FOXWOODS 24 AT LIME ROCK
The third weekend of July in New England presents many entertainent options; Mountains, Lakes, Ocean, Music and Motorsports. Each weekend of this Seventh Month had been dedicated to musical pursuits, beginning with Warren Haynes and the Boston Pops at Tanglewood, presenting the Jerry Garcia Symphonic Celebration on July 1st. We attended Los Lobos at the Lowell Summer Music Series and saw Dead and Company at Fenway Park. But why not combine the two passions of Music and Motorsports in one weekend?
Sports Car racing's most famous endurance race is the 24 Hours of Le Mans, held at Le Circuit de la Sarthe the first weekend of summer each year. At close to 8.5 miles long, drivers have an opportunity to take a deep breath and a moment to relax. Not true at Lime Rock Park. The track, which was opened in 1957, is just about 1.5 miles in length. Throw over 30 cars on tack at the same time and there is no rest for the weary.
This 2016 Northeast Grand Prix was on Saturday, July 23rd. IMSA was bringing three of their four classes of competition from the WeatherTech SportsCar Series, along with two classes in the supporting Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge Series. The new Ford GT and Ferrari 488, the same two cars that battled for the GT Class win at Le Mans would be putting on the same show at Lime Rock. But, it was the day after two other world-famous performers were appearing a hundred miles away at Foxwoods Resort Casino in Southeast Connecticut.
Jeff Beck and Buddy Guy are separated by eight years in age, but their common bond is the depth of innovation and influence that they have brought to their craft. Beck turned 72 at the end of June, with Buddy Guy's 80th Birthday a week after the show. Clearly, this was a performance not to be missed.
Fortune has provided good friends and the opportunity for an unforgttable weekend to indulge in Music and Motorsports. This was just too good to miss. The details, such as sleep and a place to do so would take care of themselves. Or not. Situations like this do not repeat themselves. The absolute was to be at both events. No matter what.
Friday afternoon traffic was already heavy just past 2 PM, as we set out on Route 495 South in stop and go traffic, which eased as we crossed over Route 2. It backed up again at the junction of Route 290, intersecting with the 100 degrees outside of the car. We hit 395 South and arrived at Foxwoods a hundred miles and three hours down the road.
Robert already had the tickets in hand and we hit the hard Rock Cafe with Rita for some dinner. They wanted to try their luck in the casino before the show, but my destination was the Scorpion Bar and some pre-show Tequila.
Meeting up with Sue and Paul, more Jeff Beck and Buddy Guy fans, the anticipation was growing with every sip of Anejo. The Scorpion Bar may have looked like a scene out of a Spaghetti Western, but hey, it's our movie!
Jeff Beck headlined the evening and showcased music from his just released recording Loud Hailer. The release relies heavily on the vocals of powerhouse singer Rosie Bones and she kicked it off from out in the audience, shouting into an amplified megaphone, as she bounced through the aisles on The Revolution Will Be Televised. Beck then throttled back forty years into Freeway Jam from his George Martin Produced Blow By Blow release. He ripped into a cover of Billy Cobham's Startus and then Rosie Bones reappeared for a couple more from Loud Hailer, including Live in the Dark.
Beck reeled off The Pump, from 1980's There and Back, then was joined by singer Jimmy Hall, from Wet Willy fame. He took over on vocals for Morning Dew and a jaw-dropping performance of Sam Cooke's A Change is Gonna Come. Two more instrumentals; Even Odds, from Who Else? and the Stevie Wonder penned Cause We've Ended As Lovers (which Jeff Beck dedicated to Roy Buchanan on Blow By Blow) is always a crowd favorite. Bones then stomped back onstage for more from the new release.
Hall sang on a sped up version of Rollin' and Tumblin' that was rocking. He stayed up for Superstition, another from Stevie Wonder. One more by Bones, Right Now, from Loud Hailer, before Beck returned with his customary encore of the Beatles A Day in The Life.
