Lime Rock Park Is My ‘Home Track,’ What’s Yours?
Photography by Alex Sobran
The annual Lime Rock Historic Festival has been held for 36 years running, and I’m sure I’ve been to the majority of them. Growing up a few hours away from the short, challenging circuit in between two hills in the woods of northwestern Connecticut meant that many of my “firsts” happened here. I saw my first race, saw my first GT40 (it’s too bad the orange one below isn’t from the 1960s—still strikes a mean pose in spectator parking, though), and did my first lap on a bonafide track—during a car corral parade, but still, these are things you remember. Even if we’ve moved far away from them or have been to bigger and brighter versions, the places where our first impressions were formed will never lose significance. They might gain nostalgia, but that doesn’t mean we’ve outgrown them.
You don’t need me to tell you that the formative moments of any budding car enthusiast, those first few times when recognize our own, internally-generated interest in motorsport as little kids–or whenever it begins—those memories are impossible to replace. Instead of broad generalizations and vagaries, I can probably explain what it means in my case with an example: I’ve stood a few feet away from Porsche 911s making their pitstops in the rain at the 24 Hours of the Nürburgring (shameless link here), but the first time I stood behind a mean flat-six starting up was in the paddock at Lime Rock, and the things I’ve been lucky to see since then have only made that first memory more important to me.
Friends would bring me along to track days every once in a while, there was a time when the track hosted the American Le Mans series, but the Historic Festival has always been Lime Rock Park’s synonym in my experience with the place. Many more things involving cars and bikes and people I’ve never seen or met before take place at the track, and my view of it is like looking at a map through a tube. Though it’s a limited form of interaction, attending just one event on a consistent basis can be informative in its own way; you won’t get a broad understanding of the place, but the snapshots tell you what’s going on in this part of the vintage racing world. That can mean seeing the same cars you remember from your toddling years still going out with the grid, but there are also the “one-off years,” like this most recent Festival which hosted a fleet of some 50-plus Bugattis—tough to count when they’re on and off track all weekend.
Notable collectors like Ralph Lauren and Peter Mullin brought over some fantastically rare and expensive examples of the French marque’s road and race cars (sometimes one in the same of course), and though the pre-war open-wheeled variety of automobile is admittedly not my favorite, Bugattis have always possessed something extra. There’s the obvious connection to sculpture and artistry inherent in the steampunky supercharges and nestled under hoods held down with leather straps and brass buckles, but the fact that such beautiful things were also more than capable of beating the more purposeful-looking machines is the real charm in these cars: that they have racing history while looking like fashionable French antique shops compacted into the the shape of a car.
If rows of Type 35s aren’t for you though, Lime Rock offers variety in the paddock and in the parking lot. This year I met up with friends from years past and ones more recent, while making a few new ones in the process of diagnosing what turned out to be a coolant sensor that had lived past its prime on the car I’d driven to the BMW corral (no, I wish, but it’s not the Alpina). The helpful hands were attached to some Mercedes-Benz drivers, and later on in the evening the AirBnB driveway put on an inspired performance of autumn in New England as the tinkering continued. The Lime Rock Historic Festival is the kind of weekend that compels an overnight.
Taking place over the long Labor Day weekend, there are a few days of racing and a well-attended car show on Sunday. The racing days feature heats that are closer to genuine competitions than display laps posing as such, and whether it’s the old trans-am era Camaros and Mustangs chasing down 911s and E-Types or spritely open-top Ginettas trading positions after every other corner there is usually at least one good battle per group. The circuit itself—the oldest continually operated road racing venue in the country—is barely over a mile and a half long, so you can walk the whole thing within a single race and see the cars from every angle, and if you prefer to plop down in one spot with a six-pack there’s little time spent waiting for the pack to come around again.
When your circuit is designed with the assistance of racing drivers and an aeronautical laboratory, elevation changes are all but expected, and the multiple crests and grades of Lime Rock make even my measly parade-speed laps feel like theme-park pace.
After a Saturday spent walking in the paddocks and around the inside edge of the circuit during the races, Sunday offers an interesting take on two traditional types of car show in the same space. The main straight hosts the official concours—these guys get signs with wooden stakes demarcating the classes—while the rest of the track is given over to what’s called the Gathering of the Marques—where the signage is decidedly less stately. Both sides are worth the price of attendance alone, and the track is easy to walk multiple times in the course of a late morning. Below are just a few favorites from a large and varied group—the red and black 2CV has two motors for instance.
Though this job affords me the opportunities to travel and see so much in the world, cars or otherwise, there is nowhere I’d rather be than Lakeville, CT when it’s time to add another trip to Lime Rock to the calendar.