Climbing feet first into the cramped quarters of his Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme, a helmeted Paul Newman settles into the one-seat cockpit. Anyone within a hundred yards hears what happens next at Lime Rock Park, Conn.
BOOM! Brrrr-vvvroom! Vroom-VROOM!
A day later, if one's ears have stood the strain, it's possible to hear sounds of a gentler nature as Seiji Ozawa, Boston Symphony Orchestra music director, raises his baton at Tanglewood in Lenox, Mass.
Those contrasting sounds aren't all that separate Lime Rock Park and Tanglewood, though the two places lie about an hour's drive apart in the foothills of the Berkshire mountains. A picnic at Lime Rock is simple fare -- hot dogs and beer -- while one at Tanglewood can be as elegant as you care to make it and are able to carry in a single basket. And that's what I and several friends have come to enjoy after several years of making a summer's weekend of back-to-back visits to Lime Rock and Tanglewood. Call us split personalities, but we love watching for the checkered flag as much as waiting for a crescendo. Certainly we could have one without the other, but the chance to delight in both those thrills is hard to pass up.
It's probably the gentle rural setting that Lime Rock and Tanglewood both share that makes the combina- tion of motors and music so appealing. In that way, Lime Rock may be unique among professionally rated auto race tracks. Opened in 1957, Lime Rock Park is nestled among rolling green hills; because it lacks grandstands -- race-goers bring blankets and lawn chairs -- it seems more like a park than a track. One may roam around the 1.54-mile course freely, although shade is limited. (One year, I left my hat at home and by race's end felt as if I were going into heatstroke.)
Our group regularly attends the annual Trans-Am racing event, part of the Sports Car Club of America's Trans-Am championship series and usually held the first weekend in August. This year's Trans-Am, on Saturday, Aug. 4, is Lime Rock's 25th such race, but the park schedule also includes the Lime Rock Grand Prix for GTP class cars, held on Memorial Day weekend; the Fireworks 400 on June 30; the BMW Vintage Fall Festival, featuring racing by vintage and antique autos, on Labor Day weekend; and the Jamesway 300 IMSA GTO/GTU Challenge on Sept. 29.
That busy schedule makes it relatively easy for fans of Newman, Scott Pruett and other racers to indulge in vroom-vroom-vroom one day and relax at Tanglewood with a little da-da-dum the next.
While champions Scott Pruett and Dorsey Schroeder dominated the last two Trans-Am races at Lime Rock, it is actor-turned-racer Paul Newman who traditionally attracts the most attention. Lime Rock is Newman's "home track" -- he lives in Westport, Conn. -- and his celebrity on the screen helps him outshine other, more successful drivers. His Newman-Sharp Racing Team, in partnership with driver Bob Sharp, drives these days for Team Oldsmobile, though their earlier cars were by Nissan.
In the "paddock" at Lime Rock, where racing teams ready cars for action, a crowd is guaranteed to gather around Newman's trailer in the half-hour before a track announcer calls Trans-Am drivers in. Both movie fans and TV camera crews join in the photo opportunity. Last year, Newman's wife, actress Joanne Woodward, carried a camera too.
Elsewhere in the paddock, teams make their final preparations in relative quiet. Many drivers at Lime Rock are the hired hands of factory-sponsored teams, but there is always a group of go-their-own-way independents. Their spirit and defiance in the face of odds and millions of dollars help make the races exciting. After all, as one indy-team member told me, "When there's only a few big names on the track and there's nobody for them to beat, it's a lousy race." Many of these independent drivers will outlast better-equipped racers, though their hopes of finishing in the winner's circle are, predictably, slim.
Once the green flag has dropped and racing begins, the quiet of the Berkshires is replaced by the roar of massive engines and the squeak of turbos, which sounds like basketball shoes on parquet. Fans of racing on television will probably be surprised by just how loud the din really is, though the noise, admittedly, helps generate a certain level of excitement.
Over the years, my friends and I have seen our share of crack-ups -- none of them, however, more serious than dented doors or smoking tires. Controlling automobiles at speeds approaching 150 miles per hour on the straightaway surely has its difficulties. A particular challenge at Lime Rock seems to be the first curve, where cars regularly spin out and raise great clouds of dust as they slide onto the track's grassy edges.
Last year, in fact, Newman was among those drivers who had to walk back to their trailers. In the Trans-Am race's very first lap, when cars are in tight formation, Newman was caught in a jam with several other drivers. For the rest of the race, his red, white and blue Oldsmobile lay in a heap on the infield.