Buddy Guy opened the night with the title track to Damn Right I've Got The Blues and continued with Eddie Boyd's Five Long Years. It was his standard set for the past couple of years, including the title track of the Tom Hambridge Produced Born To Play Guitar, which earned them a Grammy Award..
A highlight of the show was when he played the title track to Skin Deep, another release produced by Tom Hambridge. He talked about the recent terrorist attacks and how he hoped that people would just look past skin deep appearances, religon and politics. He then played it tender and soulful on electric sitar, stressing the lyrics, "Underneath we're all the same."
Buddy also paid homage to those that went before with renditions of songs by Willie Dixon, Muddy Waters and John Lee Hooker. There were also snippets of songs (which tend to tease and annoy more than please). "This is how Eric Clapton plays it and this is what Jimi did."
Two Rock and Roll Hall of Fame guitarists in one night was just half of the wild weekend laid out on the itinerary. Now, the challenge was to negotiate our way from one corner of the state to the other, sans GPS or operating cell phone. But, we did have five pages and twenty steps of Mapquest directions in our favor. The thunderstorm and humidity made seeing out of the windshield a bit sketchy, but most of the time we were trying to find reading glasses, the overhead light and turning pages.
It was a struggle, with more than one stop to check if it was the correct turn, before going too far off on a tangent. Rolling into Lime Rock Park around 3 AM, it was time to put the next phase of the master plan into action. It involved sleep. At least that was the intention.
The idea was to put down the rear seats in the SUV and drape mosquito netting over the windows, securing it to the doors with refrigerator magnets, so the pests wouldn't bite when the windows were down. I know, genius, right? Patio furniture seat cushions, with a mattress cover was the finishing touch. Head on the pillow and sleeep. Roll onto left and sleep. Back to the right, the left, my hip hurts. That Moon is bright. That RV generator is loud. Time check. Fall asleep now and still get three good hours. The 8 AM mandatory photo meeting could not be missed. That is, if we wanted a photo vest.
Oh well, it was a good concert, we arrived safe and - here comes the sun. We saw the "friendly" registration worker arrive and open for business at 7 AM. Staggering to the window, holding out the Lime Rock season media pass, an attempt was made at communication.
"THAT"S OVER THERE!"
Too early for that. Parking next to photo guru Regis and tried once again at the communication thing, uundersanding that he had saved an extra seat next to him in the media center. He was presented with a copy of Alboreto: Gasoline In The Veins and we ventured towards the the required safety lecture. "Try not to be the story", "be safe", "don't you dare keep a driver's hat from the victory podium, yada, yada yada."
Wondering how to make it through the next 10 hours, in 90 degree heat, with no sleep, after already being awake for 24 hours was somewhat of a concern. Adrenaline? Excitement? We went with the first need - food. That bacon, egg and cheese sandwich and tater tots breakfast was a lifesaver. Or life-renewer. Felt a bit less like a zombie for the moment anyway..
A trip back to the car for more books for the sweetest lady at the races; Liliane Sars, to sell from her Auto Brass souvenir trailer on the midway. We first met her at the Grand Prix of Canada in the 1980s. If you spot the vintage, refrigerator white Auto Brass trailer, it is an indiaction that you are at a major road racing event. But, like Jeff Beck and Buddy Guy, one never knows if she'll be at the next show. It's always a pleasure to see her and to let her know that her presence is appreciated.
The two and a half hour Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge race began at 10 AM. Surprisingly, despite the lack of sleep and the heat, it was time to be trackside and a sense of quiet euphoria took over. But that could have been the ear plugs. But, with over five hours of racing in the heat and sun and already awake for 27 hours, we shot some photos on pit lane and down in Big Bend and then took some refuge in the media center.
After the first race of the day, more food. A pulled pork sandwich with gold bbq sauce, fries and a sports drink kept us going for the start of the day's feature race - the two hour and 40 minute Northeast Grand Prix. The 47 gallons of water that we drank almost provided hydration, as we made our way from turn to turn, the shade, the paddock and stops in the media center to download photos. The AC was fighting a losing battle. It was cold before it got hot and slowly warmed as the day wore on. There was a reluctance to approach PR people that we hadn't met and introductions were put on hold due the funkiness of our condition.
