Watkins Glen International
With its rise from ragged infancy in 1948 to its position as America’s premier road racing facility qualifies The Glen as an astounding and unlikely success story, which continues to be written over 60 years later.
Law student Cameron Argetsinger dreamed of bringing European style competition to the village where he spent his summer vacations and he drew up a challenging course that encompassed asphalt, cement and dirt roads in and around the village of Watkins Glen. The dream became reality on October 2, 1948, "The Day They Stopped the Trains," in the first post-World War II road race in the U.S. For five years, the top names in American sports car racing visited the small village and huge crowds came out to watch them race.
Competition moved to a temporary course in 1953, and 2.3-mile permanent circuit was built in 1956. The following year, The Glen hosted its first professional race, a NASCAR Grand National Stock Car event won by Buck Baker over Fireball Roberts.
The Formula 1 stars all visited The Glen in 1961 for the first Watkins Glen U.S. Grand Prix, which would be a fall tradition at the circuit through 1980. Innes Ireland won the inaugural running, with great drivers such as Clark, Hill, Stewart, Lauda, Fittipaldi and Hunt among the winners of later Grand Prix.
The circuit itself was expanded in 1971, as the seventies brought a diverse variety of competition, including the Can-Am, Trans-Am, Six Hours, Formula 5000 and CART Indy Car Series. Race winners included many of the top names in international motorsports, including Mark Donohue, Mario Andretti, Jody Scheckter and Bruce McLaren.
After 1980, financial difficulties led to the Watkins Glen date being dropped from the Formula 1 schedule and as a result, the bankrupt track closed following a CART race in 1981. Over the next two years the track fell into disrepair, hosting only a few non-spectator SCCA weekends. Corning Enterprises, a newly-chartered subsidiary of Corning Glass Works, purchased the track in early 1983 and formed a partnership with International Speedway Corporation forming Watkins Glen International.
The Glen reopened on July 7, 1984, with Al Holbert, Derek Bell and Jim Adams winning the inaugural Camel Continental at the renovated facility. On August 9, 1986, fans witnessed Tim Richmond's triumph at the return of the NASCAR Winston Cup Series. The Bud at The Glen grew to become New York State's largest motorsports event and saw some of NASCAR's finest take the checkered flag including, Martin, Wallace, and in 1998, Jeff Gordon, won his second consecutive Glen race before a record crowd.
1992 saw a major reconfiguration of The Glen's back straightaway. The addition of the Inner Loop increased the length of the long course to 3.4 miles and the short course to 2.45 miles. The new turns enhanced competition while adding quality spectator viewing. The Glen cemented its distinction as North America's fastest road course when Davy Jones won the pole for the Camel Continental IX with a fast lap of 150.334 mph on the reconfigured 2.45 mile short course.
In 1997, International Speedway Corporation became sole owner of the historic road course, exercising a stock option buy-out of Corning Incorporated. The sale completed Corning's mission of rebuilding the race track while revitalizing the Southern Finger Lakes Region.
In addition to holding major NASCAR and SCCA events, Watkins Glen International also hosts one of the nation's premier vintage events, the U.S. Vintage Grand Prix. This event was the climax of the 50th anniversary season, returning many of the original cars and drivers to the original 6.6-mile street circuit through the village during the Grand Prix Festival Race Reenactment, a timeless tradition on the season schedule.
2005 marked the largest capital improvement project at the track since the addition of the "boot" in 1971. It also marked the return of a major single-seat open-wheel racing series to the track with the inaugural IndyCar Series race on September 25, 2005. Tony Stewart captured his second consecutive victory at The Glen and his third in four years. He joined Mark Martin and Jeff Gordon as the only drivers to win at least 3 NASCAR NEXTEL or Winston Cup races at The Glen.
2006 also saw The Glen host the North American debut of the 2007 Porsche 911 Turbo. The Glen holds historical significance for the famed automaker as it was the site for the North American debut of the first 911 Turbo during the Six Hours of The Glen in 1974.
2007 marked the 50th Anniversary of NASCAR’s debut at The Glen which was also the first professional race to be run on the permanent 2.3-mile road course. Fans at the Camping World Grand Prix witnessed Scott Dixon tie Formula 1 legend Graham Hill as the only men to win three consecutive major open wheel races at the historic road course and saw Tony Kanaan and Sam Hornish, Jr. clash on pit road following the checkered flag. The fireworks continued during the Centurion Boats at The Glen with Kevin Harvick and Juan Pablo Montoya getting into a shoving match in Turn 1 during the race and Tony Stewart claiming his fourth victory at The Glen following a spin by race leader Jeff Gordon with two laps to go. This race was selected the best NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race of 2007 by Sports Illustrated. The year ended with the demolition of the iconic Press Tower which was built in 1971.
Since 2008, The Glen’s 60th anniversary, capital improvements have been completed to enhance the overall fan experience. This included a new, state-of-the-art Media Center, adding fan-friendly hospitality viewing options such as the Esses Party Deck and the Turn 10 Terrace as well as improving and expanding one of the largest camping areas in motorsports. On track, a recent repave was completed in 2016, increasing track speeds year after year.
The Glen has also boasted an impressive record of first-time winners and exciting finishes, including seven different NASCAR Cup Series winners from 2012-18. In 2012, Marcos Ambrose battled Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski for the Australians first NASCAR Cup Series victory, a race voted ‘Best NASCAR Finish of the Decade’ by NBC Sports. Chase Elliott, NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver, scored his first career Cup Series victory at the GoBowling At The Glen race in 2018, repeating his dominating performance the following year. In 2019, Mazda Team Joest captured its first prototype type victory in IMSA, recording a 1-2 finish at the Sahlen’s Six Hours of The Glen.
The track voted three-time ‘Best NASCAR Track’ by readers of USA Today continues to blend history and tradition with a diverse portfolio of sportscars, open wheel and stock car races throughout the year. Over 70 years of change, Watkins Glen has embodied more than grandstand sellouts and great speeds. The racing community continues to return to Watkins Glen for broader reasons. Watkins Glen has become a racing institution, the premier road racing facility in North America.