The first race I ever ran was 20 years ago at Lime Rock Park, but my history there predates that day.
My father Tom Pumpelly raced in the IMSA GTP series during the late 1980’s and I was lucky to be able to attend most of the races he ran during those years. I was young and impressionable and I think those track experiences had a lot to do with why I’m racing today.
I don’t remember all the details about my first Lime Rock visit back in 1988 but I do remember some. The track was great because you could see almost three quarters of a lap from spectator hill, and thanks to the quick lap and short track, the cars came by a lot during a two-hour race.
I remember the teams working in a muddy paddock and us staying in some lodge hours away in the middle of nowhere. The paddock has improved immensely thanks to the investments made by track owner Skip Barber but the lodging situation is still somewhat character building (I’m lucky to have friends in town to stay with!)
The weekend in 1998 was significant in another way. The day before I arrived, Nissan driver John Morton had a massive accident when his GTP car caught air at the crest of Lime Rock’s Uphill turn and suffered from a blow-over accident.
The crash completely destroyed the car. John suffered minor burns on his face but was otherwise uninjured. He even made an appearance at the track that Monday for the race.
There was nothing that could have been done in time to change the track for race day, and as they say, the show must go on. The remaining drivers in the race, including my dad, continued on knowing full well that they could be next. Several cars had close calls with the front wheels living way off the ground but there were no more blow-overs.
Morton’s teammate Geoff Brabham won a courageous victory, while my dad Tom finished 13th.
The next year saw the introduction of the “Morton Chicane” which slowed the cars as they crested the hill. A modified version of the chicane is still in use today.
Our weekend this go-around was not as good as Brabham’s but better than Tom’s and a lot better than John’s.
Luis Rodriguez Jr. was a tick off the pace to start the weekend. In his first trip to the track I think he didn’t realize just how much of an oval the track really is.
The last four turns are very fast and require little braking. Data showed Luis was treating them like normal corners where you stand on the brake at the last minute so that was an easy fix and Luis was on it from there.
In qualifying he was a bit disappointed with seventh and I couldn’t figure out why. Six hours earlier he had never driven the place, and now he was in some really good company. Once the race started I figured it out.
Lime Rock was his kind of track. He went on a tear driving all the way up to fourth in his opening stint, and that was a legitimate fourth.
I always do a little internal eye roll when driver brags to me about how they were running in a top position when they turned the car over only to find out that the rest of the field had pitted much earlier and once things cycled they were back to where you need to scroll down on the timing computer to see them.
This was not the case for Luis. He passed and left some really big names in the sport.
I got in, excited about our chances after seeing how the car was working and where we sat in the running order, but luck would once again not go our way.
An air gun failed during our stop. The Rennsport One guys were as fast as they could be with the new gun but we lost some real time on pit road. I went back out in eighth place.
The car was good and I was having a blast. The rhythm of Lime Rock is real. It’s an old style high speed course that I love to drive and catching the cars ahead was making it more fun.
I was able to move up to third but I then encountered my good friend (and proud new uncle! Congrats), Eric Foss.
In Daytona I had worked with Eric to stay in the lead and it helped Luis and I get our first win. Now the laps were winding down and there was nothing to be gained by being nice. We raced each other very hard but of course very cleanly.
In the end I couldn’t get by and settled for third after a great fight. It’s our second podium in a row and I feel like our season is back on track.