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Club Members At Lime Rock Park Feed Their Need For Speed

The Chalet deck, best corner of the track and home to Lime Rock Drivers Club during all Lime Rock Park races.

By Don Rosendale

It’s a damp Friday morning in May. Jeanette Veitenheimer, executive administrator at the Driver’s Club at the Lime Rock race course (the members call her their “den mother”) has set out a continental breakfast and is helping Carol, who has driven from Long Island for the day, select the club patch she wants on her Nomex suit. From the perch of the Driver’s Club chalet overlooking the Sam Posey Straight, a solitary Porsche Cayman is turning lap times — 58 seconds for one circuit — which would be impressive in a race in a couple of weeks.

Created in 2007 by racing champion Skip Barber, the private Lime Rock Drivers Club in Lakeville, CT offers private track time, fully coached, on the same track that’s welcomed nearly every great road-racing driver. A high-end sports cars and a hefty club fee get you into this rather rarefied world of cars, racing and hobnobbing with the sport’s greats.

But before the private, one-on-one coaching begins, a non-moving class is in session. Simon Kirkby of South Egremont, the chief instructor (and an internationally renowned driver coach) is using a blackboard to explain the theories behind driving fast. (“When you step on the brakes, the adhesion shifts to the front wheels.”) Joe Courtney, who lives “between Litchfield and New Milford” explains why he belongs to the Driver’s Club.

Joe Courtney

“It’s like a country club for people who love cars,” he exudes. People who like putting will join a golf club, polo players head for Mashomack in Pine Plains. Those who love cars pay a $55,000 initiation fee and $3,630 a year to belong to the Driver’s Club so they can drive as fast as they want without looking for flashing blue lights.

Courtney’s stable includes a Porsche Cayman, a Ferrari 457 and a Lamborghini, each capable of 150 miles per hour and zero to 60 before you can sneeze. Courtney doesn’t keep his scuderia at home, but rather at a specialist garage. When he needs one, he calls and it is delivered like a Domino’s pizza. As we speak, which one is en route is still a mystery, but when it arrives he’ll drive it on the same Lime Rock course where professional drivers compete in major races.

For people like him, places like the Lime Rock Driver’s Club and the Monticello Motor Club in New York State are springing up. They’re called “automobile resorts” where those with high-performance cars come to realize their potential. The members are no budding race drivers. They just want to drive fast legally and safely.

Jeanette Veitenheimer, the club’s den mother.

There are 80-odd members of the Lime Rock club. Most are men, but there are women, too. Fathers bring their sons. “We have a couple of people who have bought homes near here so they can come and drive more often,” says Veitenheimer. John Steinmetz, who lives just across the road, comes for lunch.

There’s no actual racing, no trophies for being fastest. “The only person you are racing against is yourself,” she says.”

Because, in an earlier time, I won pewter trophies at Lime Rock and held a lap record when 1:14 was considered blistering, I’m offered a chance to take my vintage Porsche on the track for a few “hot laps” — that is, drive on the track at racing speeds but not actually compete. A pair of crash helmets are pulled from the closet and the car windows go down. Kirkby, who came to Lime Rock after being a champion rally and race driver in England, bravely belts himself into the passenger seat.

The starter checks to make sure I have a Day-Glo orange wristband, and we’re off. Simon waves out the window to show overtaking cars on which side to pass (we don’t pass anyone). He points to the best “lines” to take in a corner and warns what’s coming up.

Simon Kirkby and the author, Don Rosendale, after a few “hot laps.”

Lime Rock offers “hot laps” but these are, at best, “cool laps.” I am what serious race drivers call a moving roadblock, but there is still an adrenalin rush, a sharpening of the senses, an emotional high.

When we pull off, I’m stopped and lectured like an errant school boy for using the turn signals to show we were pulling into pit lane; the flashers here are counterintuitively used to indicate to overtaking cars where you want them to pass.

Back at the Driver’s Club building, Veitenheimer is showing Courtney pictures taken at a “field trip” the club took to the Watkins Glen racecourse in upstate New York in April, and then recommending places to take his new friends for dinner.

“It’s about more than just driving cars,” says Courtney. “It’s a family atmosphere. I’ve met a whole group of new people who will be friends for life.”

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Posted by Lisa Green on 05/12/14 at 03:50 PM • Permalink