Optimism in the future of U.S. sports car racing is busting out all over. The nation is prosperous, the sale of sports cars is brisker than ever and, especially in the East, the spring song of the bulldozer has seemed more melodious to road racers than the chirp of the hermit thrush.
With the meaty part of another Sports Car Club of America racing season just around the corner, some of the most exciting bulldozing is going on at Lime Rock, Conn. and Bridgehampton, Long Island, whose new road courses are diagramed above. Danville, Va., Thompson, Conn. and Marlboro, Md. have courses in progress, and still others are blueprinted or actually taking shape at Savannah, Ga., Riverside, Calif. and San Francisco.
By midsummer the old dependence on airport courses—at best stop-gap substitutes for true road racing—will have substantially ended. The new circuits, added to the superb Road America layout at Elkhart Lake, Wis., the refurbished Watkins Glen, N.Y. course and a few others which utilize natural terrain, are tangible expressions of the runaway confidence which has carried off the loyal adherents to this sport.
Sports cars are designed to race on roads. For flat-out speed tests the airports are good enough, but to test the agility and versatility which distinguishes sports cars, the hills and corners of a road course in a natural setting are infinitely superior. Not only that, but the drivers prefer the roads, and so do spectators.
So far the sport has not needed a consistent supply of big names to survive in the U.S., and this has been one of its strengths, for the cars themselves have carried the load of providing spectacle and thrill. Not that big names would not increase attendance, but there are few American drivers with big reputations—such as Carroll Shelby, Phil Hill and Masten Gregory—and these may be expected to bypass many big events in the U.S. in favor of choice European races, in which prize money can be accepted without prejudicing amateur standing at home. Since amateur racing is the bone and sinew of sports car competition in the U.S., promoters must continue to count on the band of part-time drivers who go from office and shop to the race course (at a considerable financial loss), and on the growing body of fans, many of whom drive the same kind of cars they see at the races. The course builders are betting a lot of costly pavement that the boom is really just beginning.
Among the new courses, Lime Rock, in northwest Connecticut, is the most ambitiously conceived. When it opened last week for an inaugural program of regional SCCA races, only the basic 1½-mile main track was used, but this will be extended eventually to include a 1½-mile "mountain" circuit whose highest point will be a lofty 200 feet above the lowest.
When completed, Lime Rock is to have luxuries undreamed of by today's footsore racing fans, who normally expect access roads, public address reports and toilet facilities, among other things, to be sadly inadequate. Planned by the distinguished industrial designer Raymond Loewy, in cooperation with Racing Driver John Fitch, Lime Rock is essentially a scientifically engineered race course and test ground, but it will have, in time, a clubhouse and restaurant, a television broadcasting booth and—mirabile dictu—a train to haul peripatetic spectators from one vantage point in the infield to another.
The asphalt pavement of the present track is laid over 2½-feet of gravel and is 28 to 40 feet wide. The corners are gently banked. Only 100 miles from Manhattan and 140 miles from Boston, Lime Rock is in a position to tap great population centers; just to be prepared, the owners are planning to provide parking for 30,000 cars. National SCCA races will be held June 8 and 9.
Unlike Lime Rock, which is virgin racing territory, Bridgehampton knew auto racing on public roads from 1915 to 1920 and from 1949 to 1953. Now a private course is under construction—a 3.1-mile circuit out where Long Island dips its toe into the Atlantic, 125 miles from Manhattan. The black-top pavement will be 27 feet wide, with 6-foot hard-packed shoulders. There will be parking for 10,000 cars and space for more than 50,000 spectators. The course should be ready for a regional SCCA meeting in June or July; the big weekend will be a national competition September 28 and 29.
A course from which much is eventually expected is the 3-mile Virginia International Raceway, near Danville. An SCCA national event scheduled for this weekend was put off until midsummer after heavy spring rains delayed the construction.
A Greensboro, N.C. group expects to put $500,000 into the track, which was outlined not from blueprints but by on-the-spot judgment.
"It was a case of saying, 'Bulldozer go here, bulldozer go there,' " an official commented.
Meanwhile, another major course has been in preparation very quietly at Thompson, in the northeast corner of Connecticut. One of the busiest sports car courses in the East in its recent 1½-mile form, Thompson is anticipating no slump with a new and interesting-looking 2.3.-mile circuit which incorporates part of the old backstretch. The asphalt pavement is 27 feet wide, and there are seven tight turns plus a four-tenths-mile high-speed pit stretch.
It isn't just in the new circuits, of course, that the boom is showing. Membership in the SCCA, the principal organization for sports car racing, is 8,500, up 2,000 from the total at this time last year, with an increase to 9,500 expected by the end of 1957. Foreign car sales doubled in 1956 over 1955, jumping to 100,000; exporters expect to double that figure this year. European prospects for dollar sales following U.S. racing success are, naturally, inspiriting the actual race competition. Jaguar, for example, has begun building the XK SS model specifically for the American market, and we may expect a major effort by Maserati this year. Corvettes will again uphold the U.S. end of it.
The cars are here; the courses are coming apace.
TO ROUTE 7
WHITE HOLLOW ROAD
TO BRIDGEHAMPTON AND ROUTE 27