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Watkins Glen International History
Watkins Glen, NY
Watkins Glen International
Watkins Glen International is most famous in American auto racing for being the site of Formula 1 racing in this country for two decades.
But the first professional race held on the permanent racing circuit in the village in the Finger Lakes region of New York state was won by stock-car legend Buck Baker.
It was 1948 when a law student named Cameron Argetsinger drew up a course using asphalt, cement and dirt road in and around the village. The first post World War II race in the United States was held on that course, beginning Watkins Glen’s racing history.
After a temporary course was used form 1953 to 1956, the 2.3-mile permanent course opened and Buck Baker topped Fireball Roberts and the rest of NASCAR’s best.
Formula 1’s debut came in 1961 for the first U.S. Grand Prix and that event ran until 1980 with many of the great drivers in Grand Prix history winning there. During the 1970s, Can-Am, Trans-Am and the IndyCar series were among the series coming to the Glen.
After Alan Jones won the 1980 U.S. Grand Prix, however, financial difficulties led to the race being dropped from the Grand Prix schedule and the track closed in 1981.
But a few years later, Corning Glass Works formed a partnership with International Speedway Corporation to form Watkins Glen International.
The track reopened in 1984, and in 1986 the NASCAR Winston Cup Series made its return to the track with Tim Richmond getting the victory.
In the years since, Watkins Glen has taken its place alongside Infineon Raceway to give the NASCAR Nextel Cup Series two road racing sites each season. It provides a stern challenge to stock-car racing’s drivers, and some of the sport’s best have handled it in style.
Terry Labonte won a NASCAR Busch Series race in 1991, and Labonte later won Busch races in 1994, 1995 and 1996 - a three-year streak that ties him with Formula 1 racer Graham Hill, sports car drivers Al Holbert and Derek Bell and Cup driver Mark Martin, whose streak of three straight Cup wins from 1993 through 1995 is a record for that series.
Watkins Glen International went through a major reconfiguration in 1992, with the addition of an inner loop bringing the length of the course used for NASCAR events to 2.45-miles.
International Speedway Corporation became the sole owner of Watkins Glen International in 1997. A year later, the 50th anniversary celebration of racing in the Glen was marked with a return to the original 6.6-mile street circuit.
Rusty Wallace, Ricky Rudd, Mark Martin and Tony Stewart are all winners of multiple Cup races at Watkins Glen International, but Jeff Gordon is the track’s all-time NASCAR champion with four career victories.