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"There's a lot of junk out there today. If you want it straight, read Kirby." -- Paul Newman

The Way It Is/ An even more civilized Lime Rock

by Gordon Kirby
Lime Rock Park in bucolic northwestern Connecticut's Litchfield County has long been one of America's most civilized and demanding road courses. Opened in 1957 the 1.5-mile track has been a cornerstone of road racing in New England and the Northeast for almost sixty years. It's a great little track hidden away in a green and thoroughly pleasant corner of Connecticut and it offers everything that a true natural terrain road circuit should to both competitors and spectators.

If you've never been to Lime Rock I'm sure a short stroll through the track's packed marque corrals for Porsches, BMWs, Corvettes and the like, followed by a further walk around the track's rolling infield would quickly convince you that it ranks as one of America's most civilized and upmarket race tracks. In fact, I have no doubts that if properly measured Lime Rock's audience would describe the highest demographic profile of any of the more than one thousand auto racing tracks across the United States.

This year a refurbished and even more civilized Lime Rock has emerged thanks to track owner Skip Barber spending $4 million on the place. The paddock has been paved and expanded, drainage for both the paddock and key parts of the track have been vastly improved, and hundreds of thousands of yards of earth have been moved to provide new and better viewing areas for fans.

"The big parts of the work are not the obvious and attractive parts," Barber remarked. "The expression 'pouring money into the ground' took new meaning for us because we had to do a lot of excavation. Lime Rock has traditionally had drainage problems in the paddock, particularly B paddock, and there were three areas on the racetrack that would puddle badly in any kind of rainstorm. Those are the two things that directly affected the competitors and we have fixed both of those parts. We believe we will have the driest road course in the country, other than Sonoma.

© Gary Gold
"As well as entirely repaving and painting the paddock we've put in a bunch of curbing and planted 2,500 plants and 20 trees in the paddock. The other thing we've done is improve sight lines and open up the viewing at some of the corners. You can see much more from the viewing hill in the infield and from the outside of the track you can now see from West Bend to the Downhill and beyond, a view you didn't have before.

"Reaction so far, if not overwhelming, has been 'Wow!'," Skip added. "For the teams and people working in the paddock they are really delighted and when Sam Posey saw it for the first time a few weeks ago he said it was more Lime Rock than ever. When Sam said that, it made us all feel good."

This year's harsh winter delayed work at Lime Rock so everything was unfinished for the United SportsCar weekend the week before last. But the completed product will be on display at the track's Vintage Festival on Labor Day weekend.

"We lost six weeks this winter," Barber said. "So we've still got a lot of work to do to the media center and control tower. By Labor Day everything will be done and the paddock will be looking green. Everything will be looking great."

Barber hopes that all the improvements will convince IMSA to bring a more complete TUSC field to Lime Rock next year rather than only the Prototype Challenge and GT Daytona cars that ran at the track this year.

"I think Lime Rock has a good future and part of doing all this work is to insure that," Skip commented. "We'd like to have more major events in terms of quality, not quantity, in the future. For our day-to-day survival we are dependent on the sanctioning bodies. We can't make it happen on our own. We need their support.

© Gary Gold
"It might suit us best to have the GT Le Mans cars run here, rather than the Daytona and P2 prototypes, and we are talking to NASCAR about a Truck race. They have a great Truck race event at Mosport, so it's something we're looking at although we're not sure it will lead anywhere.

"We're the right size now in terms of infrastructure for IndyCar," Barber added. "But I'm sure they would never talk to us and we probably couldn't afford the purse they would want."

A half-mile autocross course in the infield can now be used in the winter. Last year more than 300 drivers competed in Lime Rock's year 'round autocross series.

"Another thing we now do is make snow in the winter, so we are a now a twelve months of the year operation," Barber noted. "We also have Wi-Fi now through the whole place, which you have to have today. And we'll have a second 'phone company in place soon, which should help make everyone happier."

Meanwhile, Skip is looking forward to Lime Rock's Vintage Festival on Labor Day weekend. Organized by Murray Smith, the track's historic weekend has been going for 27 years and is a huge event.

"We've got a fantastic collection of historic Mercedes Grand Prix and long-distance sports cars coming for the Vintage Festival and next year we're going to feature Indy cars," Barber reported. "Murray Smith is talking to the Speedway's Museum and we expect to have a tremendous collection of Indy cars in 2016."

As I said at the beginning, Lime Rock is a beautiful place and a cornerstone of road racing in the Northeast drawing a dedicated, high income crowd of true sports car enthusiasts and owners. Long may it continue to thrive.

Auto Racing ~ Gordon Kirby
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