Watkins Glen is where it all began for sports car racing in America. After World War II, lots of returning GI’s brought MG’s and Triumphs home from Britain. And they were anxious to find a place to race them. The little town of Watkins Glen in the Finger Lakes region of New York was happy to oblige them.
Originally, the racing went down the middle of the village, then out across the railroad tracks, along a country lane, back over the tracks and then back into the village. There is one oft told story of a driver who lost control of his car at the end of a lap, slid sideways into an outdoor restaurant, climbed out, grabbed a table and watched the remainder of the race from there while sipping a cold beer.
After a while, as the cars got bigger and faster, the original race course proved too dangerous for competition and a proper race track was constructed outside of town. It was here that Formula One came to race every October for almost 15 years. It became an autumn ritual to go to The Glen for the Grand Prix. The surrounding hills were always dressed in their finest fall foliage for the occasion.
All the great teams came to race here – Ferrari, Maserati, Lotus, BRM, Matra and many others. Jim Clark and Jackie Stewart were but two of the many world famous racing drivers who sent their cars skittering and slithering up the famous S turns leading from the starting line to the back straight at the top of the hill. The fans basked in the sun, steeped in a heady mixture of sunshine, nostalgia and the fumes from racing fuel.
Watkins Glen eventually lost out as the host of the US Grand Prix. It had no places for the teams and fans to stay, few restaurants and none of the glitz and glamor that came to be associated with Formula One racing. The track sat idle for decades before NASCAR purchased it and made it the home of one of the few stock races in America run on a road course instead of the usual circle tracks.
But every year in the Fall, the Village welcomes race fans and vintage race cars back for one glorious weekend. It’s an event that draws participants from around the globe and cars of every description. I did my best to get a picture of every single one, and they are all collected for your viewing pleasure at this link: Watkins Glen Historics Weekend.