April 22, 2018
Getting Racey in Vermont
It has been a couple of years since I have been able to visit Vermont Sports Cars in Colchester, Vermont. While visiting grandchildren in Huntington I took the time to drive only 30 minutes away to one of my favorite race shops.
For those of you who may be:
1) Shocked that the “green” State of Vermont has anything to do with racing
2) Unaware of Vermont Sports Car and what they do
Vermont is home to several great race tracks, including Thunder Road, located in Barre, Bear Ridge Speedway in Bradford, and Devil’s Bowl Speedway in Fair Haven. Each of those stock car tracks seem to be doing quite well.
Some of you know I have visited Thunder Road and marveled at the tremendous crowds they get on THURSDAY NIGHTS!
I, like you, may have never known that Vermont Sports Cars existed until I went to the Mount Washington Hillclimb several years ago noticing the exceptionally well prepared Subarus from the “Green Mountain State”.
When my daughter moved to Vermont as a Navigator missionary to the University of Vermont, Burlington in 2010, I looked into visiting the rally car shop owned by Lance Smith. Back then they prepared customer cars and had their rally cars working out of a nondescript shop in an industrial park just off Interstate 89.
Since my initial visit, I have had the opportunity to visit three more times. A couple of those visits were chronicled in previous episodes.
My tour guide, Matt Waddell, Design Engineer, and Union College graduate gave me a great tour which started with the rally cross part of the shop. Technician Matt showed me the work he and others had put into the preparation of three rally cross WRX STI which will contest for wins in the new Americas Rally Cross (ARX). Matt mentioned the team were working to finish the fourth car which will be a spare.
From the rally cross prep room we moved to the chassis fabrication area. Here wrecked WRX are completely stripped to the bare skin with all body filler and sound insulation ground off. Subaru does not have a body-in-white program that other manufacturers make available to fabricators.
Once stripped the body is attached to the fabrication jig which is custom designed for rally car fabrication or rally cross build up. Beautiful welds abounded in the roll cage and strengthening braces. It was easy to see their welders were highly competent.
From chassis fab we moved on to the busiest shop in the building, composites. While in composites area, I spoke to Nick, Simon, Tom, and Alex about their jobs working for one of the most famous rally racing shops in the world.
Almost to a man they replied that they did not know such a place existed until they were told about it or looked for a job in the greater Burlington area. Only one person grew up thinking he would be working for this race team.
All composite team members credited founder Lance Smith’s brother Wee Gee Smith with the incredible set-up and building techniques used to make some rather complex parts. He ranks up there with some of the most ingenious composite free-thinkers in the world according to his crew.
After seeing how they lay-up some of the parts, I asked what was their most common replacement part. The reply was right hand side door skins on rally cross cars. Hmmmmm…
From composites we ventured into the engine building room which was new since my last visit. Engine builders were working on cylinder head flow, assembly, and engine systems workup. They now have in-house engine dyno as well as a four-wheel drive chassis dyno.
Situated next to the engine room is the rally car preparation area. The two rally cars were long gone having been trucked to Oregon for the Oregon Trail Rally which was only three days away when I was visiting.
The Oregon Trail Rally was won by Vermont Sports Cars Rally Team Subaru USA driver David Higgins with Craig Drew doing his navigation. In second was another Subaru WRX driven by Jeff Seehorn and co-driver Karen Jankowski. Third was Ken Block and co-driver Alex Gelsomino in a vintage classic Ford Escort RS Cosworth built to World Rally Competition (WRC) specs in the early 1990’s.
Block will be at the New England Forest Rally at Sunday River July 20 & 21 along with some local Maine racers including Bangor’s John Cassidy with his Last Ditch Racing Subaru team.
Situated next to the rally team prep portion of Vermont Sports Car’s race shop is the parts room. Shelves and shelves of parts needed to keep five Subaru race cars running at the top of the standings can be daunting. Managing that task is Dave who keeps the haulers full of the parts needed at the far reaches of the US and Canada.
Matt showed me the plans for the team’s new 60,000 square foot race shop which was having the finishing touches done prior to a projected move in June. The shop is located in Milton, Vermont, one exit north of the team’s current location. It is even closer to Interstate 89 than their current location.
Of course I ventured north to see if I could find the new shop and get a few exterior photos.
My Vermont Sports Car tour guide, Matt Waddell shared a story of a cross-country adventure he and a few friends undertook before settling down to steady jobs. I asked Matt to write his story down so that I might be able to share it with you in a future episode. It is a funny story of muscle cars and “a wing and a prayer philosophy”.
Restoration Performance Motorcars (RPM) in Vergennes, Vermont
When I called RPM owner Peter Markowski to schedule a tour he asked that I arrive around three pm since he had to deliver a car that day. I made my across the back roads of Vermont until I arrived a the shops which were converted barns, the latest constructed in 1986.
To the casual observer driving by the place looked like a well-kept farm unless one of their restored Ferrari, Porsche, Lamborghini, or Alfa Romeo’s was parked outside. On this day the Ferrari was the lone car outside, getting tuned for return to the owner.
Venturing inside, I talked to owner Peter Markowski about what I would like to see today and asked him a few questions.
I wanted to know if he knew where his first car, Ferrari Barchetta number 0030, that he bought from a neighbor for $500 was today. Peter said he has kept track of the car and knows where it is located though I fail to remember if he told me where.
The Road & Track magazine article he read when he was 10 years old about the Barchetta is what Markowski credited with the beginnings of his love for sports cars.
It certainly can be a small world in the motorsports community. While talking with Garrett Holler about some of the projects he is working on I mentioned that I had just come from Vermont Sports Car’s race shop. It turns out that his fiance, Heather Hershkowitz was the first female race technician on the Subaru Rally Team.
After her year at Vermont Sports Car she worked for DirtFish Racing as a freelance race prep specialist getting their rally cars ready for races and doing between stage race repair. This involved less time on the road. She currently is a service writer for Burlington Subaru.
Hershkowitz and Holler plan to get married in 2019 at DirtFish’s headquarters in Snoqualmie, Washington.
I will be following a story from RPM about the winning car from the 1939 Mille Miglia which was not run in Italy that year due to the war. The race was run in North Africa. Look for more about this car and others in future episodes.
Mega Meltdown crew recognized at awards ceremony
Next week I will be including a race report from WAR in the CARS debut, hear from Marcia Barker and her 1915 Ford Speedster, plus more. To finish out this week’s episode is this video of Mike Chasse and the unveiling of Ripchair at Howe & Howe Technologies in Waterboro. The video is courtesy NEWS CENTER Maine, reporter Rob Nesbitt.
Let’s go racing,
Soli Deo Gloria