Need for speed: Sunday in the fast lane at the race car track

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  • Paul Cleavall, 5, of West Springfield prepares to take a quick lap around Palmer Motorsports Park with chief instructor Dan D’Arcy, right, during “Dan’s Day.” After the high speed ride Paul said his legs “felt like jelly.” STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Dan D’Arcy, center background, of Belchertown conducts a drivers meeting at 9 a.m. to welcome people to “Dan’s Day” at Palmer Motorsports Park where he is chief instructor.

  • Dan D’Arcy of Belchertown, chief instructor at Palmer Motorsports Park, prepares to take a passenger on a lap around the Whiskey Hill Raceway in his Lotus Exige S.

  • During a “parade lap,” which alternates with the fast-paced “track lap,” drivers go slowly and can actually stop on the track to take in the view from the top of the raceway.

  • A toy Range Rover belonging to Evan Johnston, 2 ½, of Somerset is parked next to his parents’ blue Porsche GT4 and a range of other car styles including an Aerial Atom, left, a “Factory Five” Shelby knock-off, in background, and a Formula Vee Predator (#32).

  • Dan D’Arcy’s brother Tim D’Arcy, left, of New Hampshire cooks hot dogs for guests including Kim Binnenkade of West Springfield and Keith Stanfield of Connecticut.

  • Two of the 60 or so people attending “Dan’s Day” enjoy the lunchtime break for hot dogs and soda.

  • Asked how she liked her ride around the 2.3-mile track with D’Arcy in his Lotus Exige S, left, Jacqueline Judd of Holyoke replied, “My face hurts I was smiling so much.”

  • A sign indicates “track laps” for high performance cars during “Dan’s Day.” At 30-minute intervals the sign is flipped to “parade laps” for any cars to explore the track at slower speeds. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Dan D’Arcy’s wife, Pat, applies some sunscreen to his face, already a bit red halfway through the day Sunday at Palmer Motorsports Park. At right is Jack Lazanski of Chicopee. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Dan D’Arcy of Belchertown, chief instructor at Palmer Motorsports Park, takes a lap around PMP’s Whiskey Hill Raceway in a black Lotus Exige S, one of his three “Loti,” as he calls them. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  •  A Porsche 930 leads another Porsche and a Corvette on the descent into the straightaway during a "track lap" at speed. The circuit ran clockwise for the day's events. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Dianne Barrett, left, of Connecticut and Pat D’Arcy wave at passing cars trackside.

  • Cassie Johnston, left, and her son Evan guide a Porsche GT4, driven by Evan’s father, onto their trailer at the end of “Dan’s Day.”

  • Dan D’Arcy of Belchertown, chief instructor at Palmer Motorsports Park, changes the tires on his yellow Lotus Exige Cup Car in preparation for a busy weekend of teaching at PMP and then competing at Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park in Connecticut. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Frank Patrone, left, of Princeton photographs his son taking a lap “at speed” in a Mustang Shelby GT350.

  • Dan D’Arcy, of Belchertown, chief instructor at Palmer Motorsports Park, waits for Doug Guertin, kneeling left, to buckle in a passenger for a ride in his Lotus Exige S at the raceway. At left is an Alfa Romeo owned by D’Arcy.

  • Tom Kenney of Chicopee, in the driver’s seat of his Formula Vee Predator heads out to the track during “Dan’s Day” at Palmer Motorsports Park.

  • During a “parade lap” of Whiskey Hill Raceway, Peter Blondek, left, of Granby and Eric True of Wilbraham stop between turns five and six to take in a view to the west.

Published: 7/30/2019 4:01:32 PM

Dan D’Arcy is smiling. He’s about to call for the attention of 30 or so people milling about the paddock at Palmer Motorsports Park, where he is the chief instructor for the High Performance Drivers Education program. But this is not school, it’s more like recess. D’Arcy has invited them all here on this bright Sunday morning in July for a taste of something he’s been passionate about for most of his 71 years: driving fast — and having fun doing it. Ever since buying his first car at the age of 11 with money earned in his father’s electrical shop (“a ‘field car’ — we didn’t have ATVs”), he’s kept the wheels turning with an ever-changing collection of vehicles.

After a shout of “drivers meeting” in all directions, D’Arcy welcomes everyone and lays down the ground rules for the day. They’ll start off with 30 minutes of “parade laps” where anyone can drive any car around the track at a moderate speed (under 35 mph), get familiar with it, even stop to get out and look at the views along the 14 curves of the 2.3 mile track carved out of a wooded Palmer hilltop. Then there’ll be a half-hour of “track laps” where driving enthusiasts, wearing helmets and five-point restraints, will drive at what is euphemistically called “at speed.” Those who regularly compete or do time trials are asked to keep their speeds about 80 percent of what they might normally do. “You’re on your honor,” D’Arcy reminds them. “This is just to have a good time and to have fun.”

Those with “no common sense,” will get a lecture from the Director of Common Sense, D’Arcy’s friend and former student Glenn Wiley. “If you get a visit from Glenn, you know you’re in trouble,” D’Arcy warns drivers.

Anyone without a car is encouraged to ask to ride with someone who does, and there are a host of eager drivers. On this day there are several Corvettes, Porsches, Mazda Miatas, Camaros, Mustangs and Audis, and even a single-seat open-wheel Formula Vee Predator powered by a simple 1200cc Volkswagen engine. D’Arcy himself has brought three cars with him, an Alfa Romeo and a pair of Lotuses, which, calling on his background in Latin, he’s nicknamed his “Loti.” D’Arcy informs them that the signal for the end of each alternating lap session will be the waving of a black flag, which means all vehicles return to the pit. Also, of course, there are no alcoholic beverages allowed.

Since becoming chief instructor, D’Arcy has taken the opportunity each of the last four years to answer questions he gets from those curious about what he does at the school by extending this invitation to his employees, friends and even customers. D’Arcy, who lives in Belchertown, opened his own power sports sales business, called Allpower, in Granby in 1972, starting with motorcycles but soon adding tractors and even boats. After 48 years he’s now “semi-retired” but still enjoys teaching. “Being in business for yourself you’re always a teacher,” he says.

Though D’Arcy raced motorcycles in his youth, it wasn’t until 2002 that he latched on to car racing — or competing, as he draws the distinction. No “fender-to-fender” action for him, he competes strictly in time trials, his skills against the clock. He’s been, and continues to be, a consistent COM Sports Car Club champion in Super Unlimited, or SU, the top class in which the cars have no restrictions. Earlier this month he broke the TT record at Mont-Tremblant, a track north of Montreal — a record he had set the previous year.

His compensation for teaching students each season here at Palmer Motorsports Park, also known as Whiskey Hill Raceway, is having a track day to himself, and he chooses to share it. The first year it was just four of his employees and a friend. The next year it grew to 25 — and they had hot dogs. On this day about 60 people took part. As each person bids farewell, D’Arcy asks them if they had fun and, without exception, the answer is some form of yes: “We had the best time ever!” “It was an absolute blast.” “She went from terrified to freaked out to not bad.”

Later, D’Arcy says that it’s the only day like it at this track. “It’s my hobby. And you know when you have a hobby and you enjoy it, you like to share it. It’s all we’re out there to do, is to have fun.”

Kevin Gutting can be reached at kgutting@gazettenet.com.


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