Parking Lots Revisited

It has been such a mild winter in New England that the Cars and Coffee program has been off to a slow start. Last year it seemed that there were gatherings any weekend that the weather would permit. This year winter seemed to be absent except for a couple of cold weekends, the roads stayed clear and that let people get their P cars out more than most years. The need, the need for speed, was satisfied almost every weekend. It wasn’t necessary to call a Cars and Coffee to get our toys out of the garage.

We finally had the first PCA C & C in Rhode Island last Sunday, put together by Roger and Rosemary Slocum at the Longplex Sports Complex in Tiverton. We had over 50 cars show up on a cold and windy day. That tells me that people like to drive their cars around but they also like to meet with other members.

Where else can you show off a new ride (Larry) to folks that would understand? There was talk of new tires and computer chips, paint treatment and rear spoilers. All in all a good time to be a car club member. We met in a large paved parking lot because the grass area at Sweet Berry Farm is still too soft to walk on, let alone drive 50 cars onto but that’s coming soon.

Cars and Coffee gatherings are quick and easy to do compared to all day events like an autocross. Let’s hope that they grow and continue for years to come. That reminded me of all the places that we have gathered over the years that are no longer available for a variety of reasons.

When I first arrived in New England back in the ‘70’s autocrosses were set up and run in shopping center parking lots. The Blue Laws were in effect and stores were always closed on Sunday. Shoppers World on Rt 9 in Natick was very popular with the SCCA crowd and PCA ran there too. Opened in 1951 as the 7th Wonder of New England it was the largest outdoor Mall anywhere.  Closed in 1994 it was transformed into an indoor Mall.

 Another large parking lot was at the Burlington Mall. We even ran a autocross there on a Sat night under the lights in a lot next to Rt3A that we could block off with pylons to keep shoppers out. A couple did get in anyway and that was exciting.

There was better security at the Auburn Mall and we ran there with SCCA for a number of years but relaxing the Blue Laws in 1983 put an end to that lot too.  

 Another very large lot was the Bayside Expo Center in South Boston. The only problem there was drainage. If it rained hard, what looked like lakes formed in the middle. I once took FTD in my 914 in a rainstorm that saw 4” of water in the middle of the course. A win is a win.  The same drainage problem plagued the Seabrook Greyhound Racetrack in NH but we’d just take a break for a few minutes and the water would drain off. But then they started racing the dogs on Sunday (Live free ?) and that lot was off limits.

There were two sites that were a distance away but always great fun with the SCCA crowd. Both were public parking lots, one in Provincetown, the other was at Nauset Beach, MA. Both were run early in the year before the tourist arrived but it was always cold and windy. The problem with the wind near the beach was sand. Tire traction is always better on clean pavement and sand doesn’t help traction. One year I had a business meeting in Washington DC the evening before the event so I drove all night to Provincetown to run the next day. Ed Sanborn drove my 356 out the day before so it was ready when I got there. I arrived with no sleep, a sandy course, spun three times and finished last.  Very embarrassing. I don’t know if the towns or SCCA took it off the list but we certainly didn’t miss the sandy pavement .

The Mitre Corp parking lot in Bedford MA saw lots of Porsches making noise over the years, as did Nike sites (as in Nike missiles, not sneakers)  in Needham (there are houses there now) and Dighton (taken over by the town playing fields).

A small parking lot at Hanscom Field in Concord was used for a number of years as was the Wonderland Greyhound Park in Revere. Bose Corp in Framingham let us run in their lot for a while but I guess the noise was too much for them on a Sunday morning. Noise didn’t bother Smith and Wesson in Springfield, MA and they opened their parking lot gates for PCA in the ‘80’s.

The locations began to dwindle over the years due to development, general attitudes about cars and our own mistakes. Autocrosses were run at SNHU until a Sprite driver spun at the finish line and injured a spectator. That was the end of that lot.

 A Zone 1 autocross at Six Flags in Springfield was stopped when they discovered that driver education in one of their parking lots included timing race cars. The Police were called and after a lot of discussion we were asked to leave. Not our best day. 

As soon as the Blue Laws were repealed the Malls and retail shopping center parking lots were off limit. The first airport that the Northeast Region used was at Orange, MA.

A little used public airport, we shared the runways with small planes and a Skydiving school. The planes were directed to the other runway on Autocross days but the skydiving students  just tried to jump between runs it seemed. We did have a few land on the course but they were easy to spot and pylon pickers had red flags to stop a run when necessary. There was one student that landed between runways on a large pile of dirt and broke a few bones and so we had to wait while they were taken by ambulance to a local hospital. We wouldn’t do anything that dangerous, we were just racing cars. The 1 ½ hour drive from the Boston metro area was a bit of a hike so when a closer venue became available we signed up. That was Ft Devens

The pavement at Ft Devens has been our home for the last 37 years and many other clubs also run there. It is the last site anywhere to be found. Here’s hoping that, until electric cars take over the roads or they pull our drivers license, we can continue to test the limits of old ICE cars  in Ayer, MA. The season is about to start so come join us before the only Porsche test course left is an on ramp on the Mass pike. Your place on the pavement is waiting.

Author: Tom Tate