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by robert cocuzzo | September 29, 2014 | Lifestyle
Getting up to speed in the exotic, sexy, wide world of New England Auto Racing.
A procession of supercars at the Tributo Ferrari Rally.
Two hundred fourteen miles south of Boston, 48 Ferraris are lined up outside the Ritz-Carlton in Manhattan’s Battery Park in a dazzling display that stops people in their tracks. Pedestrians rush to pull out their cell phones and snap photos, as if they had just spotted a celebrity on the streets. An elderly woman flashes a thumbs-up, while a policeman tips his cap back and sighs, “Wouldya look at that.”
Indeed, these supercars are a sight to behold, prompting the sensory overload of a fashion show finale when the models strut out in rapid-fire succession, each more beautiful than the last. This is the Tributo Ferrari Rally, an exclusive gathering of exotic Ferraris and their owners, this year commemorating the 60th anniversary of Ferrari USA with an epic drive through the heart of New York City.
There are about 600 Ferrari owners in New England, and somehow I got the invite—but I don’t even own one. I’m a journalist who’s been loaned a $300,000 Ferrari along with the keys to this inner sanctum—what they affectionately call the “Ferrari family.” I want to know, who are these people anyway? Masters of the universe? Old money? Are they racers? Sunday drivers? Is there an exotic car racing clan in my hometown of Boston?
A high-performance BMW rips around the track at Turner Motorsport, one of the meccas for speed freaks in New England.
All of the above. Just ask Will Turner, who knows the lure of seductive grilles and the track better than most in Massachusetts. “Once you realize that performance driving on the street can get you in trouble, the track is logically the next step to push your car to the limits,” he says. “Once someone gets onto the track, they’re hooked. Next comes the competition involved in racing.” After driving in his first amateur race at the age of 25, Turner sped on to the professional circuit, driving high performance BMWs in 119 road races and taking 50 checkered flags as driver or owner. Twenty years later, he owns Turner Motorsport (16 S. Hunt Road, Amesbury, 800-280-6966), based in Amesbury, and his BMW privateer team is one of the best in the world. “It’s the whole package that pulls amateur drivers onto the track: a combination of speed, pushing the limits, competition, exhilaration, and intensity,” Turner says. “There is just nothing that compares to the feeling you get behind the wheel of a racecar.”
I understand what he’s talking about as I take the corner at 43rd and Broadway and watch Times Square open up across my windshield. Cops line the streets, holding back traffic and pedestrians. They wave me through. I drop my foot on the gas and the acceleration pushes my eyeballs back into their sockets. The lights of Times Square streak across the windows. This wasn’t on my bucket list, but going 60 miles per hour through the heart of New York City in a $300,000 Ferrari was worth adding after the fact. We’re not in Cambridge anymore.
After 20 years as a professional racecar driver, Will Turner founded Turner Motorsport in Amesbury, where amateurs can test their mettle on the track.
My mind starts to wander and I begin to visualize myself as part of this world, parading my wheels up and down Newbury Street like Miss Massachusetts. What makes Ferraris so exclusive is not necessarily their exorbitant price tag. You can’t just show up at a Ferrari dealership with bags full of Benjamins and pick any car off the lot. You must first develop a relationship with the company. If you’re deemed a loyal and good representative of the brand, Ferrari will allow you to buy an entry level model. This car must remain in your possession for at least two years in order for you to purchase the next step up. If you sell the car within two years, you’re out of the Ferrari family for life.
But you could still be a member of the Pilota Race Team (Independent Ferrari Service, 14 Bristol Dr., Unit F, South Easton, 508-238-4224). John Tirrell of Independent Ferrari Service manages this group of CEOs and other professionals, who hit racetracks around the country on the weekends. With the team handling all the logistics of transporting and servicing the cars, racers only have to show up at the track with their helmets and jumpsuits. While most of the gentleman racers of Team Pilota own their racecars, it is not required to join the team. And $250 buys you a spot for the year; Tirrell handles the rest.
Sign up with the Motorsport Lab at New Hampshire Motor Speedway and feel what it’s like to whip around the track in this Ferrari.
