The Stanguellini In Aunt Edith's Gift Shop
Newt Davis's #27 sits on the outside pole at Lime Rock (probably in the Fall of '59).
It is mid-July in Lime Rock. After almost 7 years in Arizona, I find the Connecticut humidity is odd, intense. Under the bridge, Salmon Fell Kill is burbling. The water in the still pools is broken by the occasional riffle of a big, old trout rising. It is cool; It is constant.
I stand on the bridge where Rt. 112 crosses the stream, listening to the watersound that sent me to sleep each night so many years ago. I am looking down at the remains of the dam, the ancient massive ironwork structure has been reduced to a token 10 feet of concrete by the flood of '55 - and Governor Abraham Ribicoff's bridge.
Now, in 1998, almost 40 years after my Dad moved the family up here full-time, and I can still see Newt Davis' Lime Rock Lodge full of racing folk: Their Astons, and Ferraris, Jags and Benzes lining the street of my memory. In the distance, a deep throated rumble catches my ear, harkening back to a time when the sounds of the nearby Lime Rock track made my adolescent heart beat strong and fast.
As if summoned from my unconscious, springing to life from the pages of those fantastic 1940's and 50's copies of SportsCar and Road & Track that Terry Field had bestowed upon an eager 12 year old aficionado, the sound was felt more than heard. I glance in astonishment as a pristine white and blue striped C4 Cunningham with the words "Fitch and Walters" lettered on the side burbles past me, does a U-turn around the island at White Hollow Road, and glides powerfully, at once idealized and real, across the bridge, through the town, and back toward its home in long gone Murph Mayberry's old shop.
Well, the neural network of my memory sure got tickled by that fancy, I assure you. And THAT lead to another one: I am back to the time when the Lodge was it, Newton B. Davis, Driver
, at the helm, and I was entrusted with the keys to the vault. And, there was a Stanguellini in Aunt Edith's Gift Shop.
I've tried to explain the memory this car evokes to a friend who knows little of Motorsport history, and cares even less. He told me of his passion at that age before the hormones begin to shape every adolescent thought. He read mountaineering books. He read of Everest, of Annapurna, just as I read then of Moss and Carraciola.
"Then, think of it this way", I told him. "Imagine living next door to a little building that all the grownups thought was just a storage space for old tables and boxes. Think of reading of the South Col of Everest, walking across to the unlocked door, tugging it against the resistance of humidity, stepping out of the 90 degree summer into...Nepal. Tenzing Norgay standing with a fresh oxygen bottle for you, perhaps Sir Edmund himself waiting for you to clip on to the line and continue toward the summit."
Well, in my world, in 1960, Formula Junior was on a roll. The idea of the founder, Count Lurani, had caught on in the States - big time. The Juniors were closer to F1 cars of the time than Atlantic cars are today. Flush with the postwar economic boom's new wealth, dozens of sportsmen began to field these seriously fast racecars.
Newt owned a silver Stang, a Stanguellini. "Stinky" was its name, and it lived in that old gift shop behind the Lodge, next to the stream. My folks and their friends (always couples with an "&"...Newt & Sandy, Terry & Lil, Patty &Linc) may have even set up the croquet wickets on the lawn in front of the shop once or twice. On the other hand, in my mind's eye, I won the Monaco Grand Prix in that dusty shop.
I'd visit Stinky often that summer of 1960, unsnap the red naugahyde cover, climb in, and maybe, if it was on the seat, I'd wear Newt's helmet.
The little front engined car was MY size. I could see over the wheel - a Nardi wood and aluminum wheel bigger, and thinner than anything in a road car today. I'd strap into the aircraft quick-release metal to metal buckle on a 4 inch webbed belt. No harnesses then. I'd gaze at its gauges, each the size of kitchen clocks, the needles with arrowheads.
A glance at the teak rack that held Col. Tremaine Kimball Field's flags. Huge, heavy green, yellow, and checkered flags. The very ones that had started and finished countless races from which legends are spun. Making sure the flags were within reach, I rev my engine, waiting for Terry to drop the green.
Standing start, Dunlops howling, blue smoke everywhere, T.K. Field becomes Toto Roche, and Connecticut becomes the Riviera. In a bright moment I am passed by Von Trips going into Monaco's Gasworks hairpin, but have nicked past Bonnier at Casino. I am in a factory Ferrari.
And then, in an instant, I am chasing Harry Carter in Freddy Bull's jet black Stanguellini, nipping inside at nearby Lime Rock's Big Bend (Ongais was still a Hawaiian drag racer then. Carter was the one who had the franchise on immaculate black racecars in those days). He gets me back going into the second apex, and I get him back going into the left hander of the Esses. Side by side up the straight past the beaver pond and into the Uphill, I hold my line as we crest it.
On into Nine, feathering the throttle like Len Blackburn had showed me when he let me drive his Fiat (Think about that: I'm 12 1/2. Other grownups look the other way, and this dear man puts me in a real drivers seat, calmly coaching me, for lap after lap around that wonderful circuit. Thanks Len, wherever you are). I race under the Bailey bridge, dive into the downhill, ticking the dust at the verge as I exit, and beat Harry to the line by a half a nose...checkered flag waves, I cruise with arm raised on a cool off lap, stop and pick up the flag from the Colonel, and take my victory lap.
Slowly, I put Newt's helmet back on the seat, and lovingly snap the tonneau cover back in place. I put Terry's flag back in its rack. One pause at the door to wave to my fans (the lawn chairs and boxes), and to smell the sharp, pungent Castrol mixed with ancient New England mustiness. I mount my bicycle, ride back across the street. Get the living room picked up before Mom gets home. Finish my summer reading, Walden, maybe or Ethan Frome. Or, maybe curl up with Stirling Moss' "A Turn At the Wheel
". New England Transcendentalism, indeed.
Today, Stanguellinis still live, and Formula Juniors are very expensive toys for wealthy vintage racers. Today, I can sit in my living room and ride with Schumacher in real-time, or find data on the internet almost as soon as the teams themselves. But is it more real than my imagination of 38 summers past?
I may never be able to afford a ride in Skip Barber's Dodge series, but hey, I drove the circuit in 1960, and that memory only gets more vivid as I roll into my second half century. Sometimes things don't really get better. They just become something else.
Racetracks do evoke memories. And build them. Here at Lime Rock, here where I live, SCCA and Club racers still dive into that downhill at 100 MPH every weekend, NASCAR stockers rumble and roar once a year, and on Dodge Dealers Grand Prix weekend, we're visited by the exotic machines and world class drivers of this year's sanctioning body. And that "ultimate" track record still falls regularly.
Maybe this year it's James Weaver in a Riley & Scott tiptoeing to the edge with a lap of 38.6, bypassing the chicane. Next year, who? In what?
What about those young drivers in the Barber Dodge Pro Series? The ones who look so young. Is she going to be the subject of some other child's dreams?
Thank you, Newton B. Davis, Driver, for providing a young man with the stuff of dreams.