Neal Losey’s amazing, life-changing year full of Lemons

J.A.
By J.A. Ackley
Jun 20, 2023 | lemons, 24 Hours of Lemons, Low-Buck Racing | Posted in Features | Never miss an article

Photography Courtesy 24 Hours of Lemons

These numbers might catch your attention: 21 races, 37 cars, 29 teams, 18 tracks, 120 hours of track time–all within the span of one season. And the driver isn’t a pro paid to race or a young up-and-comer trying to get seat time.

No, this is Neal Losey.

Age: 55.

Occupation: Radio DJ at a public radio station and part-time hired hand at a winery. (Yes, he has squashed grapes with his feet.)

Hobby: Racing in as many 24 Hours of Lemons events as possible.

Perhaps you could take his jet-setting schedule as a sign of a late midlife crisis. But there’s no question that the memories Neal made during this crazy journey will last a lifetime.

Dollars spent? Don’t know. Didn’t keep track. Don’t wanna know,” Neal says. “But I would have spent double whatever it cost because it was just that amazing. The best year of my life.”

The People

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Neal says he struggled to find a group of people he resonates with. However, after his first 24 Hours of Lemons, he found he fit right in.

[Running the 24 Hours of Lemons with as little time and effort as possible]

“I started racing Lemons at 44 [years old],” says Neal. “I’m super shy and I had a hard time finding my people. I found them in Lemons.

“The people are my kind of people. They’re smart. Creative. Funny. Incredibly kind. They are a little weird–they look at the world a little differently. It’s something special to find your people.”

Once Neal found his home with the 24 Hours of Lemons, he quickly developed a goal.

“I wanted to run the entire season,” Neal says, “because I wanted to drive as many cars as I can, try as many tracks as I can, and meet as many Lemons people as I can.”

His first attempt at a full season didn’t go as planned. Nor did his second.

“On my five-year anniversary [of racing Lemons], I wanted to go pursue a whole season and I ended up in the emergency room with A-fib and that took all the money I had saved,” says Neal. “In 2020, I was going to do it, and we all know what happened in 2020. Also in 2020, my dad died, and he had more things he wanted to do in his life. We’re never promised tomorrow, so I was like, ‘I gotta do this.’”

When 2022 rolled around, things came together. Neal had the vacation time and the money saved. He just needed to summon the nerve to do it. Fortunately, he did just that.

The Journey

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This planned adventure pushed Neal past his comfort zone–way beyond it.

“I’ve never been a traveler,” Neal says. “I grew up on a ranch, and on a ranch you never leave. My parents weren’t travelers, so it’s not part of who I am. Up until last season, I had not flown anywhere by myself. I only have flown maybe 10 times in my entire life. The farthest east I’ve been [for racing] was MSR Houston.”

Flying on commuter airlines can prove daunting for even the most seasoned of travelers. TSA. Transfers. Atlanta, Dallas or O’Hare. It can be downright intimidating.

By the end of the year, Neal had flown 75,000 miles and to 20 airports. He did make a rookie mistake, though.

“I didn’t sign up for any [frequent flyer] miles,” says Neal. “About midway [through the season], people were asking me about it. I was like, ‘I don’t even know what that is.’”

Nevertheless, Neal managed, and he had one incredible season and one fewer phobia.

“Part of not traveling for me was because I was afraid of flying. I have an active imagination,” Neal explains. “I didn’t like to fly because I didn’t do it much and I didn’t know how to get through an airport. Now I have a level of calmness when I’m flying that I didn’t have before. It’s to the point where my wife [said], ‘We’re going on a trip now for our 30th anniversary.’ Cornered!”

The Destinations

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Neal raced at some of the most iconic road courses in America. Barber. Sonoma. Road Atlanta. The first track he raced with Lemons was Sonoma, and it holds a special place in his heart.

“The way it flows, the elevation changes are great,” says Neal. “You climb up Turns 2 and 3 and then ride the roller coaster down through the carousel. Then you climb up to Turn 7 and continue the roller coaster back down through the esses. It has fast parts and technical parts.”

In the East, he found a new favorite, albeit one that reminds him of Sonoma.

“The track that caught my attention most is Barber. It was the most beautiful,” Neal says. “[It has] great flow, interesting grounds, elevation changes–[it’s] wonderful. I will attempt to make it back every year.”

