Home-Town Hero’s--Who can stake that claim?
Next weekend’s American Le Mans Series Northeast Grand Prix at Lime Rock Park will not only see an international battle with manufactures fighting for supremacy as Audi, Porsche, Mazda, and Acura duke it out on the freshly paved Lime Rock Park track, but it will also see a fight that’s a lot closer to home.
Two local teams, Dyson Racing and Patrón Highcroft Racing, are looking to defend their honor on a track that both call their home. Dyson is based in nearby Poughkeepsie, New York, while Patrón Highcroft is based just south of Lime Rock Park in Danbury, Connecticut.
Both teams fight in the LMP2 class of American Le Mans Series competition and while one team, Dyson Racing, is celebrating 25 years of professional competition at Lime Rock Park, Patrón Highcroft might have their own secret weapon - a driver who has been coming to Lime Rock Park for as long as he can remember.
Dyson campaigns the Porsche RS Spyder, which won the 2007 event with Penske Racing while Patrón Highcroft, which won the Long Beach Grand Prix earlier this season, has the Acura ARX-01b.
Dyson will post two entries for the race, with Chris Dyson sharing the driving duties with Marino Franchitti while the second Porsche is piloted by Guy Smith and Butch Leitzinger. Patron Highcroft will feature just one machine, with former Formula 1 driver David Brabham being joined by Lime Rock Park native son Scott Sharp, son of Lime Rock Park Legend Bob Sharp.
“Lime Rock is ingrained as part of my childhood landscape,” said Sharp. “My earliest memories are of sitting on the hill above the track with my sister and mother, watching my dad race. It was my ‘home away from home,’ for sure, and helped grow my love of the sport. Last time I competed at this track was in the Trans-Am series in 1993. I can’t believe it’s been 15 years!”
Sharp attended the Skip Barber Driving School at Lime Rock when he was 17. He started practicing in his first race car in the fall of 1985, a Datsun 280z, which was the car he started to race professionally the next year in the SCCA. Sharp won the race at Lime Rock that year and went on to win the national championship.
“It’s ironic how everything has come full-circle.” Sharp mused, about joining the only ALMS team headquartered in Connecticut. “Growing up, my dad’s shop was on South Street in Danbury, which is a stone’s throw from the Patrón Highcroft shop. I spent many days at my dad’s shop after school, trying to help out. It wasn’t until I came to the Patrón Highcroft shop for the first time that I realized that there are a couple of guys who worked for my dad who both work in this team’s gearbox department. I raced against another team member in the Sports 2000 Series in the 1980s. I remembered them all and they remembered me from when I was just a kid. Being from Connecticut and having so many local guys on the team, I felt comfortable immediately.”
And for Dyson, they will look to make the most of their extensive experience to bring home the best results possible.
Twenty-five years ago, Rob Dyson, owner of Dyson Racing, raced a 1983 Firebird at the IMSA Coca-Cola Three Hours of Lime Rock Park. Of the thirty-seven cars entered in that race, there is only one team still racing today: Dyson Racing. The upcoming American Le Mans Northeast Grand Prix at Lime Rock Park on 12 July marks their celebration of twenty-five years in professional motorsports. It is a silver anniversary built on success at the highest levels: sixty-one victories, one hundred-sixty five podiums and seventeen championships.
“When we first started twenty-five years ago, we had five guys and one car and now we have a compliment of twenty-five at the track,” reminisces Rob Dyson. “We had one small thirty foot truck and now we have two forty-three foot trucks. I think the biggest thing I take away from the past twenty-five years is that you’ve got to keep working at it and eventually with the right talent and the right bunch of guys behind you, you can succeed in this sport. It takes a lot of effort and a lot of heart. Racing is a very emotionally and physically demanding sport. It’s the type of sport that demands so much of you that you just have to step up to it. I think that’s the biggest thing I’ve learned over the years.”
As the competition gets tighter, both Dyson Racing and Patrón Highcroft Racing truly are fighting to stake their claim as the home-town hero.