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GRL Rolex Vintage Festival 2005
at Lime Rock Park
2005 Rolex Vintage Festival

Labor Day may have been the official end of summer and probably the last formal excuse to fire up the grill for friends and family (like you need one), but for many, the BBQs remained cold and covered as they headed to vintage auto racing’s time–honored gathering at Lime Rock Park, Lakeville, Connecticut, this past September 2–5.

Celebrating its 23rd year, and the fourth installment with Steve Earle (founder–Monterey Historic Automobile Races) and his General Racing, Ltd. (GRL) gang teaming up with Lime Rock’s Skip Barber and Murray L. Smith, my immediate reaction to this year’s Rolex Vintage Festival presented by BMW was wow! Not only did the weather Gods present “picture–perfect” conditions the entire four days, but the crop of attending automobilia was outstanding. Obviously, Steve’s promise last year to boost the “quality” of entrants was more than just empty rhetoric, but a clear demonstration of his firm commitment to make this traditional outing more than just another vintage race, but the most prestigious historic racing weekend on the East Coast.

Nearly 200 exquisite vintage machines representing six decades were divided into nine competition groups. Among the many chariots that have been a part of the Lime Rock scenery in the past, this year’s entries also included a healthy herd of competitive Aston Martins (AM) supporting the badge as this year’s featured marque.

Fittingly, driver, designer, constructor and American road racing icon, Carroll Shelby, was the festival’s special Guest of Honor. During his short racing career (1952–1960), Shelby not only drove many of the breeds populating this year’s paddock, including VM’s Syd Silverman’s MG TC (Shelby’s first road race ride), Maserati Tipo61 Birdcages, and Caddy powered Allard J2Xs, but also delivered AM (with co–driver, Roy Salvatori) the 1959 Le Mans victory in a DBR1. This conquest gave the badge its first pinnacle overall win at the prestigious race, and forever etched Shelby’s association with the AM brand as well.

Additionally, while his Cobra namesake won the 1965 International GT Championship, Carroll’s guidance took the fumbling Ford GT40 project to fruition with an impressive win at the Daytona 2000 (1965), its very first battle with the “man” at the helm. Moreover, Shelby American entered GT40s won Le Mans in ’66 and ’67, giving Ford the Prototype World Championship in ’66, while Shelby American Mustangs won the SCCA Trans–Am title in ’67, too. Obviously, there were plenty of Cobras, GT350s and two GT40s strutting their stuff for Mr. Shelby. The grand Texan graciously signed autographs throughout the weekend, too.

Mixed in with the normal midway vendors overlooking the blacktop action, Rolex’ renowned “Moments in Time” exhibit once again treated the wandering enthusiasts to a new wonderful bouquet of motorsports history: 1962 Leader Car 500 Roadster–Rodger Ward’s Indianapolis 500 winner; 1952 Mercedes–Benz 300 SL 24 Hours of Le Mans winner; 1954 Troutman–Barnes Special and Briggs Cunningham’s 1950 Cunningham Cadillac “Le Monstre” Le Mans entry (1950) among others.

Included in the static array of historically significant chariots, the 1934 “Old Grey Mare” Ford V–8 Special, 1958 Scarab Mk III and a 1961 Chaparral I not only smiled for the camera under the Rolex tent, but entertained the hillsides of spectators with plenty of competitive track dancing as well. Starting at the tail, a smooth Brian Redman thrilled the audience with another brilliant driving exposition wheeling the aforementioned Scarab to a Group 5 victory during Monday’s featured race (official races were held on both Saturday and Monday).

Adhering to Sunday’s no–race policy, the festivities continued with the traditional “Sunday in the Park.” The invitation–only Elite Concours presented by Road & Track, Vintage & Historic Car Show, Show of Shelbys, understandably a favorite, especially this year, were joined by the two–wheeled variety of travel with The Classic American Iron RodeShow sponsored by American Iron Magazine. Sam Mann’s 1932 Chrysler Imperial won “Best of Show.”

And if you even thought lunch would be the perfect time to catch a few quiet moments, you were wrong, as BMW circulated a few of its racing platforms for several demo laps, which included the 600+ Horsepower ’96 McLaren F1 GTR. A captivating performance by world-record holder and BMW motorcycle stunt rider, Jean-Pierre Goy, entertained audiences each day. Furthermore, 1967 Caldwell D7 Chevrolet Can–Am machine, idle for more than 30 years, was reunited with its original driver, Sam Posey, for a couple of hot laps. Original designer, Ray Caldwell, provided the commentary, as Posey etched the visual.

With a feast that included ex–Porsche factory pilot, Joe Buzzetta rocketing to 4th in his Chevron; Kim Eastman’s Kurtis and Jim Donick’s J2 explosive dice and drag race down “no name”; and Murray Smith wheeling a very rare appearance of the Briggs Cunningham’s 1939 BuMerc (part of the Miles Collier collection, and its first racing appearance in 50 years), the weekend was a bona fide banquet for vintage race fans. So next year, forget the grilled dogs, and visually dine on a few snakes (Cobras), bugs (Bugatti), ponies (GT350s), horses (Ferraris) and other breeds from Lime Rock’s grassy front row seats to the action......Walter Pietrowicz