Aug 29, 2013
03:45 PMArts & Entertainment
Lime Rock Park Flagman John Godfrey Has a Need for Speed
There’s something “primal and powerful” about the roar of a car engine, says John Godfrey.
He’s standing atop the flag tower at Lime Rock Park in Lakeville, smiling as cars whiz by on the track below at speeds approaching 150 mph.
“You can feel the engines,” he says. “Electric car racing is going to be very boring in the future, if that’s what they end up doing.”
The engine’s roar is the siren’s song that lures Godfrey, a two-time Emmy Award-winning television editor, to Lime Rock Park about 70 days a year. Over the last 15 years he has become a fixture at the park, a unique facet of an already unusual racetrack. The park is hidden in the picturesque Litchfield Hills, seemingly in the middle of nowhere. When you arrive you feel like you’ve stumbled upon a race car enthusiast’s black tar Shangri-La. There are no grandstands; instead fans watch races from gentle rolling hills and are separated from the action by a short, garden-like fence. The Appalachian Trail runs through the hills right above the track, and portions of the track can be seen from it.
This month Lime Rock hosts its annual Historic Festival, a weekend of vintage-car racing, August 30 through September 2. The championship-deciding race for Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series season is a few weeks later, on September 27 and 28.
Godfrey will be here for every minute of the action for the job he describes as “part work and part play.” The 70-year-old has a white Santa Claus head of hair and speaks with a clear and powerful diction reminiscent of an old-time newscaster.
During pre-race trials Godfrey works as a flagman, alerting drivers to conditions on the track, while on race days he shoots footage of the action. Over the years he has filmed harrowing car wrecks and nail-biting finishes, and has captured for posterity some of the colorful personalities who have raced here.
Lime Rock was Paul Newman’s home park, and Godfrey recorded a video that he has since posted on YouTube of Newman taking Barbara Walters on a spirited ride around the track during a 2007 profile she was doing on the actor.
“Paul hated anybody who came up and asked questions about movies—he would walk away from them—but if you were involved with racing and you talked to him about anything involved with that, he was just a regular guy and a talented driver,” Godfrey recalls. “He was a very concentrated man, which is something that makes some actors really good race car drivers, because while racing you have to be very, very focused on what you’re doing.”
Godfrey was born and raised in Downers Grove, Illinois, and his love affair with TV began at an early age.
“My father, a rather conservative man, bought a TV set on Valentine’s Day 1949. It was a 10-inch RCA table model,” he says. “I started watching television and I enjoyed it tremendously, and learned everything I could about it.”
After graduating from Purdue University, he began working at Indiana University duplicating early public television programs that would later be featured on PBS. He then moved to New York City to work for WNET’s Channel 13 public station. In 1980, he won an Emmy for his work on the groundbreaking cinema verité documentary, “Third Avenue: Only the Strong Survive,” which was directed by Jon Alpert and examined the life of six people of different economic backgrounds who lived along New York City’s Third Avenue. He notched a second Emmy in 1983 for another collaboration with Alpert on a segment about Nicaragua on NBC’s “Today Show.” He moved to Connecticut in the 1970s and settled in Bethlehem in 2004. In addition to his work at Lime Rock, he runs his own editing business, John Godfrey & Associates, Inc.
“John’s a senior citizen who refuses to stop having fun,” says Joseph Consentino, a Ridgefield-based Emmy-winning documentary filmmaker and friend who has worked extensively with Godfrey on various film projects. Consentino says that when it comes to editing and car racing “John’s one of the most knowledgeable guys that you can imagine.”
When the races at Lime Rock take place later this month, Godfrey will be there for every minute of action at the park he loves.
“Lime Rock was in essence a gravel pit that was then carved into a racetrack,” he says. “For the spectators it’s fabulous because you can go anywhere on the course and watch the racing. It’s like being in a farmer’s yard and watching racing.”