More impressive than any crash, of course, is the skill of drivers who manage to keep their cars running and racing, threading their way through the pack to the front line.
On the same day as Lime Rock's Trans-Am race, the SCCA also sponsors an "endurance" event, where careful driving and conservation of a car's mechanical resources are more crucial than speed. Endurance races can last up to four hours. Compared with them, the hour's drive up to Lenox is a snap.
Outside Lime Rock Park, the peace of the New England countryside returns. The still-rural region around the Berkshires is dotted with roadside farm stands and the occasional covered bridge.
In nearby Cornwall, five miles south of Lime Rock, that peace was shattered last July when a freak tornado struck. Along a stretch of several miles of Route 4, trees were broken like so many matchsticks. To speed up the area's recovery from the devastation, town residents have begun a tree replanting program. A T-shirt purchased at the Cornwall General Store supports that cause.
The ride north to Tanglewood and into Massachusetts passes through Great Barrington, once a thriving mill town that drew the power for its looms from the Housatonic River. Less than 10 miles north of Great Barrington, Stockbridge may well strike a familiar chord. If so, it's probably because folk artist Norman Rockwell, who lived here for many years until his death in 1978, often used his neighbors as his models. The Norman Rockwell Museum on Main Street features more than 50 of the artist's works.
The Massachusetts Berkshires are home to several summer-long festivals of music, theater and dance. The Berkshire Playhouse in Stockbridge and the Williamstown Theater at Williams College, in the northwest corner of the state, have two of the better-known drama series. Ballet and modern dance are the focus at the Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival in Lee.
Tanglewood, though, remains the premier arts attraction of the Berkshires. With concerts by the Boston Symphony Orchestra as well as popular artists, Tanglewood is nearly synonymous with music in the mountains.
Driving in Lenox on a Sunday afternoon is nothing like the driving that goes on at Lime Rock Park. The small town quickly fills with Tanglewood-bound traffic and that last mile can go on for as long as some races. The congestion is quickly relieved, though, once you arrive at the grassy parking area. The journey ends on foot with everyone carrying a picnic basket or cooler toward the famous "shed" -- a semi-enclosed seating area for audience and orchestra. The lawn opens to picnickers at 10 a.m., and to be sure of a shady spot, it's wise to arrive no later than noon.
Then, when Seiji Ozawa or any other world-renowned conductor raises the baton at 2:30, your ears can take a well-deserved rest from the roar of Lime Rock with Mozart or Mahler.
LIME ROCK: Lime Rock Park lies on 325 acres in the Berkshire foothills of northwestern Connecticut. It is located off State Route 112 about three miles from U.S. Route 7, which runs north-south the length of western Connecticut until Norwalk, where it connects with Interstate 95.
Lime Rock hosts more than 10 major racing events from May until late September. Admission prices range from $10 to $60 depending on the event, length of stay and class of ticket. Advance purchases may be made by Visa or Mastercard by calling the track "hot line" at (203) 435-0896. For more information: Lime Rock Park, P.O. Box 111, Lakeville, Conn. 06039, (203) 435-2571.
TANGLEWOOD: Tanglewood, the summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, is located in Lenox, Mass., off State Route 7A, about an hour's drive north of Lime Rock on Route 7. Tanglewood's 1990 season runs June 29 through Sept. 2.
In addition to BSO performances led by Seiji Ozawa, music director, and internationally regarded conductors such as Andre Previn and Leonard Slatkin, Tanglewood also hosts a popular artist series throughout the summer. Tracy Chapman appears July 2; Peter, Paul and Mary perform July 4. A weekend of jazz from Aug. 31 to Sept. 2 includes concerts by Harry Connick Jr. and Miles Davis.
Tanglewood tickets may be ordered through Ticketmaster, 1-800-347-0808, or by mail from the Tanglewood Ticket Office, Tanglewood, Lenox, Mass. 01240. Prices range from $9 to $58. Lawn tickets may be purchased in advance only at the Tanglewood Box Office. At BSO performances, children under 12 receive free lawn tickets when accompanied by a parent. Children under 5 are not permitted in either the shed or theater during performances. For a schedule of Tanglewood events, call (617) 266-1492 or, during July and August, (413) 637-1600.
Christopher Kenneally is a Boston-based freelance journalist and television producer.