Rural Intelligence - August 28, 2008
The Preppiest Racetrack in America: Lime Rock Park
By Dan Shaw
Lime Rock Park in northwestern Connecticut is to car racing what Tanglewood is to classical music and Jacob’s Pillow is to modern dance--a well-bred, well-manicured rusticated setting where aficionados gather together every summer to indulge their passion and picnic on the lawns. There are no grandstands at Lime Rock, which opened in 1957; you bring blankets, umbrellas, and folding chairs and watch the races from the grassy hillsides (unless you opt for the the VIP tent or you’re a guest of one of the sponsors.) “It’s called Lime Rock Park for a reason,” says marketing manager Renea Topp. “You can pretty much walk anywhere you like, even the paddocks and get close to the cars and talk to the drivers.”
Labor Day Weekend at Lime Rock is always devoted to the Rolex Vintage Festival with racing on Saturday and Monday. The various races (on a 1.5 mile course that twist and turns) include one devoted to pre-1941 sports and racing cars and another to historic Ferraris (with one 1962 Ferrari GTO driven by a sixtysomething woman named Sandra McNeil.) “There will be a car here that is worth $30 million but I can’t tell you which one it is for obvious reasons,” says Murray Smith, the vintage festival organizer. There is never racing on Sundays because the track is across the street from the Trinity Lime Rock Church. Instead, there’s “Sunday in the Park,” an enormous antique car show, which this year includes a record group of 356 vintage Porsches.
Because of the Sunday limitation and New England weather, there are only a few big race weekends (one Grand-AM, one Le Mans, and one NASCAR) but the track is busy from spring to fall with the Skip Barber Driving School and Sports Car Club of America events. (It’s also where Paul Newman has been driving for decades.) Last year, Lime Rock started a private club for sports car owners who want a guaranteed place to drive (at over 100 mph) on a professional course on a regular basis; a full membership at The Club at Lime Rock Park has a $110,000 initiation fee (and monthly dues of $550) and associate memberships cost $25,000.
Lime Rock owner Skip Barber (who’s started racing in 1958 when he was a student at Harvard) sees himself as a preservationist and Lime Rock as the last of a breed of world-class racetracks that look more like polo clubs than speedways. He wants to keep Lime Rock viable and not have it morph into another golf course and condominium community. “The first 50 years at Lime Rock Park created legendary drivers and historic moments,” he said when he started The Club last year, using the infusion of capital to repave the track and to upgrade the landscaping. “The next fifty years will preserve that legacy and allow club members to experience the magic of Lime Rock Park for themselves.”