In the early 1950s, racing started in Watkins Glen, NY. The race was held on public streets that went through and around the village of 3,000 people. The route was kept for several years until a track was built outside the village and the track is now the scene of a vintage event every September, as well as several other races every spring and summer.
The old route still exists and historic signs show the way. On Sept. 7-10, Watkins Glen hosted the Vintage Grand Prix Weekend. On Friday afternoon (Sept. 8), the village hosts several clubs and organizations who follow a pace car around the route with thousands of spectators watching and cheering.
Sunday morning (Sept. 10), I was up early to drive the route. Following the historic marker signs is easy and the curvy and hilly route is exciting to drive. I had to watch out for many hazards such as fallen branches and leaves but mostly wild life as squirrels, chipmunks, foxes and deer abound.
As I drove, I imagined it was 1953 and I was driving an MG-TC in the race. I imagined the wings (fenders to Americans) flapping as the wind catches them and tries to lift the car. I imagined the wire wheels whistling as the wind blows through them. I imagined trying hard to catch the car in front of me while keeping the car behind me at bay. I imagined taking the many curves and hills at full speed, maybe 80 MPH, and wondering what would be around the next corner. I imagined driving the 6-mile circuit, time after time after time, until the checkered flag fell. I had to imagine all that as I don’t have an MG-TC and the route is no longer used for racing. The newer track is where the action takes place.
Hundreds of vintage race cars showed up to compete on the new track, to chat with old friends and relive old times, to make new friends and new tales.
Corvette, MG, Cobra, Alfa-Romeo, Devin, Mustang, Camaro, Jaguar, Datsun and many more, all gathered to share their love of racing. The paddock is always busy with people preparing the cars, checking tire pressures and spark plus, topping up the fuel and oil, tightening the seat belts as the drivers climb in and so much more to make sure the car will run at peak performance on the track. All the while, they never stop gabbing and reminiscing of old times, last year, last decade, last century, remembering all their friends and heroic tales.
The village of Watkins Glen has many reminders of the beginning of racing as the main road, Franklin Street, has hundreds of plaques set into the sidewalks, from the first organizers and racers to those who followed and made international racing history. Each plaque is a reminder of how racing started, of all the people it took to make The Glen races happen and grow into the sport we all love to watch and be part of. Vintage racing combines the past with the present and both are enjoyable.
This is a great sport!
PHOTO GALLERY BY HOWARD COHEN