Snow Helped Leitzinger to Lime Rock NASCAR Victory
While snow is quite common during the winter months in the Berkshire Hills, fans at Lime Rock Park may be surprised that an early winter storm played a key role in determining the winner of a NASCAR event.
Back in 1995, rain and snow both played a role in determining the winner of the Burnham Boilers/Dodge Dealers NASCAR 200 at the circuit. The NASCAR Busch North finale that took three weekends to complete thanks to repeated intervention from Mother Nature.
Butch Leitzinger, 27-year-old son of 1989 IMSA GTU champion Bob and motorsports artist Sandra Leitzinger, was already known as one of NASCAR’s leading road course “ringers.” He won Busch North races at Watkins Glen and Lime Rock in 1994, and had even run a pair of Winston Cup races at The Glen, finishing 12th in 1995. So, it was no surprise when he was fastest in both practice sessions before dropping a valve that forced him to miss qualifying. With no spare engine, the team borrowed a powerplant from Dave Dion that would allow them to run in Saturday morning’s qualifying race. Compounding their problems was when Leitzinger arrived at the track for the drivers’ meeting, he learned that the meeting for the qualifying race was already over.
That put him to the back of the 20-odd car field. After the green flag, the rising sports car star was given a rude lesson in roundy-round driving where “rubbing is racing.” After being bumped out of the way a few times, Leitzinger adjusted his driving style and began bumping and banging his way back through the field. He took second on the final lap, earning a transfer spot to start at the back of the field for the main event.
That was a Pyrrhic victory, though. The car was a battered mess, with virtually all of the sheet metal torn up. With only a short time before the start, there was no way he would be allowed to run in the feature. Then, Mother Nature intervened. Rain began falling, forcing the race to be postponed until two weeks later. The Leitzinger team hauled the wrecked Thunderbird back to State College, Pa. While they were able to replace the torn bodywork, a scarcity of parts for their Ford engine sent the team scrambling. It seemed doubtful that the car would be ready in two weeks.
Nature again stepped in, in the form of a snowstorm. Rather than see competitors haul their cars to Connecticut only to see another postponement, the event was rescheduled another week to November 4.
This time, Leitzinger and his team were ready, and the white Ford took the 36th place on the grid for the 83-lap contest on the 1.53-mile circuit.
Leitzinger worked his way through the pack, and stayed out to take the lead on lap 28 as the front-runners pitted. Leitzinger caught a caution and went to the pits on lap 31, only to find them closed. That put him back to his now-familiar place at the back of the field. Again, he fought his way back through a field that included Mike Stefanik, Dave Dion, Jeff Spraker, Joe Bessy, Martin Truex (Sr.) and Andy Santerre. The Pennsylvanian regained the lead on lap 64 and paced the final 20 circuits, beating Jerry Marquis and Kim Baker to the checkered flag.
Butch remains semi-active coaching and driving in vintage racing. He’s won championships and many races over his career – but few of them can match the drama leading up to that 1995 weekend, when snow worked in his favor and helped to a checkered flag at Lime Rock Park.