Lime Rock Park is a race track located in the Berkshires of
western Connecticut, United States.
Lime Rock Park founder and builder Jim Vail first got the idea of building a
race track near Lime Rock, Connecticut while driving an old MG around his
father's gravel quarry with three of his friends in the mid 1950's. He was
also inspired by the (then new) race course at Watkins Glen, New York.
He convinced the local town council to allow a race track on family land in
the Salmon Kill Valley, not far from the Housatonic River. He raised money
both from local race enthusiasts and investors from nearby New York
started construction in mid-1955. The course opened for its first race on
April 25, 1957, the opening delayed by severe damage to the construction site in August of 1955 from disastrous flooding which occurred throughout the
Vail's partner, course designer, and track manager was the American driver
John Fitch. Fitch was trained as an engineer and was deeply concerned
about driver safety, particularly after the horrible disaster at Le Mans in
1955 in which his co-driver Pierre Levegh lost control of his Mercedes and
flew into the crowd, killing himself and eighty-one spectators. It
was Fitch's goal to create not only a challenging race course, but one in which
driver and spectator safety were paramount. (Fitch is well-known
outside of racing for designing Fitch inertial barriers -- the sand-filled
barrels placed near highway construction sites to act as shock absorbers in car crashes.)
Lime Rock's track is a little over a mile and a half, and features a half-mile straight, two shorter straights, one uphill and one steep downhill with a
sharp right at the bottom. Despite there being only six turns, the course
is difficult, particularly on the downhill turn and the narrow esses off the
main straight. The course was designed by Fitch, in cooperation with the
aeronautical engineering department at Cornell University. The current
track time record holder is P.J. Jones, who finished the course in a little
over 43 seconds (average speed over 128 MPH) in a Toyota Mk111 Prototype in
The early years of Lime Rock were a mixture of professional racing and
racing by weekend warriors. In 1959, Lime Rock staged the Formula
Libre, featuring an odd mix of cars - Listers, Lotuses,
Jaguars, Ferrari Testarossas, and Porsche 550
Spyders - only to be won by (1962 Indianapolis 500 winner) Roger Ward
in a highly maneuverable midget racer.
Lime Rock struggled financially in the early years, mainly because it was a
small venue. It gained in popularity in the late 1960's and early 1970's with
Can Am and Trans Am series racing, featuring drivers like teammates
Mark Donohue and Sam Posey, and their car owner Roger Penske. (Sam Posey,
who later left racing for the broadcast booth, was the first to circle the
track in less than one minute.) Later
in the 1970s and 1980s, Lime Rock added GT Rally and Prototype racing,
though the latter cars were so fast that the track layout had to be modified to
slow the cars down after a spectacular crash in which the driver was lucky
to survive. Prototype racing at Lime Rock is also noteworthy because it is the
``home track'' of actor Paul Newman, an accomplished racer in his own right.
In addition to GT racing, Lime Rock hosts the Busch North NASCAR series
in October each year, the final event of the NASCAR season.
Lime Rock hosts a Racing School run by the park's current president,
Skip Barber, where amateurs can come and learn basic racing skills.
Racing school begins in mid-spring and runs until late fall. The race
season begins on Memorial Day weekend with the Lime Rock Grand Prix
Grand-Am and Prototype GT races.
The park is located on Lime Rock Road (Route 112) off of Highway 7 in
northwestern Connecticut (not far from Torrington), about 100 miles from
New York City.
Sources: various, notably www.limerock.com, and the documentary
Lime Rock Park: The Secret Valley of Racing just aired on
Connecticut Public Television.
My dad attended a few Lime Rock races back in the day, and I think
he has some Super 8 movies laying around. I'll have to get them transferred
to video one of these days.