LSU Engineering Students Turn Lemons Into Lemons Racing Club

August 15, 2023

Ethan Songne works on the car engineBATON ROUGE, LA – On a hot July morning, LSU Mechanical Engineering sophomores Liam Songné and Carter Mims find shade under a hovering old oak tree while they work on a vintage car in the driveway. Most people collect old cars to restore them, but these students are doing quite the opposite. They are dismantling an already-sparse 1966 Dodge Coronet to race as part of the newly-formed Lemons Racing Club at LSU.

You may be familiar with the phrase, “you bought a lemon,” which is what Songné and his team purposely did. Their goal is to race it in the 24 Hours of Lemons race in 2024.

“24 Hours of Lemons is a race where you have to build a car as cheaply as you possibly can,” Songné said. “It lets regular people build a car and go out and race. Circuit racing costs a lot of money and is incredibly hard to get into. You need to know the right people, and the cars are so advanced that you can barely compete.”

The rules for the race are the car can’t be worth more than $500—safety equipment, such as a roll cage and brakes, is not included—and for every $10 over the $500 limit, one lap is added to that car’s race. It’s not a race to see who wins first place, but rather, whose car is able to hold up the entire 14 hours of the race.

“It’s an endurance race on a track where four drivers rotate, so no one is exhausted,” Songné said. “We have a small crew devoted to keeping the car running, because the amount of abuse the car is going to take during those 14 hours is serious. The car will break down, and we must try to fix it quickly and get it back on the track.”

The LSU team bought its car from a Denham Springs, La., man on Facebook Marketplace. The car had been sitting in a barn for 30 years and still cost the team $1,200.

“We’re going to sell parts off of it to get it closer to the $500 budget,” Songné said.

The multi-colored Coronet has a 318 polyspheric engine, no seat belts in the front, no tires, a cracked windshield, mud dauber nests where the fuel tank should be, and soon, there will be no fabric seats or interior since any kind of cloth is a fire hazard.

“The hardest part of the whole build is reliably meeting and working on the car,” Songné said. “There are already a lot of things working well on this car that just need to be cleaned, refinished, and repaired, so it’s the devotion and passion to check everything and make sure it’s good. You can’t be afraid of grease.”

The withered back seat and floorboard of the Dodge Coronet

Songné found out about lemon racing a couple of years ago when his dad showed him a video of the racing thinking it was “cool.” Songné was working on his own car at the time when he realized there was a lemon race and he was old enough to participate. He knew he couldn’t run a race solo, and funding was too much for one person, so he started to think of a way to do it.

“Initially, Carter and I were just going to find a couple of friends to do it with us, but then we talked to someone at Marathon Petroleum who said it would be a cool idea for a club,” Songné said. “So, we immediately started looking up how to make a club on campus and get a sponsor. Also, there’s uniformity and reliability with a club, and we get to teach other people. Overall, it was a great idea for us.”

Lemons Racing Club at LSU, which was formed this summer, is not just for engineering students. While most are mechanical engineering students, there is also a political science major, James Douet.

“We don’t want to turn down anyone who is interested in working on cars since we have the knowledge to teach them,” Songné said.

Members of the Lemons Racing Club at LSU include Songné and Mims of Baton Rouge; political science junior Douet of Zachary; and ME sophomores Haley Pittenger, Sarah Stenhouse, and Macen Melancon, all of Baton Rouge.

Students interested in contacting the club may reach out on Instagram at @lemonsracinglsu, or sign up on TigerLink.

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Contact: Libby Haydel
Communications Manager