Presented by Racemaker Press

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

The Way It Is/ Historic splendors at Lime Rock

by Gordon Kirby
This week marks my 500th 'The Way It Is' column and there's no better way to celebrate the occasion than with a few words of mine accompanied by some fine photos by Gary Gold from Lime Rock's excellent Labor Day Weekend Historic Festival.

This was the 33rd year for Lime Rock's vintage weekend and the event has clearly established itself as the Northeast's grandest historic racing weekend. A huge turnout of cars, competitors and fans enjoy plenty of racing on Saturday and Monday plus 'Sunday in the Park', a superb concours d'elegance with a couple of hundred cars of all types and kinds displayed around the entire length of Lime Rock's twisting 1.5-mile road course.

This year's 'Best of Show' award was taken by one of half a dozen Mercedes Grand Prix and sports cars provided for the weekend by Mercedes-Benz Classic Center in Germany, the Revs Institute in California, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway's Museum and the Ralph Lauren Collection.

The winner was Ralph Lauren's beautiful black 1930 SSK sports car raced by Count Trossi in the 1931 Mille Miglia and other races. A few years later Trossi had the car rebodied in its current form and continued to race the car through 1935. The SSK has been in Lauren's collection for a quarter of a century, also winning 'Best of Show' at Pebble Beach in 1993 and Italy's Villa d'Este concours in 2007.

© Gary Gold
Accompanying Count Trossi's unique SSK at Lime Rock were five other notable Mercedes racing cars from 1908-'55, including '722', the 300SLR with which Stirling Moss and Denis Jenkinson scored their legendary Mille Miglia victory in 1955. The remaining four Mercedes race cars featured at Lime Rock were Grand Prix cars, led by Juan-Manuel Fangio's 1955 W196R, the car he drove to win that year's Dutch GP at Zandvoort and take second at Monaco and Aintree. The 300SLR and W196 came from the Mercedes-Benz Classic Center in Germany.

Also on display was a 1939 W154 chassis no. 15 in which Manfred von Brauchitsch finished second in that year's Belgrade GP and a 1914 Grand Prix car raced by Theodore Pilette in the 1914 French GP. Both these cars were provided by the Revs Institute for Automotive Research.

And The Indianapolis Motor Speedway's Museum brought to Lime Rock the only remaining car of the three Mercedes Brooklands racers built in 1908. Ralph De Palma dominated the 1912 Indy 500 with one of these cars, leading 195 laps before a connecting broke, famously pushing the car across the finish line in eleventh place.

© Gary Gold
As fine an event as 'Sunday in the Park' may be, it's Saturday and Monday's races--36 in all--that bring life to Lime Rock's Historic Festival providing pleasure to the drivers and a vast selection of shapes and sounds for the spectators to enjoy.

The Historic Festival is organized by Murray Smith, an ardent vintage racer who is well known in many corners of the business through his long working relationship with Rolex. Murray is a charming, race-smart fellow who works hard to make sure that every Lime Rock Historic Festival is a little different than any other in both the mix of formulae and categories competing on the track and also in the featured cars or marques for 'Sunday in the Park'.

Murray is already working flat-out on next year's event which will feature Indy cars in the year of the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500. He's deep in conversation with the IMS's Hall of Fame Museum about them providing a selection of some of their many rare and historic Indy cars. Murray is also talking to quite a few other historic Indy car collectors and I'm sure he will pull together an interesting and attractive collection of cars for next year's Indy car celebration.

© Gary Gold
My book publisher and co-author Joe Freeman, owner of Racemaker Press in Boston, plans to bring his collection of vintage Indy cars to Lime Rock next year. Joe is a deeply knowledgeable vintage Indy car collector and racer. His collection ranges from a 1915 Duesenberg that finished second in the 1916 Indy 500 in the hands of Wilbur d'Alene through a 1960 Ewing-Offy roadster known as the Joe Hunt Magneto Special. A classic Watson-like roadster built by Wayne Ewing this car won the Tony Hulman Cup for the the best roadster at last year's Indianapolis Motor Speedway concours.

At Lime Rock this year, Joe and I were joined by Jim McGee to sign copies of 'Second to One' and 'Jim McGee, Crew Chief of Champions' on Saturday and Sunday. It's always a pleasure for us to sign books for the fans and enthusiasts of our sport. We very much appreciate your support and interest in our work.

Next year we plan to do an expanded Racemaker Press book signing at Lime Rock in company with the Historic Festival's Indy car celebration. By that time we will have published and launched two more books about the history of American racing in general and Indy car racing in particular.

© Gary Gold
As many of you know, at next year's 100th Indy 500 we plan to launch 'Tony Bettenhausen and Sons, An American Racing Family Photo Album' and 'Penske's Maestro: Karl Kainhofer's Inside Story of Penske Racing's Creation and Development'. Merle Bettenhausen and Karl Kainhofer will be on hand at Indianapolis next May to help launch these books and they will also join Jim McGee, Joe Freeman and me at Lime Rock twelve months hence to sign books and talk about Indy car racing's great history. All of us look forward to the opportunity.

Finally, a tip of the hat to Lime Rock's owner Skip Barber for the great work he's done over the years to improve and upgrade the place. I briefed you two months ago on Skip's latest efforts and it's great to be able to report that all the final details of his $3 million investment were completed in time for the Historic Festival. Kudos to Skip and his general manager Steve Sewell on a job well done resulting in an even more attractive and tidy Lime Rock Park.

First class guys like Murray Smith, Barber and Sewell are essential to maintaining the sport's pride and interest in its great history as well as its continued success in a fast-changing world. Thanks to these gentlemen and a solid team of people behind them Lime Rock has established itself as New England and the Northeastern United States' most enduring crucible for the sport as the track approaches its 60th anniversary in 2017.

© Gary Gold

Auto Racing ~ Gordon Kirby
Copyright ~ All Rights Reserved