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Historic Festival at Lime Rock Park lives on despite pandemic

LIME ROCK — The 38th annual Historic Festival at Lime Rock Park took place, as always, for four days over Labor Day weekend. 

In these days of cancellations, postponements, virtual alternatives and uncertainties, it was a huge achievement to present the festival in any form. 

Normally one of the most popular events of the racing calendar with Northwest Corner residents, this year’s event was closed to spectators.   But there was still a large turnout of cars, with 185 entries. There were makes and models from the 1930s through the 1980s and even some from the early 2000s. 

The paddock was full of cars and activity as always — but the striking contrast this year was the empty hillside, which is traditionally the spectators’ favorite viewing location. 

Masks were worn and distances were conscientiously observed by all: drivers, mechanics, officials and family.

Festival Chairman Murray Smith said, “Many of the regular competitors and exhibitors were unable to attend because of the various COVID-19 regulations, but there are still great cars here.”

He pointed to the 1965 Maserati 250, a Grand Prix car with a list of victories in the hands of famed racers including Stirling Moss and Juan Manuel Fangio. He added happily that, “I once owned it.”

Competitors were divided into eight groups designed to keep the cars on somewhat equal footing. There were everything from early 20th-century Stutzes to elegant early Porsches, Mercedes and Jaguars to fierce-looking open Formula 1 cars.

Each group had the opportunity to race twice on both Saturday and Monday. 

A veteran racer, Mitch Eitel from Kent, has been competing since 2004.

“The one thing I enjoy more than driving race cars is talking about them,” he said.

He truly missed the spectators, enthusiasts and “friends I only see once a year, at this event.” 

Once in the car and on the track, the focus is on driving Lime Rock’s challenging 1.5 mile course. Eitel met that challenge with great success, winning both of his Saturday races in his favorite of the several cars that he races, a 1959 OSCA FJ. 

Group 6, nicknamed “Tin Tops and Spyders,” produced one of the closest races of the day: A 1963 Alfa GTZ and a 1965 Ginetta fought bumper to bumper every lap. The Alfa won, and repeated the results in the afternoon race.

“Sunday in the Park,” the much loved Concours, was well attended thanks to a limited number of reserved admittances. Participants parked their cars all the way around the track. There were several large sections of just Mercedes and Porsches, but there were also much-loved examples of other cars parked alongside them — for example, a 1912 Buick or an eyecatching 1951 Ford pickup fire engine. 

The showpiece display of the day was four race cars in the “World Championship” category: A 2009 Peugeot 908 with Le Mans success, a 1972 Alfa 33, a 1950 Alfa158 and the aforementioned 1965 Maserati Grand Prix car. 

The four cars did demonstration laps (at speed!) during the lunch break on Saturday. It’s one thing to walk up and touch one of these cars, but it’s something special to see and hear them at full roar. 

The Concours ended with the awarding of crystal trophies in several categories. Best in Show prizes were awarded to a 1930 Packard (first place), a 1952 Lancia (second) and a 1963 Corvette (third).

Track owner Skip Barber was on hand for most of the festival. He and his crew worked hard to continue the Historic Festival tradition in spite of the challenges. The weather helped, with four exquisite days ideal for racing and for admiring the cars on Sunday.

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