Rose DelMonico keeps a close eye on her 66-year-old husband’s driving. In fact, she times Ed DelMonico’s every move.
Ed likes to drive fast. Rose keeps pushing him to go faster.
The Burlington couple is among the charter members of the Drivers Club at New Jersey Motorsports Park, a new racing facility in the Cumberland County town of Millville that’s more country club than NASCAR track.
For the DelMonicos, and many other club members, racing is a family activity. So as Ed was testing his Ford-powered single-seat racer, Rose, 63, followed his progress with a digital stopwatch from a balcony overlooking the track.
Ed can push his car to 130 miles per hour, but this is not a race. As a faster driver passed Ed, Rose simply commented, “That’s a nice car.”
That’s the spirit of the New Jersey Motorsports Park, where club members of different skill levels live out their racing dreams, hang out in the paddock, check out each other’s cars, and swap stories of glory days. The park, which opened for racing on July 1, also hosts professional races and a renowned driving school. Spectators are welcome to select weekend races; tickets typically range from $15 to $45.
The DelMonicos were among the dozens of club members on hand the first weekend of August for the opening of Thunderbolt—at 2.25 miles, the longer of the two road courses that snake through the 700-acre facility cut out of the South Jersey woods. During World War II, the area was home to P-47 Thunderbolt fighter planes at what was the country’s first “air defense airport.” Today, a local airport makes it convenient for racers to fly in for events.
At the opening, the cars ran the gamut from race-prepared Porsches to stock Mini Coopers to Ferraris to vintage exotics. Some cars—like Ed’s—were brought in on trailers. Other members simply drove their daily ride onto the track, applied a number to the body with masking tape, and joined the fun.
On this day, the Motorsports Park’s other road course, Lightning, was hosting a Porsche club event, while a group of mostly young racers were going wheel-to-wheel at the facility’s twisty kart track. It adds up to what the track’s staff describes as a total driving experience.
“There’s something on both tracks every single day,” said Drivers Club coordinator Jamie Beeler. She reeled off a list of races planned for the facility—“Grand-Am, ARCA, Mazda Formula Zoom Zoom”—and promised further developments at the complex. “We’re going to have an ATV course, a three-quarter-mile tri-oval, a speed-plex, a conference center, three hotels, restaurants, gas station, a car gallery—this whole area is going to get all built up.”
Club membership is open to anyone who can afford the initiation fee of $15,000 and annual dues of $2,400. Corporate memberships run $25,000 for initiation and $12,000 annually. The club reports 187 individual members so far. Members are granted driving time and year-round access to professional races at the park. They also get use of the clubhouse, pool, fitness center, tennis and volleyball courts, and a kiddie playground—all located in the gap between the two tracks.
The park also includes trackside luxury suites that can double as hotel rooms. Plans are in the works for a development of luxury villas, where residents will be able to enjoy club membership privileges.
The facility is a partnership among real estate developer and race-car driver Lee Brahin, of Philadelphia-based Brahin Management Corporation; Brahin executive Joe Savaro; professional race-car driver RJ Valentine; and Harvey Siegel, owner of Virginia International Raceway.
Individual drivers cannot just show up and race. However there are ways for a non-member to access the track. The Bertil Roos Driver School conducts multi-day racing courses at the track and the park hosts frequent outings by area motoring clubs. The 2008 calendar includes days for drivers of Porsches, Audis, Ferraris, and various motorcycles.
Then there is the karting program. The karts are pint-sized race cars that can go up to 60 miles per hour on a special track. Karting sessions—for those age 12 and over—start at as little as $35 and do not require membership. Children under 12 can participate, but must provide their own karts.
Many of the club members are experienced racers like Ed DelMonico; others are relatively new to the sport. Deptford resident Gary Covely began racing four years ago, and now regularly takes on Porsches and Corvettes in his 1965 AC Cobra replica. Covely said he chose this car—which competes in the second-fastest sports car class of the Eastern Motor Racing Association—in part because it is street-legal and can do double duty when he picks up his grandson from daycare.
The Motorsports Park not only allows Covely to practice driving and fine-tune his car, he also can entertain business clients. On this day, Covely, a partner in steel contractor Delaware Valley Erectors of Sicklerville, was hosting clients from Southern New Jersey Steel.
But Covely would rather talk about driving. He eagerly described the feeling of taking on the track at high speed and then braking from 105 miles per hour to 80 in a matter of seconds. “There’s nothing in the whole world like it,” he said.
In the interest of safety, track time is organized by drivers’ ability. Some sessions are for drivers licensed for racing by a sanctioning body like Sports Car Club of America with appropriately prepared cars. In other sessions, less-experienced drivers with stock or slightly modified cars follow a pace vehicle.
The track is a dream come true for Ed DelMonico, who began racing at 17. “I’ve been waiting since I was a kid for a track that was close to us,” he said.
DelMonico, the director of data processing and purchasing for Burlington Township, had to restrict his activities in recent years to local drag races in order to be close to home with Rose, who was being treated for cancer. With the opening of the Motorsports Park—and Rose’s recovery—DelMonico’s Formula Ford Van Diemen RF-81, which had sat idle for thirteen years, came out of mothballs.
As he squeezed into the fiberglass-bodied machine—up close, it is not much bigger or higher off the ground than a bobsled—DelMonico was wearing a fire suit because, he said, the fuel tank was right under his seat, a reminder that a run around the track—which several drivers described as “challenging”—has its dangers. “I went off earlier,” he said, pointing out some trackside mud in the cockpit. “I came around a turn too fast, spun, and lost it.” He referred to the errant maneuver as “mowin’ the lawn.”
Still, Rose was enthusiastic as she timed DelMonico’s next turn around the track. He was getting progressively faster, and had the car under control. “They never used to let you join like a club; you just went on race days, practiced, and then you raced,” Rose said. “Here, you bring your cars out, test them, play, and do your thing. I think once people catch on to this, there’s going to be a lot more activity.”
Contributor Emile Menasché is editor of In Tune Monthly magazine.
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