Every race season there are a few weekends I look forward to more than the rest. Don’t get me wrong, I look forward to them all, but a few stand out. Watkins Glen is definitely one of those weekends.
The Glen has it all. It’s located in one of the most beautiful parts of the country, New York’s Finger Lakes Region. The area is home to Watkins Glen State Park, a must visit if you are in town, as well as a number of vineyards, waterfalls, restaurants, and otherwise cool spots to enjoy.
It also has racing history. The Glen was the site of the first post World War Two automobile race in the U.S.
In 1948, Cameron Argetsinger, a Daytona,Ohio-based lawyer who’s family vacationed on Lake Seneca, convinced the town to shut down the public roads and let him have a race.
The course he laid out was a 5.8-mile loop around the State Park and it attracted hundreds of thousands of spectators over the five-year period they raced there.
The track can still be driven today and trust me, it’s quite scary in a modern car at near legal speeds. I couldn’t imagine heading down the mountain into town, at speed, in a 1948 MG TC with no helmet, guard rails, roll cage or seat belt.
Years later Cameron’s son Peter was my first ever racing school instructor, and it was great to see Peter racing in the Lamborghini Blancpain Super Trofeo series last weekend.
The Watkins Glen street race was eventually moved to the current permanent location and through the years, the track has held the U.S. Grand Prix for two decades, and seen everything else from NASCAR to sports cars.
The track itself has the best layout of any track I have ever been to. It’s all fast, all the time, and makes no apologies. The armco is close, the corners are long duration, and the speed is always high.
Think VIR minus Oak Tree or Mosport without the Moss Corner. Modern tracks are the exact opposite. The newest track on the IMSA schedule has six turns under 50 mph where as the Glen only has one that’s under 70! Watkins Glen is a great place to drive, and I wish there were more tracks like it.
Heading to the Glen each year is exciting enough, but our Rennsport One team had finally gotten to do some much needed testing and we arrived at the track with a better understanding of the chassis. It showed in practice, as we had the fastest lap of the weekend.
The only negative in the lead up to qualifying was the distinct lack of track time. The Continental Sports Car Challenge was only given two, 40-minute sessions. Red flags ate into a lot of that time, making it hard for my co-driver Luis Rodriguez Jr. and I to get laps.
Rain came on race day and our feelings were mixed. We figured our car would be good, but we didn’t know for sure. Luis had also never raced the car in the wet so that was another unknown.
He and I talked about the track and where to drive to find the grip in the wet and boy did he ever heed my advice. He went from 19th to 10th on the first lap!
We stopped just before halfway and I got in the car. Right away I knew the Rennsport One guys had gotten it right. The car was one of the fastest and most stable cars I have ever had in the wet and the times proved it.
When I got in I was 40 seconds off the lead, and after a handful of laps I was up to fourth with the leaders in sight. After two disappointing races it was now looking like things were going to go our way. Or so we hoped.
As all racers know though, nothing is certain until the checkered flag, and even then crazy things have happened (I have lost races in hotel rooms hours after all the crowds had left and the trailers were loaded).
With 40 minutes left, as I was coming out of the toe of the boot, the engine suddenly dropped to idle and the throttle stopped responding. I cycled both the master and ignition but nothing helped. The car did make it slowly to the pits and our guys did a great job of getting us back out in a matter of laps but our hopes of a win were gone.
When I first started racing years and years ago I has a lot of bad racing luck. I will always remember what my father Tom told me those years ago after a weekend similar to this one.
“Racing will sometimes give you something, but it never owes you anything.”
A great reminder after a weekend like ours.