MG played key role in development of American sports car racing – and Lime Rock Park
Over Labor Day weekend, a new generation of motorsports enthusiasts will get to relive sports car racing’s formative years at Lime Rock Park during the Historic Festival 41 (Aug. 31-Sept. 4).
The traditional Labor Day event weekend will feature a huge range of activities for fans, including a special race group as part of the competition line up for the weekend.
As the featured race group, MG will celebrate its centennial anniversary at the historic Connecticut circuit with more than 50 vintage MG examples slated to participate during the five-day event.
It is an appropriate featured race group, as through the years MG has played a major role in the development of sports car racing in the United States – including Lime Rock Park.
Back in the 1930s, young sportsmen – including brothers Barron, Sam and Miles Collier – raced MGs on the roads of their country estates. These impromptu escapades began with karts but that changed after Barron was given an MG-J2. The competition evolved into the short-lived Automobile Racing Club of America, that was formed to stage the races. Miles Collier even raced an MG PA/PB at Le Mans in 1939, representing ARCA on the international stage.
The Colliers – among many of the Greatest Generation – traveled to Europe in the Forties for World War II. In the ensuing peacetime, many of them had the opportunity to experience the cars and competition in many of the European countries. Some purchased MGs and had the cars shipped back home; Sam Collier became the U.S. importer of MGs.
After the war, Cornell law student Cameron Argetsinger drove his MG at speed on rural roads around his parents’ summer home in Watkins Glen, N.Y. Dreaming of becoming a Grand Prix driver, Argetsinger put together his own 6.6-mile circuit and convinced the fledgling Sports Car Club of America to back his inaugural Grand Prix. On Oct. 2, 1948, Argetsinger and both Colliers drove MGs in the first sports car race following WWII, with MGs taking eight of the top-10 positions in the feature event. The Glen hosted competition on that original circuit through 1952, before moving to a more rural area to build on that tradition that continues to this day.
The creation of Lime Rock Park has similar roots – and it’s also centered around an MG.
According to Rich Taylor, in ‘Lime Rock Park: 35 Years of Racing‘, Jim Vaill operated a sand and gravel company on land owned by his father in Lime Rock. Jim and two friends would spend Sunday afternoons driving an MG-TC around a paved loop (in the current Infield C parking area), pretending they were racing drivers. One day in the spring of 1955 they were relaxing, drinking beer and eating onion sandwiches, when a group of SCCA members showed up to see the “race track.” That group included famed sportsman Briggs Cunningham and other prominent drivers of that era.
“It had never entered my mind before then, but I decided maybe that was a good idea,” Jim Vaill was quoted in Taylor’s book.
Vaill partnered with retired racer John Fitch on the project. It took two years, but Lime Rock Park debuted on April 27-28. One of the very first races on the nine-event program put on by the SCCA New England Region was an all-MG event, won by Skip Callahan in an MG-TD. In 1959, Sherm Decker made his Lime Rock debut in an MGA Twin-Cam that remains active to this day in vintage racing.
The popular MG TB, TD and TF models evolved into the MGA, MGB and MG Midget, and continued to play a role in the formation of aspiring drivers. However, the more successful Grand Prix hopefuls moved on to the more powerful (and more expensive!) cars such as the Jaguar, Mercedes-Benz, Allard and Corvette. Throughout the years, the MG enjoyed a prominent niche in the sports car paddock, often having its own class in SCCA Regional and National competition. With the advent of vintage racing, the MG continues to play a key role in the sport.
Lime Rock Park invites fans to sit back and watch as motorsport’s history comes to life. For more information and tickets to the Historic Festival 41, visit: https://limerock.com/events/historic-festival-41/