Anyone who’s watched the annual race is familiar with the racetrack at Watkins Glen International, but decades ago the races took place at another location- The Village of Watkins Glen.
The races literally took to the streets. The windy and hilly roads to the east of the Village of Watkins Glen was the course and anyone who lived along those roads had front row seats.
The Village Hall may be just a brick-and-mortar government building today. But decades ago, it was the hub for racing.
In front of the North Franklin Street entrance, you would be standing “at the original start-finish line on the 6.6 mile course that was used from 1948 to 1952,” Bill Green, a historian from the International Motor Racing Research Center, said.
From there, racers made a left turn on Stueben street and would go around, and through, Watkins Glen State Park. Riding the make-shift track, you would see the railroad track crossing and a stone bridge before turning left onto Route 329.
The man behind the idea was Cameron Argetsinger, before World War II.
“And of course World War II came along and that ended that,” Green said. “And after the war he began to think about that again and several people he talked to said ‘pursue it, pursue it.'”
Argetsinger did pursue it and the first race took place in 1948 with 40 entries. On these 25 to 30 mile-per-hour roads, the time-record holder would have been ticketed today.
“The absolute record on here is four minutes, 55 (seconds),” Green said. “And that’s about 80 miles-an-hour.”
The original race course lasted only five years and the competition was moved to a new location in the 50s.
“By ’56, they had built, during the summer of ’56, on the present site where it is today, a 2.3-mile course they used from 1956 to 1970,” Green said.
Through changing times, WGI has seen changes, but what remains is the excitement of the fans.