team, pay the entrance fee and you're almost there. Teams do have to install safety items, including new tires, a racing seat with four-point seat belts and a roll bar. Final tally for a team to compete in the race will end up being about $2,000.

Despite the cost, or maybe because of it, drivers from as far away as Nebraska and Las Vegas are coming to the event to race, laugh and have fun.

"What made me decide to do this race? Insanity. And it sounds like it's going to be a hoot," says Las Vegas resident Ed Pasini, whose team bought at auction a $250 1990 Buick station wagon complete with faux wood paneling.

Kevin Marshall and his team of drivers from Truckee had to dodge pit bull guard dogs at a junkyard near their home town to find a junker perfect for the 24 Hours of LeMons. Marshall's company, Clear Capital, is entering two cars into the race. He says he was initially attracted to the race for its "irreverence toward motor sports." Two of his team members are professional drivers so he thinks they have a chance at winning.

"It's another opportunity to get our staff together and play outside of work," Marshall says.

The race is not a demolition derby, rather it is as close to a 24-hour race as Lam could get on a local race track. Cars start their engines at 4 p.m. Saturday and race, if they can, until 10 p.m. They start up again at 9 a.m. Sunday and race until 4 p.m.

Twelve hours into the race, the car voted People's Choice for best concept and preparation wins a cash prize. The car voted People's Curse, for being driven by the biggest jerks, is crushed. Finally, the car that wins the race receives $1,500 — conveniently presented in a bag full of nickels.

- Tickets to 24 Hours of LeMons are $15 and sold at the door. The Altamont Motorsports Park is at 17001 Midway Road, Tracy. 

You can reach staff writer Laura Casey by phone at (925)416-4860 or by e-mail at lcasey@angnewspapers.com.