While Barber Motorsports Park certainly has an international reputation, two other venues stood out as well.

“People are surprised that I liked Thompson and Loudon,” says Neal. “I liked those tracks not necessarily for the tracks but for the competition that spoke to me. It’s frantic. Everybody’s driving crazy like their hair is on fire. You gotta be so alert to not get a black flag, to not hit anybody or be hit. Loudon had 100-some cars on a short track, so it was busy all the time. Racing on those tracks I enjoyed because it works with the type of brain I have, where I have to be so hyper-focused the whole time. I pride myself in not getting black flags.”

In 2022, Neal only received three black flags. Since 2011, he’s gotten only 10 total in 81 races.

“I hate getting any of them,” says Neal. “The two that happened were because I was passing a slower car. I was annoyed at myself for breaking my rule, which is to just assume people don’t see you. The other one was a fast car ran into the back of my car that I was driving.

The Rides

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The types of cars Neal competed in ran the complete gamut of the automotive world. They ranged from as old as a 1947 Chevrolet Stylemaster to as new as a 2006 Pontiac Solstice. Some vehicles represented the typical road racing fare, such as BMW 3 series, Porsches and Triumphs. Others were far odder, like a Pontiac Transport van, a fur-covered Lincoln Continental and a Dodge Dakota.

“One of my favorite cars to race is the 1963 Volvo PV544,” Neal says. “It has a V6 out of a Chevrolet Uplander minivan. It’s fun, it’s fast, it handles and it looks like how a Lemons car should look. That’s the car I’ve driven more than any other car in Lemons.”

There have been some sleepers, too.

“I love those big Chryslers,” says Neal. “They’re not as slow as you think they’re going to be, and that makes it fun. That ’70 Monaco, you can throw it around the track. It won’t spin out and you can have a really great time driving it.”

Then there’s the rare, including a 1985 Pontiac Tojan.

“The fact that the car is so weird and very few people have ever heard of it was fun,” Neal says. “The driving experience was blah being a mid-’80s, automatic-transmission 305 Firebird with 800 pounds of fiberglass added. But it is a perfectly stupid Lemons car that represents the series. The team had a ton of fun that weekend.”

Neal doesn’t let us forget that it’s all about the fun. He specifically eyes cars well suited for the Index of Effluency award.

“It’s the top prize in Lemons,” says Neal of the IOE. “Whichever team takes the crappiest, most unlikely race car and does the best with it [wins the IOE]. I’ve won 16 IOEs in the 81 races I’ve done. A perfect weekend for me includes at least one fast car and one car that is of IOE quality.”

The Result

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When the 2022 season concluded, Lemons crowned Neal Losey its champion, but that’s a mere footnote to this story.

“The least important thing in Lemons is whoever wins the race,” Neal says, “but even less important is the national champion. People ask, ‘What do you win if you win a national championship?’ About 4 seconds of internet fame when they send out that email that says who won the championship. The idea to win the championship wasn’t the major focus. I just wanted to go to every race.”

Ultimately, the championship, the races and even the cars don’t matter so much in this story. What matters is how the 2022 season changed Neal.

“I might have a little ADHD,” Neal says. “I have trouble focusing at times. I’m a worrier. I sometimes procrastinate until it’s too late. I had to focus or else [the 2022 season] wouldn’t have happened. It changed a lot of the way I usually act.”

Traveling also often provides new perspectives. In a country often defined by blue states and red states, Neal found that people have far much more in common, at least in the racing world.

“The majority of people who do Lemons are all decent people,” says Neal. “They are people working hard toward something and willing to help other people. It helped me see that you can find some things that you have common ground on. We’re not that far away from each other when you meet face to face, and we have the best time because we’re not just on the internet being mad at each other for stuff we can’t control.”

This late midlife crisis turned out to be more of a soul search for Neal Losey. Through racing, he found out that the world isn’t as bad as it seems, travel can be fun and Lemons people are awesome everywhere. However, it did lead to one problem.

“This was by far the greatest year of my life,” Neal says. “The hard part is not wanting to do it again and again.”

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Comments
Caprigrip
Caprigrip Reader
6/20/23 9:46 a.m.

Great article. 

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