Watkins Glen International

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Watkins Glen International (nicknamed "The Glen") is an auto race track located near Watkins Glen, New York at the southern tip of Seneca Lake. It was long known around the world as the home of the United States Grand Prix, which it hosted for 20 consecutive years (1961 - 1980), but it has been home to road racing of nearly every class for over 50 years, including:

Contents

Beginnings

The first races in Watkins Glen were initiated by Cameron Argetsinger, whose family had a summer home in the area. With Chamber of Commerce approval and SCCA sanction, the first Watkins Glen Grand Prix took place in 1948 on a 6.6-mile course (http://www.watkinsglen.com/gpfest/map.html) over the local roads. For the first few years, the races passed through the heart of the town with spectators lining the sidewalks, but after a car left the road in the 1952 race, killing one spectator and injuring several others, the race was moved to a new location on a wooded hilltop southwest of town.

The new 4.6-mile course for 1953 still used existing roads, but the Watkins Glen Grand Prix Corporation was formed to manage spectators, parking and concessions. This arrangement lasted only three years before a 2.35 mile-long permanent race course was constructed on 550 acres (2.2 km²), overlapping part of the previous course. It was designed by Bill Milliken and laid out by several engineering professors from nearby Cornell University. Along with the annual SCCA race, the track hosted its first professional race (NASCAR Grand National Division) in 1957 and became truly international when the Formula Libre race attracted some of the best road racing drivers in the world, including Jack Brabham, Stirling Moss, Phil Hill and Dan Gurney from 1958 through 1960.

Home of the United States Grand Prix

1973 Watkins Glen grand prix ticket
Enlarge
1973 Watkins Glen grand prix ticket

After two less-than-successful US Formula One events in 1959 (Sebring, Florida) and 1960 (Riverside, California), promoters were looking for a new venue for an American Grand Prix in 1961. Just six weeks before the scheduled date for another Formula Libre race that fall, Argetsinger was tapped to get Watkins Glen ready to host the final round of the Formula One World Championship instead. While many of the necessary preparations had already been made for the Formula Libre race, new pits were constructed for the F1 Grand Prix according to the European style of pit boxes with overhead cover. Seven American drivers participated, and the race was won by British driver Innes Ireland with American Dan Gurney second. The sole disappointment of the weekend was that newly-crowned American World Champion Phil Hill appeared only as the event's Grand Marshal, not on track in his shark-nosed Ferrari.

The United States Grand Prix at The Glen quickly became a fall tradition as huge crowds of knowledgeable racing fans flocked to upstate New York each year amid the spectacular fall colors. The race was also among the most popular on the global Grand Prix calendar with the teams and drivers because its starting and prize money often exceeded those of the other races combined! The race received the Grand Prix Drivers' Association award for the best organized and best staged GP of the season in 1965, 1970 and 1972.

One fixture of the USGP at The Glen was the starter for the races, "Tex" Hopkins. Wearing a lavender suit, clenching a big cigar in his mouth, and giving the job everything he had, Hopkins was the most recognizable starter in Grand Prix racing. Once the cars had taken their places, Hopkins strode across the front of the grid with his back to the field, turned, and jumped into the air, waving the green flag to start the race. At the finish, he would meet the winner in similar fashion, this time waving the checkered flag as the car crossed the line.

Before the 1971 race, the course underwent its most significant changes of the Grand Prix era, as it was extended from 2.35 miles to 3.377 miles by the addition of four corners in a new section called the 'Boot' or 'Anvil.'. The new layout departed from the old course near the south end into a curling downhill left-hand turn through the woods. The track followed the edge of the hillside to two consecutive right-handers, over an exciting blind crest to a left-hander and back onto the old track. In addition, the circuit was widened and resurfaced, and both the pits and start/finish line were moved back before the northwest right-angle corner known as "The 90."

Despite the improvements, the circuit began a slow decline in the 1970s as a few horrendous, sometimes fatal accidents and increasingly rowdy segments of the crowd began to tarnish its image. Financial difficulties and the inability of the circuit to safely handle the increasingly faster and stiffer ground effect cars of the era led to its exit from the Formula One calendar after Alan Jones won the 1980 race for Williams. Since then, no United States Grand Prix has been held on a natural road course.

American road racing Mecca

The Glen hosted a variety of other events throughout the Grand Prix years: from Can-Am, Trans-Am, IROC and Endurance Sports car racing to Formula 5000 and the CART series, these races strengthened the circuit's reputation as the premier road racing facility in the United States. From 1968 through 1981, the "Six Hours at The Glen" endurance race featured top drivers like Mario Andretti, Jacky Ickx, Pedro Rodriguez and Derek Bell. Different races were sometimes featured together on the same weekend (e.g., Six Hours and Can-Am) and drew sizable crowds, but without a Formula One race, the circuit struggled to survive. It finally declared bankruptcy and closed in 1981.

Reincarnation

For two years, the track was not well maintained and hosted only a few SCCA meets without spectators. In 1983, Corning Enterprises, a subsidiary of nearby Corning Glass Works, partnered with International Speedway Corporation to purchase the track and rename it Watkins Glen International.

The renovated track reopened in 1984 with the return of the Six Hour endurance sports car race. In 1986, the top NASCAR series began holding one of only two road races on its schedule, using an abbreviated course that was virtually identical to the 1961-1970 configuration, though a pair of chicanes was added to the back straight in 1992 after driver J.D. McDuffie died in an accident at the end of the back straight during the 1991 race.

In 1997, International Speedway Corporation became the sole owner of the historic road course, as Corning Enterprises believed they had completed their intended goals to rebuild the race track and increase tourism in the southern Finger Lakes region of New York State.

The circuit annually hosts one of the nation's premier vintage events, the Zippo U.S. Vintage Grand Prix. When the 50th anniversary of road racing in Watkins Glen was celebrated during the 1998 racing season, this event was the climax, returning many original cars and drivers to the original 6.6-mile street circuit through the village during the Grand Prix Festival Race Reenactment.

Open wheel racing will return to the speedway after a 25 year layoff, as the Indy Racing League added the circuit to the 2005 schedule, one of three road courses added to the schedule of the previously all-oval series.

Current races

See also

References

External links


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