Watkins Glen International
is located near Watkins Glen, New York, at the southern tip of Seneca Lake. The facility is owned by International Speedway Corporation. 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 Formula One, the World Sportscar Championship, Can-Am, NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, and the IndyCar Series. The circuit has also been the site of two concerts: the 1973 Summer Jam, attended by 600,000 fans, and Phish’s Super Ball IX in 2011.
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, as the team was still mourning the death of Count Wolfgang von Trips at Monza the previous race.
The United States Grand Prix at The Glen quickly became an autumnal tradition as huge crowds of racing fans flocked to upstate New York each year amid the spectacular fall colours. 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.
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 Rodríguez 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.
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, partnered with International Speedway Corporation to purchase the track and rename it Watkins Glen International.
In 1986, the top NASCAR series returned to Watkins Glen after a long layoff, holding one of only three road races on its schedule (two beginning in 1988), using the 1971 Six Hours course, raced when the new section off the Loop-Chute was not finished in time. As the cars come off the Loop-Chute, instead of making the downhill left into Turn 6, the cars shot straight through the straight and headed towards Turn 10, as was the case from 1961 until 1970.
After a 25 year layoff, major-league open wheel racing returned to the track as one of three road courses on the 2005 Indy Racing League schedule. In preparation, the circuit was overhauled again. Grandstands from Pennsylvania’s Nazareth Speedway, which had closed, were installed, the gravel in The 90 was removed and replaced with a paved runoff area, and curbing was cut down for the Indy Racing League event.
Track Shape: Natural Terrain Road Course
Length: 3.40 Miles; 11 Turns
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