Published August 31. 2014 4:00AM Updated September 12. 2014 12:59PM
Lyme — Judith Duran handed her husband, Lee Duran, his helmet right before he drove away at Lime Rock Park race track in Salisbury on Saturday.
She waved to him and he waved back.
Then she saw dust as the car went off the track. It then flipped over three or four times.
Judith Duran was afraid the crash was bad and rushed to her husband’s side. She rode with him in the ambulance to Sharon Hospital.
But her husband was pretty much gone by then, she said.
He was later pronounced dead at the hospital.
They would have been married 52 years on Sept. 8.
“He was such a special person,” she said Sunday while standing outside her Mount Archer Road home, her voice breaking. “Everyone who knew him knew he was . . . I was planning on a good more 20 years.”
Duran, 73, died Saturday afternoon after he lost control of his car and crashed during the track’s Historic Festival 32, in which vintage cars race. The crash Saturday was the first fatal accident in the event, which has been held on Labor Day Weekend since 1983, the park said in a email Sunday.
“Lime Rock Park in particular and the world’s racing fraternity in general are deeply saddened by the accident that claimed Lee Duran’s life,” said Rick Roso, the press, public relations and editorial director for the park. “A long- time racer, Lee will be missed deeply.”
Duran was on the track schedule as driving a 1934 MG PA Special for the VSCCA Cup: “The Dawn of Real Performance,” a race of pre-war sports and racing cars, according to the Lime Rock Park website. He was among 37 drivers entered in the race.
The accident happened in Group 2, Race 2, at about 2:15 p.m., when his car left the track at the exit of Turn 7 and he lost control, the park statement said. No other cars were involved.
Witnesses said Duran’s car flipped at least once and landed on its side, the statement said.
Judith Duran said her husband’s car had a protective roll bar, but the impact was too great. She said many of the drivers are about her husband’s age.
“It’s vintage race cars,” she said. “The cars are vintage and pretty much the guys are too.”
Gene Mann, a spectator from Bayville, N.Y., said he was seated in the hospitality area during the race, and saw the accident at the last turn of the lap.
“It was the opening (of the) turn and he lost control,” Mann said. “The car flipped on the track and unfortunately, it looked to me that his belts were loose.”
Mann said Duran was thrown around as the car bounced.
State police are investigating the crash.
Lee Duran and his wife were college sweethearts. They met at the University of Illinois, married in Park Ridge, Ill., and have lived in their Mount Archer Road home in Lyme for more than 30 years. Duran designed it himself; a modern-style house with skylights and large windows that overlooks Molson Pond.
He was a self-employed, retired architect and entrepreneur who later went on to design hydraulic systems.
Duran and his wife own Reliner, a Lyme company that serves the waste water industry, Judith Duran said. Lee Duran was also a partner in the ownership of Best Management Products, also a Lyme business involved in storm water quality. The two companies have six patents.
He had a love of mechanics and had been racing for 50 years, his wife said.
“He loved cars and motorcycles and boats, anything that could go fast,” she said.
He was creative, funny and smart, she said.
“I’m numb,” she said, choking back tears. “I’m numb. I may be numb for a while.”
Rudy Wood-Muller of Lyme, a former racer, said he knows the track well and believes mechanical failure caused the accident.
“The moment that you don’t have traction of the wheels on the ground at a crucial point, I know the track and I know exactly the problem at that point,” Wood-Muller said.
He and his wife have been friends with the Durans for 40 years, Wood-Muller said.
He said Duran raced events of the Vintage Sports Car Club, owned and restored multiple cars and kept himself in excellent physical shape.
“He exercised regularly and he kept active in mind and body, which is something to respect,” he said.
About 15 years ago, Duran had three Sprint cars that he raced in different parts of the country, his friend said. Duran also restored at least four cars built before 1940, including a single-seat car raced in 1937 in the Indianapolis 500, Wood-Muller said.
“He was absolute first-class engineer,” he said. “He was very meticulous in everything he did.”
Wood-Muller and Duran were working together on a Lagonda from 1937, which Duran was rebuilding into a racing car. He had also done metal sculpting.
“He was, I would say, a renaissance person,” Wood-Muller said. “And it was a privilege to have known him. And I’m going to try to put some of the pieces back together for his wife.”