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Old and in the Lead

Spending Labor Day at Lime Rock's Vintage Festival



I must say I am not a fan of motorsports. It’s not as glamorous as one might expect. For modern racecars to compete, their shape requires all kinds of aerodynamic appendages and wings, detracting from the beautiful streamlined shapes that graced the racing cars of 50 years ago. Then there’s the noise. Contemporary racing automobiles are astoundingly, ear-splittingly loud, threatening to explode your eardrums with the roar of their engines.

However, like most people, I do admire and enjoy cars, whether it is the sedan I drive every day, or the exotic beauty I admire in the parking lot at work. And I do love a day out in the country. Since the Lime Rock Park Vintage Festival offers both of these ingredients, I haven’t missed it in years.

Lime Rock is busy for much of the year with club events, when enthusiasts for a particular brand take over. But for four weekends a year, Lime Rock Park morphs into an impressive racing track, where Nascar stock cars compete, different competition cars run under the Grand-Am banner, and the track hosts the American Le Mans Series. And of course, there is the Vintage Festival, which spans Labor Day weekend, featuring touring and racing cars dating from pre-World War II to the 1970s. In its 27th year, the festival provides the opportunity to watch an eclectic mix of races and cars, from 80-year-old three-wheeled Morgans that first appeared in 1909 to the famous sports cars that raced at all the great events in the 70s. Some of the cars travel at unnatural speeds, while others are more sedate. But all of them are beautiful and streamlined—the Ferrari GTOs and Aston Martins and Jaguars.

Divided into six to eight different categories depending on the year and type of car, races take place on Friday, Saturday, and Monday. Most are “sprint” races, roughly ten laps around the 1.53-mile track, but new this year are two “enduro” races, which each last one hour.

At Lime Rock I have usually gravitated to the hillside above the series of sinuous curves known appropriately enough as Esses. Spectators view races from this infield area or from the outfield area, near the finish line.

A footpath that virtually encircles the track provides access to other prime viewing spots. One of my favorites amongst these is to the left of the entry bridge, where I can watch the cars swoop at thrilling speeds down and onto the main straight, reaching speeds of up to 160 m.p.h.

Since one can walk freely around the paddock, spectators can talk with the drivers and understand why they are here, risking their antique and often expensive cars—a Ferrari similar to those raced at the Vintage Festival sold this year in Europe for $14 million.

All drivers are required to apply and be accepted by the event organizers, and acceptance is typically based on the type of car and if or where it will fit into a racing category. Drivers are required to possess a racing license.

Between race days, Lime Rock celebrates Sunday in the Park, with an impressive car show. I have seen a World War II amphibious Swimming VW next to a vintage Norton Motorcycle, but a group of Trans Am Mustangs, Camaros, ’Cudas, and Firebirds was the special treat. In the afternoon, an awards ceremony celebrates the victors. About 20 trophies will be awarded from the car show in categories ranging from Collector’s Pick to Best in Show.

This year one of the great cars in the racing community will be there—a 1938 Mercedes Benz W154. The cars were beautiful, they were fast—they could do over 200 m.p.h. in 1937—and they were driven only by very brave men. Declared by organizer Skip Barber to be one of the greatest racing cars ever, the W154 would be a shame to miss.

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January 2019

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