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GRL Rolex Vintage Festival 2006
at Lime Rock Park
2006 Rolex Vintage Festival

Steve Earle’s General Racing, Ltd.’s (GRL) Rolex Vintage Festival was firing on all cylinders when it served another taste of the sport’s legacy this past September 1–4. Presented by BMW, the 24th annual Labor Day tradition (GRL’s fifth year at the helm) once again cranked up the volume and rocked what many consider, “America’s Most Beautiful Race Track,” Lime Rock Park (LRP), Connecticut. In total, nearly 200 reminders of motorsport’s glorious heritage made the LRP paddock their provisional headquarters for several days.

Divided into nine groups, all entries provided a chorus of sweet voices ranging from the ever–popular prewar (pre–1941) machinery to a wide gamut of open–wheel formulas, sport racers, GTs and production cars. Joining the fray, BMW of North America, pulled two of its display mules from its paddock exhibit, a 1975 3.5 CSL a.k.a. “Batmobile” and 1980 mid–engine M1 to participate in the Group 9 blacktop battles.

Additionally, approximately 30–plus “loud” examples of historic Trans–Am iron were present to blow out the forty candles on the road racing series’ birthday cake. What began in 1966 as a no–holds–barred slew of SCCA pro contests based on the organization’s A–Production class parameters, concurrently served as the perfect arena for all the major American car manufacturers to promote their new muscular and sporty mid–sized hardware to a wealth of potential upcoming baby–boomer buyers. Interesting, what is deemed by many as the “greatest “American” road racing series ever,” the inaugural Trans–American (TA) Sedan Championship race was won by Austrian F1 pilot, Jochen Rindt’s Alfa Romeo GTA at Sebring.

While a plethora of other under two–liter class cars were part of Trans–Am’s infant days, it wasn’t too long before the roster was saturated with American–bred Cudas, Javelins, Mustangs, Camaros, and many more “pony” or “muscle cars” filling the over two–liter class during the “golden years” of Trans–Am, and the pinnacle of the “pony car era,” 1966–1972. Sadly, the series ended following the 2005 season.

Helping to celebrate the Trans–Am 40th bash, two–time TA champ (’72/’76), George Follmer and four–time Trans–Am winner, Tommy Kendall, were both on hand signing autographs, screaming around LRP’s 1.53–mile labyrinth for a few hot laps, and exchanging memories with former road racer, Sam Posey, Mike Joy (Fox Sports), Vic Edelbrock and any other enthusiast who happened to stop. The ionic voice of American racing, Chris Economaki, was event Grand Marshall, and signed autographs for his new book, “Let ’Em All Go!”

With three days of practice, qualifying, and formal races generally keeping everyone’s heads pointed at the blacktop, Sunday’s “no–engine” policy afforded a quiet chance for an up–close inspection of all the racing machinery either resting in the paddock, participating in the event’s elite concours or displayed along LRP’s main straightaway.

Personally, the “day of rest” gave me the ideal opportunity to peruse Rolex’s exquisite “Moments in Time” display of significant racecars. This year’s edition featured the Nicki Lauda’s 1976 Ferrari 312 T2, Rolf Stommelen, Toine Hezemans and Peter Gregg’s 1978 24 Hours of Daytona winning Porsche, and Sir Jack Brabham’s Kimberly Cooper–Climax T54 – the 1961 Indy 500 entry that basically began the mid–engine revolution at the “Brickyard.”

Also part of the static showing was Max Balchowsky’s “Old Yeller II” 1959 Buick Special. But before you think this humorously declared “Junkyard Dog” was just dressed for show, the car’s present custodian and ambassador, Dr. Ernie Nagamatsu, obviously had other plans, sliding around Lime Rock’s seven turns while engaged in Group 5 combat.

Race winners were recorded during Saturday and Monday’s official group shootouts (see GRL’s website), while one deserving individual was selected from each group to receive the “Lime Rock Rolex Trophy” for presentation and performance, too. The “Charlie Gibson Memorial Trophy” was awarded to Hank Giffin, and Tony Wang gathered the event’s top accolade, the prestigious “Lime Rock Vintage Festival Trophy.”

Dismal weekend weather predictions never materialized and there was basically a dry track for the entire event. Unfortunately, while many individuals obviously yielded to the weatherman’s threats, especially on Saturday, it couldn’t prevent Steve Earle and Company from presenting another wonderful living and breathing museum of motor sport art at rest or dancing around LRP’s seven–turn labyrinth. Whether you’re a fan of an exotic Maserati 250F, Ferrari 250 GT Tour de France or Aston Martin DB4, purpose–built racing platforms, the multitude of 50s–60s production–based sports cars, open wheel single–seaters, the thunder of American Vettes and GT350s, or like me, basically anything that has a number plastered on its door panel, rain or shine, the Rolex Vintage Festival was your ticket to “high–five” action......Walter Pietrowicz