Something big is
happening, in a small, beginning way, in the lovely old Connecticut town called
Lime Rock. There, in the magnificently wooded southern heights of the Berkshire
Hills, 105 miles from Times Square, lies a 1�-mile road-racing circuit. In just
three years of operation it has won an admirable reputation as a site for
sports car racing—but there is much more to Lime Rock than racing alone.
The course was
laid out not only with the idea of providing maximum racing interest and driver
and spectator safety, but also with these broader aims: that some day the
lessons taught by the racing cars in their swift rounds might yield valuable
returns in highway safety; that some day the course would be a center for
driver training—ordinary, average man, woman and high school kid driver
training; and that this new way of training people to handle and understand
their automobiles might spread countrywide.
direction of a notable American road-racing driver, John Fitch, and with the
cooperation of the famous Cornell Aeronautical Laboratory, members of whose
staff in one form or another have been studying problems of transportation
safety for nearly two decades, Lime Rock is beginning to fulfill these
guidance of Fitch, one of the handful of American drivers who has excelled in
big league postwar road racing in Europe (his trophies include an especially
noteworthy one earned for winning the grand touring division in Italy's
exhausting thousand-mile Mille Miglia in 1955), Lime Rock has been abuzz with
activity. From the outset the track has offered a rewarding challenge to
amateur sports car drivers, who have competed there in a regular series of
SCCA-sponsored national and regional events. But Fitch also paved the way for
professional road racing by organizing the first such event in September of
last year, a development that culminated in the history-making victory of
Indianapolis Winner Rodger Ward, whose midget racer defeated a strong field of
road-racing machines. Previously, he had introduced a novel Little Le Mans
event bringing European economy and gran turismo cars together in endurance
contests. The automotive testing program he developed recently induced
Chevrolet to bring its new rear-engined Corvair to Lime Rock for an exhaustive
workout, and has, in the past, included tryouts made by a consumer organization
for its reports as well as tests of new braking systems. The Lime Rock
race-training program also accommodates driving schools in which novice drivers
of racing clubs practice en masse under the surveillance of their experienced
responsible racing men, Fitch wants the sport to be as safe as it can be.
Although he believes that road racing has a creditable safety record in the
U.S., he also feels that this record can be greatly improved. And since the
heart of the racing safety effort lies, as he sees it, in developing nonlethal
crash barriers and putting these and escape routes for the racing cars where
they are needed, he believes that Lime Rock may well be the laboratory from
which will emerge the solutions to some of the pressing problems of
"In this day
of marvelous electronic computers and earth satellites," Fitch says,
"it is shocking to realize that almost nothing is positively known about
the dynamic behavior of road vehicles. The first to admit it are the engineers
now designing our new federal highway system.
as on the highways, three factors are involved in any consideration of safety:
the cars, the drivers and the roads. At present, as much as we might want them,
we cannot hope for further important advances in safety through refinement of
cars or through closer regulation of drivers. In racing, for instance, attempts
have been made to reduce hazards by regulating engine sizes and other technical
means—they were famous failures. Paradoxically, as engine size—and
weight—diminishes, lap speeds steadily increase. As for the human element,
there are many difficulties in seeking a solution. Nobody can foretell a
driver's reaction to an emergency until he is confronted with one. There are
many poor drivers, as we all know. And even experts make mistakes.
point is that the result of a mistake should not necessarily mean a disaster.
To my way of thinking, only the third factor, the road system itself, gives
hope of real accomplishment. The big problem is to bring a vehicle that has
left the road to rest at a rate of deceleration within human tolerances. A
secondary but related object is to prevent the vehicle from overturning.
THE VALUE OF
"If you break
down the problem this way the search for a solution is not overwhelming.
However, the routine engineering solution of moving mass versus static
restraints—speed versus brakes, for instance, or roadside barriers—will
normally produce an answer that ignores the dynamics involved. That is why an
analysis of the tumultuous action of the race course is so valuable. Here we
must accommodate cars of different weights, mass distributions and speeds
striking barriers at all kinds of different angles—either in a straightforward
way or spinning—and we must also take into account such unpredictable elements
as flat tires or damaged suspension systems."