A Day at the Races by Dave Burnham
It’s 1956. Dwight Eisenhower is President. The world discovered Elvis Presley, and Don Larsen pitched the only perfect game in baseball’s World Series. Meanwhile in Litchfield County, CT, John Vail was blasting around his father’s quarry in an MG with his friends. With the help of neighbor/racing driver John Fitch and Cornell Aeronautical Labs, they decided to design and build a race track.
That plan came together the following year and Lime Rock Park was born. Since then thunderous NASCAR stock cars and modifieds, sports cars, Formula Fords and Vees, Grand-Am Daytona Prototypes, the highly technical American Le Mans Series prototypes, and many other classes have raced on Lime Rock’s seven-turn, uphill and down dale, 1.5-mile road course.
To celebrate the track’s 55th Anniversary, Lime Rock teamed up with the Vintage Sports Car Club of America and Jaguar Cars to make the Lime Rock Park Historic Festival a Labor Day weekend to remember.
For the past few years, Lime Rock has been very high on my bucket list of race tracks to visit. I had heard so much about it from other race fans and fellow photographers that it began to develop a mythical quality, and on August 30th, I had the chance to see what the fuss was all about when I attended the practice and qualifying sessions.
In the days leading up to my visit, I contacted renowned motorsport photographer John Thawley for a few pointers on the best places to shoot from. John, whose resume and client list is second-to-none, very kindly gave me some excellent information on locations and the best time of day to shoot at them.
The Festival honored the incredible career of racing icon Sir Stirling Moss. The 82-year-old English legend was in attendance for the entire weekend. Though Moss did not compete, several of his former winning cars were at the festival including the 1954 Osca MT4, winner at the 1954 Sebring 12 Hours and the 1952 Jaguar C-Type he used to win the 1953 12 Hours of Reims. Moss is acknowledged as one of the finest drivers in Formula 1 history with 16 wins, 16 poles and 24 podium placings in only 66 starts.
With more than 330 vintage race cars in 10 classes and drivers from all over the USA and beyond scheduled to take part in the gathering, there was plenty of awesome machinery to see both on track and in the pits/paddock areas.
The “Speed and Beauty” group was the one I was looking forward to seeing the most. Featuring Historic Grand Prix cars, this race showcased the 1966 to 1983 3-litre era of Formula One. Highlights included Californian driver Chris Locke piloting an ex-Mario Andretti Lotus 77, Charles Warner’s ex-Jan Lammers 1979 Shadow DN9/1B, Bud Moeller’s ex-Derek Daly Ensign N-179, NY’s Eric Lang in his 1979 Tyrrell, James King’s March 761 and Steve Cook’s 1974 March. These cars all brought back many memories for me as I remembered seeing them race first time around.
Another car that got my attention was Ben Bragg’s 1935 ‘Old Grey Mare’ Special. This car was built with parts from 19 other manufacturers and was raced with success from 1935 to 1940. Running in the “True Vintage” category, it ran alongside some glorious machines from such marques as Lagonda, Alfa Romeo, MG, Morgan, Stutz and specials from Amilcar, Dreyer and Bentley.
The “Sports Racers of the ’50s” featured some very desirable machinery. The field was full of cars from Maserati, Jaguar, Lister, Lotus, Elva and Lola. One car that looked so different to the sleek-bodied thoroughbreds was the 1957 Monsterati driven by Californian David Swig. The car is based on a modified 1939 Ford chassis, has solid axles, drum brakes and the aerodynamics of a brick. It originally had a flathead Mercury engine with a 3-speed transmission, and was street legal. It was converted to a small-block Chevy and a four-speed transmission for racing. The Monsterati first raced in June of 1957 at Eagle Mountain, Texas, and then throughout Texas, Oklahoma and Louisiana.
Walking around the pit/paddock area was like opening up a Pandora’s Box of automotive delights. Purpose-built racers by Chevron, Lola, McLaren and Ferrari rubbed shoulders with Minis, Porsche 911s, Triumphs and Datsuns. The vintage specials looked amazing with the drivers sitting high in the chassis peering out over high bodywork and skinny wheels.
I’ve attended plenty of historic meetings, but this was one of the best I have been to. Rod Folia, who raced an IMSA-spec Mazda RX3 in the “Wild, Wild Horses” group told me: “I love Lime Rock. This is the third time I’ve raced here this year. The Historic Festival is awesome. It’s like the Monterey Classic of the east coast.”
My verdict on Lime Rock? The track is awesome! The elevation changes and the ability to get close to the action mean lots of great photographic opportunities. It reminded me a little of Oulton Park and Cadwell Park in England, but neither of them ever had what looked like an Eagle soaring around the trees while the cars were on the track!
The track staff was so friendly and helpful and the golf cart taxis they manned were a real surprise. It made carrying my heavy camera gear a lot easier in the heat.
I have one question about Lime Rock Park. When can I go again?
Click HERE for the full gallery of images from this event