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Historics: Lime Rock's Murray Smith speaks at Watkins Glen racing center

Historics: Lime Rock's Murray Smith speaks at Watkins Glen racing center
Historics: Lime Rock's Murray Smith speaks at Watkins Glen racing centerConnie Ann Kirk.

Murray Smith, organizer of Lime Rock Park's Historic Festival of historic and vintage car racing and Sunday in the Park concours d'elegance, spoke at the International Motor Racing Research Center (IMRRC) in Watkins Glen, N.Y. on Saturday, June 21. Smith's appearance was part of the IMRRC's "Conversation" series that runs approximately once a month throughout the year.

After a welcome by IMRRC President J. C. Argetsinger, Larry Kessler introduced Smith. A friend of Smith's, Kessler is a member of the IMRRC Governing Council, a regional entrepreneur, and a historic/vintage racer himself. In his introduction, Kessler mentioned that Smith is the "go-to guy if you want to get things done" in regard to historic/vintage racing in the U.S.. He "is a stickler for authenticity in his cars," Kessler said, suggesting that the Lime Rock Park Historic Festival is all the better for Smith's attention to detail.

Murray Smith chose to stay seated in a chair placed on the floor down in front of the stage and chat with the audience from notes he had prepared. He also showed framed pictures of cars he had driven over the years and told stories about his adventures in them, switching the pictures by getting up and placing or removing them from easels set up beside him.

"I like Watkins Glen a lot," he began but explained right away that he "didn't have a racing career," by which he meant a professional career in the sport. Even so, Smith has raced historic/vintage cars for many years, and many of the cars he has competed in have notable histories that he talked about later in his remarks.

As the organizer of the Lime Rock Park Historic Festival, he gave the audience some insights into that event which is held each year over Labor Day weekend. "It's a five-day affair," Smith said, describing what car owners and racers can expect each day from Thursday through Labor Day Monday.

After three days of practice or racing or other activities, for example, he said, "Saturday night, everyone gets lost in the countryside." With Lime Rock Park located in the scenic Connecticut Berkshires, getting "lost in the countryside" -- presumably meaning getting dinner on one's own or otherwise having a free evening to visit with friends or explore -- getting lost in that countryside could be a rather pleasant affair unless one really did get turned about a little, which is not impossible to do on the back roads of New England.

On Sunday, Lime Rock puts on the Sunday in the Park Concours and Gathering of the Marques. This is a concours d'elegance (fine car show) of notable and valuable automobiles and race cars. Smith said this year the track will feature about 230 invited cars for the concours. About 700 of the featured marque/s gather around the rest of the track for spectators to take in and enjoy.

This year, Sir Stirling Moss and Lady Susie Moss will be the honored guests at the Festival and Ralph Lauren will be the honored car collector. About these guests, Smith noted that Sir Stirling is "very, very nice" and "obliging," and that he believes him to be the "best all-round [racer] who ever lived."

He believes Moss's accomplishment of the famed endurance race, the Mille Miglia, doing the 1000-mile course in about 10 hours at an average speed of about 99 mph, "ranks with the four-minute mile" and other landmark achievements in the world of sport.

About Ralph Lauren, Smith commented, "He is really keen on cars." Typically, Lauren will send one example from his car collection to a concours, Smith said, but Lime Rock will feature five of them at the Historic Festival 32 this fall.

Smith expressed concern about historic racing in the United States, primarily due to the vast difference in cars racing together at many events around the country; he also does not like the lack of authenticity in some of the cars. "The groups are insane," he said. "Half the cars are not what they say they are." He is troubled that "someone will be killed" with the wide discrepancies in years and other differences among the cars that are frequently racing around out on tracks together.

After showing pictures of cars he raced over the years and telling stories of each, Smith took questions from the audience. He has had experiences racing with several famed professionals in his rounds on the historic circuit and has had the opportunity to meet many legends in the sport.

He described Phil Hill, for example, as "one of the nicest people in racing," and Tony Brooks as perhaps "the most underestimated grand prix driver of all time." One of the reasons he likes Brooks's book, he said, is "because he wrote it himself." Other racers he has met or competed with and spoke about on Saturday included Dan Gurney, Derek Bell, and Mark Donohue.

Over his years in racing, Smith has competed on many of the world's most renowned racing circuits and in some of the most lauded historic race events offered around the globe such as at Goodwood and the Monaco Grand Prix Historique. Cars he has competed in are many and varied and include some of the most recognized names in the sport -- Brabham, Porsche, Lotus, Eagle, GTO, and more.

Enthusiastic about the sport, as so many historic/vintage owners and racers are, Murray Smith concluded the program on the sunny June afternoon by saying, "I haven't lost my passion."