The battle in LMGTE Pro at the 24 Hours of Le Mans came down to the Ford GT and the Ferrari 488 GTE. The Blue Oval brought four Ford GTs to France, to rewrite the headline from 50 years ago, when in 1966 the Ford GT40 topped the best from Maranello.
But that was for the overall win. Yes, the Ford GT did win at Le Mans in June, but it was a GT Class win. They had also won the previous three rounds in the North American WeatherTech SportsCar Championship.
With an hour remaining in the race, the No. 62 Risi Competizione Ferrari 488 GTE was first in the GTLM Class. Ex-F1 driver Giancalro Fisichella was leading in his first trip to Lime Rock. But the track does not forgive even the slightest lapse of concentration. With less than 30 minutes remaining, Fisichella made a mistake in the Big Bend Turn 1-2 complex. He was in the dirt and Corvette Racing's Oliver Gavin moved into the lead in the No. 4 Corvette C7.R and on to the GTLM Class win..
Fisichella did not learn his lesson, as he repeated the mistake four laps later. As he tried to re-enter the pavement, he made contact with Ryan Briscoe in the No. 67 Ford GT, sending Fisi back into the weeds. He took the grass route through the Esses, but by then, the No. 3 Corvette of Antonio Garcia was past as well. Two mistakes, the same mistakes, put the Risi Ferrari from first in class to off of the podium. This little Bull Ring cares not about racing pedigree.
On the Lime Rock skid pad, car clubs from Corvette, Porsche, BMW, MINI and Viper park together in car corrals. Many come to enjoy the tent hospitality, car camaraderie and to socialize, barely paying attention to the action on the track. It is worthwhile to swing through the parking lot to admire the beautiful street machines.
Spectator Hill is an excellent vantage point to look down on the first four turns at the track, from Big Bend, through the Esses (Left and Righthander) into the No-Name Straight. But the real party happens where the campers line the circuit, from the beginning of the No-Name Straight, to the Uphill and into West Bend. This year's crowd approached the numbers of the late 1980s, during the height of the Canel GTP Championship and Trans-Am Series. By the time that the feature race is run, it is easy to spot those who have celebrated too vigorously during the weekend. It is the best place to people watch and it isn't hard to spot the refugees and rookie race goers. Like this guy here. >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>
We recognized race fans that had been coming to Lime Rock faithfully for decades. Next year the track will celebrate its 60th anniversary. The Road to 60 Program will offer fans a chance to be a part of the finishing touches of the track's upgrades in preparation for next year's celebration.
The Corvettes finished 1-2 in Class, followed by the Ford GT of Ryan Briscoe and Richard Westbrook. The overall win went to the No. 8 Starworks ORECA FLM09 Prototype Challenge car of Renger van der Zande and Alex Popow. They topped the No. 52 of Tom Kimber-Smith and Robert Alon. Kyle Marcelli and James French were third in the No. 38 ORECA. The race was carried live on FOX, which underscores the importance of the event for the series and sponsors. Lime Rock is close to major consumer markets; with New York City, Boston, Hartford and Providence nearby. It was easy to see who came from where, with the number of Red Sox and Yankee hats in the crowd.
It was time to make the final 150 mile leg of the wild weekend. It is a tradition to drive past the house of the late racer, inventor and American war hero John Fitch on the way out of Lime Rock. We tipped our hat and hooked on to Route 41, into Great Barrington Mass and Route 7 North. Then to the Turnpike from Stockbridge to Groton. Over 350 miles driven in a 30 hour trip, awake for 40 hours for two Hall of Fame performances and two races. The 24 Hours of Le Mans doesn't have Jeff Beck and Buddy Guy! The Music and Motorsprts indulgence resulted in a thousand smiles and gratitude for all of the kindness afforded to us by those who made our weekend unforgettable.
Copyright Greg Sarni, USA 2001-2016