Lime Rock’s Unsung World War II Veteran – the Bailey Bridge
Lime Rock Park’s WWII Bailey Bridge is the only one in use in the United States
Racing fans at Lime Rock Park unwittingly experience a bit of World War II history each time they drive into the circuit infield.
Just past registration and the ticket booths, competitors and spectators alike make a right turn and drive over the track prior to the Downhill using a small bridge. Little do they know that this structure is a living relic from WWII.
Lime Rock’s roots go back to the mid-1950s. Jim Vaill and his friends would take turns sharing an MG-TC on unpaved roads during breaks working at a gravel pit owned by Jim’s father, Frank Vaill, who was a sweet corn and potato farmer. The younger Vaill looked at the sand and gravel business as a means to supplement their income. One day in 1955 Jim Vaill and a few friends sat around drinking beer and eating onion sandwiches during one of their “races,” when Briggs Cunningham and other prominent SCCA members stopped by to inspect the rumored race track.
Encouraged by the visit, Vaill brought the project to life, doing most of the work by himself and a few friends. Local Grand Prix driver John Fitch quickly became involved, along with Cornell engineer Bill Millikin, and the track gradually became a reality in 1956.
During the construction, Vaill (or one of his partners) purchased a Bailey bridge that was left over from the war. This “temporary” structure has been a fixture at Lime Rock Park ever since. While the details of the purchase and installation remain unclear, the ubiquitous structure became a permanent part of Lime Rock lore.
British engineer Sir Donald Bailey designed a temporary bridge in 1940 that could sustain the load of heavy tanks that could rapidly and manually be erected in wartime conditions. These bridges came into heavy use following D-Day, replacing structures that were destroyed by fleeing Axis forces during the invasion of Europe. Following the war, a left-over bridge found its way to Lime Rock, where it was utilized as a means of allowing vehicles and spectators to enter the infield while cars were on course.
The bridge has been in continuous use ever since the track’s official opening on April 20, 1957. It was moved to new, raised supports prior to the 2008 season, but remains in service. This is believed to be the only Bailey bridge from the WWII era remaining in active service in the United States.