The 175 mph Attorney

After a hard day at the office, Tom Ragonetti shifts gears

Published in 2006 Colorado Super Lawyers — April 2006

With a name like Ragonetti, you’d half expect a fellow to be into automobile racing. It just sounds fast. “And it sure looks good painted on the side of a race car,” Tom Ragonetti says.

But Ragonetti doesn’t just sound fast. He is fast. He holds four national division titles and has won and placed in an assortment of Sports Car Club of America and National Level Vintage races in the United States.

Racing has always been his passion. “When I was in fifth grade,” he recalls, “I read a couple of books about the great road races of the world, and I thought it was the most romantic thing I’d ever experienced. I began building race car models and buying car magazines, but I didn’t focus on hot rods like my buddies. I was fascinated with sports cars and European road racing. I always wanted to be a race car driver.”

It was just a matter of time before Ragonetti shelved the plastic models and bought a real machine — a sexy 1970 Titan Mark VI Formula Ford open-wheel racer in need of a tune-up and a paint job. Ragonetti paid $3,900 for the car, a trailer and extra parts. He hauled it home and painted it lavender, orange and pearl — a garish combination that drew stares and comments. At his first race, a bystander asked, “Do you intend to race that thing or put it in a parade?”

Now Ragonetti has a valuable collection of sports racers and production cars — street cars converted for racing. His collection includes two Alfa Romeos, a Datsun Z and a Lotus.

Sports racers, on the other hand, like Ragonetti’s Lola, Essex Tiga and his two Chevrons are purpose-built, closed-wheel racers with bodies made of Fiberglass, carbon fiber or carbon Kevlar. The high-performance machines are capable of speeds in excess of 175 mph, although Ragonetti never knows exactly how fast he’s going — the cars only have tachometers.

“You don’t necessarily set out to collect race cars,” Ragonetti says, “but when something drives by and catches your eye, the next thing you know, a collection has crept up on you.”

Sheer speed isn’t the only thing driving him to race. “It’s not just about going fast,” he says; it’s the “adrenaline-pounding thrill” that he finds so riveting.

“Plus, racing is one of the most exotic things you can do. It involves highly specialized, expensive and sophisticated machines that drive at terrifying speeds. It’s just not something people do every day.”

Ragonetti is delighted to practice “every chance I get” for the five to 10 race weekends at which he competes each year. His favorite race is the June Sprints, a four- or five-day affair that takes place in Elkhart Lake, Wis. Its 4-mile track loops around a hilly area called the Kettle Moraine. He describes it as “absolutely stunningly beautiful and blindingly fast.” Anywhere from 400 to 600 cars show up for the race, and at any given time as many as 50 to75 cars are on the track competing against each other.

The course also happens to be the site of Ragonetti’s most harrowing crash. “The car got loose in a turn called Canada Corner and it went off the edge of the track, hit some wet grass and rocketed into the concrete wall,” Ragonetti says. “Then it came around and hit it again. And again. And finally came to rest on the tire barriers. Before it was over, I’d hit the concrete wall three times.” Though he walked away with aches and pains and minor bruises, he totaled the car. It had to be completely rebuilt.

“That’s racing,” says Ragonetti. Crashing is part of the sport. Though it’s considerably safer than most imagine, crashing is something you have to learn to do with minimal damage to yourself and the car.

As a senior shareholder and director at Otten, Johnson, Robinson, Neff + Ragonetti, a high-profile law firm in Denver that specializes in commercial law with a heavy emphasis on real estate and land use, racing provides Ragonetti with a change of pace.

Of his race car collection, Ragonetti says he’s “content for the time being.” But, if history repeats itself, as it typically does, you can expect he’ll be taken by a blinding flash of speed and power hurtling past, and he’ll be parking one more car in his East Denver shop.

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