The fast and the curious

At Lime Rock race track, sports cars whip up the skirts of picnic blankets.

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

One spectator lolls in a hammock slung from a makeshift scaffold, wiping his binoculars. On a grassy rise, two children find space among the blankets and coolers to toss a football in the shade of a big maple.

About every 45 seconds there is occasion to look up, fast: the angry-bees sound of GT cars – Porsche and Panoz, Ferrari and Corvette – rips the summer air as candy-bright racers hit the diving turn and accelerate on the straight. They can nudge 170 m.p.h. before braking for Big Bend and the "esses," their pipes burping fire in the downshifts.

The July 7 event, the Northeast Grand Prix, is round six of the prestigious American Le Mans series. On this notoriously bumpy and narrow course, run by racing legend Skip Barber, a Porsche RS Spyder owned by Penske Racing will win after three hours of noisy jousting. The air smells of rubber, clean diesel, and ethanol-cut gasoline.

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Onlookers marvel at the drivers' skill. "He got two tires on the grass," shouts a fan to his friend as an Audi R10 averts a spinout.

Auto racing here at Lime Rock Park – a 1.5-mile road course tucked into the rolling hills of western Connecticut – dates back 50 years. The vibe here is country-fair midway meets sprawling lawn party. There's a Moon Bounce full of kids on manufacturers' row, but there is no escaping the sensory feast of the automotive. Even in the outer parking areas sports cars roam, some of them from rarefied realms – Porsche GT3s and other Autobahn-ready rides. One "corral" area features a sea of privately owned Acura NSXs. The cars become a part of the show when they are allowed a parade lap between races.

There are plenty of ordinary cars in the lot, too. For all its untouchable horsepower and international stars, Lime Rock is an accessible venue. Admission is $55 for this premier event, but other races cost much less to attend. A July 28 regional of the Sports Car Club of America, for example, is a $10 ticket (visit www.limerock.com). The Rolex Vintage Festival rolls in for Labor Day weekend.

Chris Economaki, the renowned auto writer, draws a crowd in a tent today when he starts recounting Lime Rock lore: the bad old days when free-for-all drivers such as Chuck Daigh would put a wheel in the dirt just to shower a pursuer with rocks.

For drivers in this more refined age, he says, the remote location is part of the course's allure. "It's not hectic, like so many road courses" set just outside big cities, he says. "You really have to want to come here."

Plenty of people do. Mr. Barber cites a "huge demand" for track time. Big ovals and stock cars have their ardent fans, too. But for sports-car drivers and many fans, there's no place like the Rock.

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