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Motorsports gets a home

By Jason Remilard

02/10/2008- The Republican


It's not quite like building a baseball diamond in a cornfield, but the Sports Car Club of America hopes its new Palmer Motorsports Park has the same "if you build it, they will come" effect.

For years, the members of the club's New England region have competed with other sports car organizations for track time at road courses such as Lime Rock Park in Lakeville, Conn., and New Hampshire International Speedway in Loudon, N.H. The cost of renting these venues has become steeper by the year, leading the club to a search for a home of its own.

Beginning in 2010, Palmer Motorsports Park will be that place.

Amateur road racers from around New England are expected to take their turns around the proposed 2.14-mile circuit off West Ware Road. The park recently was given final approval in December by the Palmer Planning Board, and developers expect to spend up to $10 million preparing the 658-acre site located on Whiskey Hill in the village of Thorndike.

"I'm thrilled. I think Palmer is going to be a great town to work with," said Richard E. Patullo, of Hampden, project director of NER Investments. "It's very centrally located for our New England membership."

The members of the Sports Car Club of America's New England group are true "weekend warriors" in every sense of the term. These are amateur racers who simply want to work on their cars and see what they can do on the track. The club attracts all levels of experience and skill.

"It's a hobby, and most people prepare their own cars, while some rent cars for ride-and-drive programs," Patullo said. "Sometimes our sport is a bit of a secret. People see the big races on TV, but they don't know how to get involved with it on a club level."

The cars aren't all the same, either.

Some are your everyday street cars with minimal modifications, while others are more exotic and resemble smaller open-wheel Indy cars.

"You can pretty much run in the car you drive to work," said Harold Denham, the head of the region's rallycross and road rally programs. "It's a fairly inexpensive sport, but you can go crazy on it."

Sports car racing is a true test of one's racing ability. There's a reason most of NASCAR's big guns dread the season's two road races. It's about more than turning left for 500 miles. A few right turns are required, and the terrain isn't always flat.

This course will be designed to resemble a winding country road. The track, which will be about 40 feet wide, will have its share of rolling hills. Drivers will often go from 120 mph in the straight-aways to 45 in the curves.

"It's fun because it's hard," said Patullo, who drives a Mazda when he races. "The variety of turns and the variety of speeds are what make it a challenge."