Posted on February 16 2017
Jim Vaill’s friend Jack Fisher owned an MG-TC roadster. It was the mid-1950s, and Jim and Jack liked to take Jack’s roadster out to a cornfield on a hill on Jim’s father’s land – a stretch of beautiful, grassy countryside in the Berkshire Mountain foothills in Northwest Connecticut. Eventually, word of Vaill and Fisher’s “racing” got around to members of the local Sports Car Club of America (SCCA). They came around to see the site, and convinced Vaill that it would be a great spot for a permanent road course.
Vaill recruited John Fitch, a burgeoning leader in racing and road safety, to help with the design. They used Cornell University’s Aeronautical Labs to create a track layout that, for the first time in North America, took advantage of the latest highway-safety science in order to determine the course configuration. The result is a deceptively challenging 1.5-mile up and down course through the rolling Connecticut hills.
In 1957, Lime Rock Park opened its gates, and has remained in continuous operation ever since. In fact, it is one of the oldest continuously operating road racing circuits in North America, rivaled only by Road American in Wisconsin and Laguna Seca in California, which opened 1955 and 1957, respectively. Lime Rock Park, however, is the only track that has maintained the exact same course configuration through the facility’s entire history.
In its 60 year existence, Lime Rock Park has not only been a mainstay of the SCCA, but has hosted events of nearly all types and levels, including Can-Am, F5000, Trans-Am, Camel GTP Championships, ALMS Championships, IMSA and even NASCAR Busch North Series races. One of the most significant events in its history came early on, in 1959 at a Formula Libre race. Amateur and pro racers met head-to-head in a three heat event, the winner of which was former Indy 500 victory Roger Ward, who beat out F1 cars and world championship sports cars in his MG Midget roadster, proving that amateur drivers and cars could indeed go toe-to-toe with the pros.
Lime Rock Park’s original plans had included a longer course that would run through the trees above the shorter course, but that extension never came to fruition in reality (though a few racing video games have imagined what it might have looked like). Instead, the 1.5-mile configuration has only received minor additions – a chicane following the Uphill at turn 5 in 1988 which was then extended in 2008 when the track was also repaved, and a second chicane was added at the West Bend on Turn 6. Through all additions and repavings though, the exact racing line has been maintained exactly as it was in 1957.
The facility has been owned by Skip Barber since 1985, who has kept up the track and surrounding facilities through two major, multi-million dollar renovations. He also made Lime Rock Park the home of his famous Skip Barber Racing School, until he moved the school’s headquarters to Road Atlanta in 2011.
One interesting note on Lime Rock Park is its history with the nearby Trinity Episcopal Church. Since the church is located in close proximity to the course’s main straight, Sunday racing events would frequently disrupt church services. This led to a court-ordered injunction against racing events being held on Sundays, which still stands to this day. In the years following, the church and the course have gotten better at coordinating, and the track has been known to adjust event schedules to accommodate weddings.
Lime Rock Park is a family-oriented venue set in lush green parkland. There are no grandstands for spectators, who are instead able to view races from the grassy banks surrounding the track, where they can also picnic and enjoy the outdoors.
Lime Rock Park is located about 50 miles northwest of Hartford, and about 1 hour and 20 minutes from Bradley International Airport.