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at Lime Rock Park

2007 Rolex Vintage Festival

Forget observing the official day (actually, weekend) of rest with a quiet cookout with friends and family. Instead, we once again trekked to the northwest corner of Connecticut, for another Labor Day tradition this past August 31 – September 3, the Rolex Vintage Festival presented by BMW at Lime Rock Park (LRP). Organized by a partnership between Lime Rock Associates and Steve Earle’s General Racing, Ltd., 2007 not only marked the Silver Anniversary of this illustrious gathering, but also represented 50 years of racing since the track’s inconspicuous beginning.

The year was 1955, and as the story goes, Jim Vaill and a few buddies were innocently venting a bit of testosterone racing an MG TC around his father, Frank’s, sand and gravel pit, when approached by a few Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) members. Inspired by this chance encounter and heeding their suggestions, Jim was soon riding high upon the family’s Caterpillar D–8 workhorse, carving out a racetrack through his dad’s Salmon Kill Valley farm and adjoining quarry. Enlisting numerous local investors, Lime Rock Park was born. Oh, those SCCA guys, they were Fred Proctor, Gaston Audrey, 1954 12 Hours of Sebring winner, Bill Lloyd, and legend, Briggs Cunningham.

Forming Lime Rock Corporation, Vaill hired Mercedes team driver and local resident, John Fitch, as the organizationís first director, who in turn, summoned the help of another racer, Bill Millikin, of Cornell Aerodynamic Labs, to refine the track’s newly bulldozed configuration.

The doors opened with a driver’s school on April 20, 1957, followed by the inaugural race a week later, April 27. Ted Sprigg’s G–Production Alfa Romeo Giulietta would forever be Lime Rock’s first official winner, and road–racing connoisseur, Walt Hansgen’s Team Cunningham D–Type Jaguar memorialized as the winner of the initial and highly contested “feature” race. Preventing a Cunningham D–Type 1–2 sweep that day was a young California lad, Bruce Kessler, outrunning Fitch for second in his Ferrari 500 TR.

Today, the vintage festival was honored to have both, Fitch and Kessler as two special guests representing the inaugural class. Additionally, another one of Lime Rock’s favorite sons, Sam Posey, was joined by his 1966 24 Hours of Daytona (Porsche 904) co–driver, former Lime Rock Park manager, SCCA National Champion, and “father” of the LRP vintage festival, Jim Haynes, and International Motor Sports Association (IMSA) founders, John and Peggy Bishop as special guests of honor. Autograph sessions for all “special guests” were available throughout the weekend.

Molded to perfection, Earle’s successful template for crafting an all encompassing vintage racing experience, offered enthusiasts an entire weekend to peruse the paddock, shop vendor’s row, and immerse themselves in a venue “must,” The Rolex Moments in Time exhibit, spotlighting the year, 1957. Included in the magnificent display were the 1957 12 Hours of Sebring winning Maserati 450S of Juan Manuel Fangio and Jean Behra, and the revolutionary Epperly–Offy, Sam Hanks drove to victory in the 1957 Indy 500, among others. Additionally, Sunday’s no–race policy afforded even more opportunities for an up close scrutiny of the breathtaking variety of mechanical steeds populating the main straightaway for the 25th Anniversary of the “Sunday in the Park” Concours d’Elegance.

Of course, the static attractions were complimented by the explosive catalog of racecars eager to circumnavigate LRP’s short, yet very challenging layout. Book–ended by two lone–wolf representatives of their respective decades, Peter Giddings’ 1926 Bugatti T35B and Jim Castle’s 1980 Porsche 935K3, six other decades of racecars wasted no time galloping around 1.53–miles of Connecticut’s blacktop ribbon during Friday’s practice sessions and duking it out all through Saturday afternoon’s first round of formal contests. With dry weather prevailing throughout the weekend, the entries continued their scheduled race group skirmishes on Monday, concluding the event.

A list of all the race winners, and selected individual from each race group who were awarded a special trophy for demonstrating outstanding performance and presentation of their vehicles can be found at www.generalracing.com. Noteworthy, long–time vintage racer, Brian MacEachern won the Charlie Gibson Award, and Vintage Motorsport magazine’s, Syd Silverman, was awarded the event’s most prestigious honor, The Lime Rock Vintage Festival Trophy.

As we look forward to a future of many more Rolex Vintage Festivals at this historic facility, we must foremost thank sponsors like Rolex (5th year) and BMW (6th year), which is also celebrating the 90th year since the formal adoption of its moniker, Bavarian Motor Works (July 1917). We especially salute an era where an innocent encounter and a Caterpillar bulldozer, not a focus group, single–handedly carved the path to record 50 years of road racing history at what has become known as the “Road Racing Center of the East.” ......Walter Pietrowicz