New England has several other tracks within a reasonable drive from Boston. Three hours west of the city is Lime Rock Park (Lime Rock Park, 60 White Hollow Road, Lakeville, CT, 860-435-5000), a historic road course in Connecticut owned by race icon Skip Barber. After picking up racing while at Harvard in the late ’50s, Barber became a Formula One champion. He then went on to start a renowned race school with his name on it, which you can attend at Lime Rock’s 1.5-mile road course. An hour north of Boston is New Hampshire Motor Speedway, a regular host of Nascar races and the largest sports facility in New England. Sign up with The Motorsport Lab (1122 Rte. 106, Loudon, NH, 617-383-7655) and you can whip around the speedway in a Ferrari F430 and feel the force of 503 horses in full gallop. Finally, there’s Thompson Motor Speedway (205 E. Thompson Road, Thompson, CT, 860-923-2280), which recently opened a 1.7-mile road course that you can drive your own car on. To take it up a notch, Thompson’s High Performance Driving School can put anyone behind the wheel of a racecar. Going pro as a supercar driver, however, requires more than just a lesson or two. It’s a lifestyle—and an expensive one at that.
R.J. Valentine made a fortune as the head of Jiffy Lube before launching his successful racing career.
“There are a couple ways to go about racing,” says R.J. Valentine, a legend in the New England race scene. “One of the ways is you go out there and become a racecar driver, but that costs a lot of money and takes a lot of time. So what I decided to do is make it in business first and make enough money to start my career in racing.” Since 1969, Valentine has built an empire of successful companies, including Jiffy Lube, which he sold to Pennzoil for a staggering 18 times its earnings. After the sale, he convinced Pennzoil to sponsor him as a racer. Since then, he has raced virtually every kind of car on tracks around the globe, even winning the grueling Daytona 24 in 2009, a 24-hour endurance race widely considered one of the most challenging of its kind. “That took me 26 years to do,” Valentine says. “It’s like trying to win two Super Bowls on the same Sunday.” Among his many ventures, he opened F1 Boston (290 Wood Road, Braintree, 781-848-2300), a European-style go-kart racing track. “You can’t tell people how it feels to race; you have to show them,” Valentine says. With F1 Boston, he’s giving people that chance.
One of the classic Ferraris in the Tributo Ferrari Rally.
One such person is Kaz Grala, a 15-year-old racing prodigy who got his start driving go-karts at Valentine’s F1 Boston at the age of 4. Today he’s screaming up the ranks in Nascar, currently racing in his rookie season in the K&N Pro Series East, with six consecutive top-10 finishes and a handful of top-fives—this from a kid who can’t legally drive himself to the track. Racing is in Grala’s blood. His father, Darius, raced sports cars in the Ferrari Challenge and Grand-Am Series but never on the oval Nascar course. “If you’re born knowing how to race and how to drive, then that’s something you can teach to people no matter what kind of track they’re on,” Grala says of his dad’s influence on his racing. “It’s kind of like riding a bike: You don’t need to know the person’s street to teach them how to ride.” Last January, Grala got the chance to test his stuff in a sports car like his dad, racing a BMW for Rum Bum Racing in the Continental Tire Sportscar Challenge. He topped out at 180 miles per hour. “I feel like racing in New England is not as common as it is in some other parts of the country, and other sports are a lot more prominent,” Grala says. “However, the racing fans in New England seem to be die-hard fans. So there might not be as many fans, but I definitely think it’s as strong in New England as it is anywhere as far as passion for the sport.”
But back to me and my adventure at the Ferrari rally. Rain was starting to fall from the heavens, splashing on the hood of my supercar. The droplets beaded up and spilled across its freshly waxed curves, dripping down the grilles, running off the wheels, and pooling on the pavement. Rain never had it so good. Neither had I. Pressing down on the pedal to accelerate, the engine roared, and I smiled.
photography by halston pitman; Kevin Sennett (MotorSport Lab); JoSh SiMpSon (tributo); yasuyuki suzuki (turner); greg Clark/lime roCk park (lime roCk); Joshua simpson (tributo); Courtesy of ferrari spa (shoes)