Driving Schools – Spring 2016: New Jersey, Auto Racing, the NJ Chapter, and Club Racing — What’s the Connection?


By Jeff White and Ross Karlin

You are all familiar with the historical logo of the NJ Chapter – an “nj” within the outline of the trademark BMW kidney grill. This logo adorns this newsletter, the chapter website and the front of our driving event t-shirts, among other things. What you may not know is that several years ago we were mandated from National to have an “official” logo that contains the BMW corporate roundel and has very specific dimensions and typeface (very Germanic – dictated by BMW AG). Board member David Allaway developed the design that was adopted by the Board and it is shown here (the color version is red, blue and black checkers).

So, you may ask: what does a checkered flag have to do with NJ? Well, I’m glad you asked. In fact, that checkered flag reflects the history of both the NJ Chapter and the history of auto racing in the US, a history in which NJ played a significant role. Those of you with a longer memory may recall that the NJ Chapter was the first BMW CCA chapter to hold a driver school. The date was June 14, 1974, the venue was Lime Rock Park in CT and the registration fee was $15!

The founders of the driver school program were Scott and Fran Hughes – NJ Chapter members. As I’ve written before, a concern at the time was whether the screaming 100+hp 2002’s with their high cornering speeds would break the mounting bead on the tires so everyone had to run with tubes in their tires! Instructors were gathered from club members who held SCCA racing licenses. Instructors were not assigned but flag stations were. Yes, students had to man the flag stations but with only two flags, red and green. Now, fast-forward 21 years, Scott and Fran once again are innovators and start BMW CCA Club Racing. The NJ Chapter begins hosting a club race in 1996 at Lime Rock, then adds a second race at Summit Point in 1997. Now fast forward to June 2016 and the NJ Chapter has hosted 174 track events plus the 2015 Oktoberfest, comprising 279 total track days and 41 club races over 82 of those days. Clearly, the checkered flag is an appropriate logo for our chapter.

Now let’s roll history back a bit. How does New Jersey figure into the history of auto racing in the US? As the late, great Phil Rizutto would say, holy cow you ask good questions. Auto racing in NJ began in 1900 at Trenton Speedway in Hamilton. The genesis was that NJ was home to a large number of horse racing tracks. Betting on horse races was made illegal in the 1890’s but when autos came on the scene, these tracks became the perfect place to hold a car race. Over the years NJ was home to 75 different race tracks including the aforementioned Trenton Speedway that hosted races until 1972 including NASCAR races won by Bobby Allison, Richard Petty and David Pearson, Ho-Ho-Kus Speedway where Chris Economaki learned to love racing, Union Speedway was a half-mile oval track on the edge of Farcher’s Grove (another NJ Chapter connection as we once held monthly meetings at Farcher’s Grove Restaurant), Morristown Speedway where Lee Petty won, Flemington Fair Speedway which was in operation from 1917-2000, Old Bridge Stadium was another NASCAR venue where Junior Johnson, Lee Petty and Fireball Roberts won races, Wall Township where Ray Evernham and Martin Truex, Jr. learned to race, Vineland Speedway, a 1.5 mile road course where Mark Donohue and Roger Penske raced (you might recognize the racer/actor in the photo from Vineland), the Meadowlands where Indy cars raced from 1984-1991 with Mario Andretti, Danny Sullivan and Bobby Rahal among the winners and, of course, NJMP where Grand Am/ALMS raced.

For anyone who wants to read more about the history of auto racing in NJ, the following websites have terrific information and old photos, including tracks with a racing surface constructed with boards set edgewise into dirt:

Let’s cycle back to Club Racing. This year we are holding our two traditional club races at NJMP and Summit Point. On June 6-7 we will hold our 20th anniversary Club Race and Driver School event. As we have done for the past 19 years, this event is to benefit The Westlake School – please see the photo elsewhere in this issue of our presentation to the Westlake Board of the chapter’s donation. This year we also welcome Flemington BMW as our event sponsor. This is a fantastic spectator event that is an easy drive for our members to take during the day, come down and watch some racing. On Monday you can stay for the banquet and auction or come on Tuesday and experience the joy of the visiting Westlake students; here’s a picture from a Lime Rock event as we take the kids out for a few parade laps. If you make the trip to the track we can even get you a ride with an instructor. This is how I was introduced to track driving; a few laps with Wade Wilson driving his E30 M3 at Lime Rock and I was hooked.

On July 23-24 we have our 18th annual race and school at Summit Point on the Main Track with this year being the 3rd Annual Geoff Atkinson Memorial event. Geoff was the epitome of everything that is great about driving events and the members who participate; Geoff was always willing to lend a hand to a driver or racer in need, a tremendous instructor who could get an immediate feel for both you and your car and give you those nuggets of help to make you better and he was a terrific racer (that’s him leading in the photo). I realize that WV is a long drive as a spectator but for any of you who have never driven Summit Point, you really need to make the trip down. The track is fantastically fun to drive and we have a Sat. eve BBQ at the track.

Sharp-eyed readers, or at least those of you who have not dozed off by this point, may have noticed the several references to NASCAR racing in NJ and wondered what that had to do with Club Racing and its checkered flag logo. That brings us full circle (pun intended) because for the first time, we will be hosting a 3rd Club Race. This time we are running as the support series to the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East event at NJMP on Thunderbolt on Sep. 16-17! We have the opportunity to be part of a true professional race event. The NASCAR K&N Pro Series, which includes the East and the West, is the top step in NASCAR’s developmental ladder before drivers progress to the three national series. NASCAR K&N Pro Series veterans include 2011 Daytona 500 champion Trevor Bayne, 2015 Daytona 500 champion Joey Logano, and 2014 NASCAR XFINITY Series champion Chase Elliott, along with Ryan Blaney, Austin and Ty Dillon, Kyle Larson, Ryan Truex, Darrell Wallace Jr., and others. We will have Club Racing on Friday afternoon and twice on Saturday. We are also planning a BMW CCA corral and coordinating with NJMP to make the VIP spectator package available to our spectators (includes special viewing area, designated parking, BBQ and beverages all day on Saturday, private racer autograph session, swag bag and commemorative lanyard and ticket). This will be a terrific event and should not be missed.

Well, there you have it. Auto racing history, New Jersey, NASCAR, Club Racing and checkered flag logos all tied together like a group of contacts on Linkedin. We look forward to seeing you at the track, we know you’ll have fun if you come.

Related Articles - Driver's School