Lime Rock Park - the same as it was 60 years ago
Lime Rock Park, situated in Lakeville, Connecticut, is one of the most significant historic road racing circuits in North America, along with Road America, Laguna Seca, and Watkins Glen. All of these famous tracks were opened in a short period of time in the mid 1950s – Road America in 1955, Watkins Glen in 1956, Laguna Seca and Lime Rock in 1957. Obviously, it was the golden age of road racing in America.
Jim Vaill is the ‘father’ of Lime Rock Park
The 1.5-mile Lime Rock track was born thanks to the local racing enthusiast Jim Edward Vaill. According to Rich Taylor, an author who chronicled the history of the track, in the spring of 1955, Jim Vaill often raced an MG-TC owned by his friend Jack Fisher, in a gravel pit on Vaill family property in Lime Rock. He was approached by people from SCCA (Sports Car Club of America), who proposed to Vaill to build a permanent road racing course.
The layout of the track was dictated by nature
Using an aerial survey of the 325-acre park in a valley owned by his family (and with his father’s blessing), Vaill laid out a plan for a 1.5-mile circuit and the construction began. Although Vaill had to redirect a small river, the track’s shape was otherwise dictated by nature, including the thick woods that surround it and its rolling hills, which provide an automotive amphitheater ideal for picnickers.
Racing is forbidden on Sundays
After the track was opened in April 1957, Vaill faced another challenge. Although the community of Lime Rock approved the track, a group of local residents, supported by Trinity Episcopal Church, filed a suit against it. In May 1959, a judge ruled that the racing could continue at Lime Rock Park, but with two key restrictions that are still in effect: not on Sundays, and if the cars’ engines were unmuffled for only 10 weekends a year.
Skip Barber, the current owner
In 1963, Jim Vaill sold the track and focused on real estate business. The current owner of the circuit is the former driver Skip Barber, who started a chain of high-performance driving schools, including the one based at Lime Rock Park. It is interesting that it has the same layout as in April 1957 when it was opened.
Is it 1.53 or 1.5-mile long?
The track is 1.5-mile (2.41 km) long, although for years, the track was listed as being 1.53-mile long. The story says that right after it was built, someone used the odometer in a Chevy to measure the length of the track, and 1.53 was written as the official number.
Following the 2008 reconstruction, Lime Rock’s officials measured all four possible configurations and as it turns out, each was 1.5 miles long, plus or minus a few hundred feet. The classic configuration of the track has seven turns, while three optional layouts can be set.
Formula Libre launched the popularity of Lime Rock Park
The first race on the new circuit was held on April 28, 1957. It was a mix of the G-Production class and MG class. As it was recorded, the first ever winners at Lime Rock Park were Ted Sprigg in Alfa Romeo Giulietta and Charles “Skip” Callanan in MG TC.
In 1959, Lime Rock Park was the venue hosting the most famous Formula Libre race in the United States. It was a race that had a significant influence on the American motorsport because of the major media coverage and the fact that lots of world famous drivers competed. The sensational winner was Rodger Ward, who was driving a midget and won ahead of much more powerful F1 and sports cars.
Paul Newman was an honored guest at Lime Rock
The track became popular because many famous drivers loved it, but one of the best promoters was an actor, racer, and a team owner Paul Newman who lived in Connecticut. Almost all of the American motorsport’s greats have raced at Lime Rock Park since its opening.
During the 1960s, SCCA organized championship races at the Park, whilst the 1970s and 1980s were marked with Can-Am, F5000, Trans-Am, Atlantic, Camel GTP, and ALMS championships. From the mid-1990s onward, Lime Rock hosted NASCAR racers and IMSA prototype drivers.
Two Grand Prix races as the major events
Lime Rock was the venue of two major Grand Prix races, both originated from the original SCCA National Championship races in the 1950s. The Northeast Grand Prix was usually connected with the Independence Day weekend, while Lime Rock Grand Prix was usually held on the Memorial Day weekend.
The Northeast Grand Prix (named so since 2007) was held 25 times as part of the SCCA National Sports Car Championship, IMSA GT Championship, American Le Mans Series, and IMSA United SportsCar Championship. There were two periods when the race was not held: the first time between 1965 and 1985, and the second time between 1993 and 2003.
Between 1958 and 1964, multiple winners of SCCA races were Roger Penske and George Constantine. From 1986 to 1992, the race was a part of the IMSA GT Championship. The only two-time winner was the New Zealander Steve Millen, but the most famous winner was Hans-Joachim Stuck in 1989, driving Audi 90 quattro.
More than 60 Grand Prix races in 60 years
From 2004 to 2013, the race was a part of the American Le Mans Series. The former F1 driver JJ Lehto and his partner Marco Werner took the victories driving the Audi R8 prototype in 2004 and 2005. Two-time winners were also Germans Lucas Luhr and Klaus Graf, who won in 2012 and 2013 driving HPD ARX-03a, a prototype of Muscle Milk Pickett Racing.
Another major race, the Lime Rock Grand Prix, was held 40 times as part of the SCCA National Sports Car Championship, USAC Road Racing Championship, IMSA GT Championship, and Rolex Sports Car Series. The first winner in 1957 was Carroll Shelby, driving Maserati 300S. In total, there were more than 60 Grand Prix races held at Lime Rock Park during a span of 60 years.
Peter Gregg – record holder with five wins at Lime Rock
The record holder with most wins is Peter Gregg who won five times between 1973 and 1979, scoring fantastic results in Porsche Carrera RSR and Porsche 935. Al Holbert collected four wins between 1975 and 1987, while Max Angelelli scored four consecutive victories from 2010 to 2013. It’s interesting that Angelelli partnered Ricky Taylor three times, while the co-driver in his fourth victory was Ricky’s brother Jordan.
The fastest lap time at Lime Rock Park was set in 1993. Parnell P.J. Jones lapped the 1.5-mile circuit in 43.112 seconds driving a Toyota-powered Eagle prototype.
The track is ideal for picnickers
Lime Rock Park is also popular among motorsport fans because it offers great spectator view without grandstands. As its name says, this racing circuit is actually a park, so spectators can sit under a tree, have a picnic and watch races.
Under Skip Barber’s ownership, Lime Rock has been serviced by two major multi-million dollar renovations. The first was in 2008, when the entire track surface was repaved and a number of safety elements were brought to the latest standards. Crucially, the project was engineered with an intention not to change any aspect of its original track design and layout, making today’s final look of the circuit similar to its initial one. The braking, turn-in, apex and track-out points a driver experiences today are the exact same as those Mario Andretti, Dan Gurney, Skip Barber, Sam Posey and dozens of other legends navigated back in the day.
One more renovation ahead of the 60th anniversary
The second major renovation, named Road to 60 Project, got underway in late 2014. As Lime Rock prepares to celebrate its 60th anniversary in 2017, millions of dollars have been invested in upgrading every part of Lime Rock that is not the racing surface itself – spectators areas, walkways, paddocks, restrooms, gardens, ponds, and landscaping.
So, after almost 60 years of its existence, Lime Rock Park is a renewed modern racing facility, but in fact, it is the same old historic Lime Rock as it was in 1957.
Video : Bill Auberlen describing Lime Rock Track layout
Address: 60 White Hollow Road, Lakeville, CT 06039
Contact phone: 860.435.5000
Official website: limerock.com