On Oct. 2, 1948, one man’s vision teamed up with the foresight of village officials to drop the green flag on a venture that would evolve over decades into the international phenomenon of motor racing in Watkins Glen. The beneficiaries of Cameron R. Argetsinger’s dream have been the race drivers, team crews, and fans who have enjoyed the thrills of racing on the streets and on the hill for more than 65 years.
Visitors have always enjoyed the treasures of Watkins Glen and Schuyler County: the artistry of the natural pools and gorge trail of Watkins Glen State Park; the allure of the waters of Seneca Lake; the bounty of our vineyards, orchards, farms and fields that blanket the Finger Lakes; the bountiful farm-to-taste experiences; and the variety of shopping and accommodations that fit everyone’s desires…
The beautiful hilly terrain surrounding Watkins Glen convinced Argetsinger that this was the right place for European-style auto racing. Local leaders recognized the possibilities and encouraged his dream.
The original 6.6-mile race route ran across asphalt, cement and dirt roads in and around the Village of Watkins Glen, starting and finishing in front of the Schuyler County Courthouse. Thousands of people lined the route – now on the National Register of Historic Places – during race weekends from 1948 to 1952 to watch as the cars passed by. In 1953, the competition moved to a different course outside of the village, and a 2.3-mile permanent race track was built in 1956.
True international competition, one of Argetsinger’s foremost goals, began in 1958 with the running of a Formula Libre race. From 1961 to 1980, Watkins Glen was the home of the United States Grand Prix, attracting drivers and fans from around the world.
After being closed to the public in 1981, with only a few race events run, a renovated and renamed track opened in 1984. As Watkins Glen International, the track has hosted a variety of racing competitions, including NASCAR, IndyCar, GRANDAM, IMSA and the Sportscar Vintage Racing Association (SVRA) races, which for the last few years have attracted the largest entry list of any vintage racing event in North America.
Race fans know the name “Watkins Glen,” and their visits here are often multiple, for much is offered beyond motorsports. A slow sail across Seneca Lake, a soothing sip of a new wine, an adventurous hike through one of our breathtaking gorges, or a quiet night around a campfire are the counterbalances to the heart-pounding experiences of drivers and race cars. Local residents and visitors alike have slowed down – or revved up – both sharing something special in this scenic spot that is now home to a state-of-the-art international race track. From its waterfalls to its motorsports, Watkins Glen and Schuyler County offers something for everyone to enjoy right in the heart of New York’s Finger Lakes Region.