Watkins Glen International is one of the country’s most famous and challenging road racing circuits. Located just south of the Seneca in the Finger Lakes region of Upstate New York, you can find The Glen tucked in between local vineyards and woodlands. The 550-acre facility currently features three track configurations, plus paddocks, garages, grandstands, media center, dining, shops and camping facilities.

History of Watkins Glen International

The idea for a track came from Cameron Argetsinger, a Cornell law student whose family had a summer home at Seneca Lake. Argetsinger was an early member of the SCCA and was able to convince the local chamber of commerce to allow a road race through town in 1948.

The first SCCA race mapped out a 6.6-mile course along the public roads of the village of Watkins Glen, which would become the birthplace of post-war road racing in North America. Fifteen cars entered the 8-lap Grand Prix with Frank Griswold winning in his Alfa Romeo 8C2900 coupe.

With more space needed, the annual Watkins Glen Grand Prix moved south of town to a 4.6-mile track along a loop of farm roads in 1953. After three years, organizers decided to build a permanent track overlapping part of the street course. Designed by Bill Milliken and engineering professors at Cornell, the new Grand Prix course was 2.35 miles long with 8 turns.

Important racing history soon followed:

  • NASCAR came to The Glen in 1957
  • Formula 1 events started in 1961
  • The track hosted the national Grand Prix for the next 20 years

Another significant track change came in 1971, when a new boot-shaped segment was added sweeping through the hills and trees with technically challenging twists and turns.

The track came under new ownership in 1983 after the original circuit ran into financial difficulties. After renovations, races resumed in 1984 with IMSA Camel Continental. NASCAR series returned in 1986 with event attendance and critical acclaim continuing to grow into the modern era.

Fun Facts About Watkins Glen International

  • The addition of the Boot in 1971 added more than a mile to the Grand Prix course length, which grew from 2.35 miles to 3.377 miles.
  • The full Watkins Glen Grand Prix Course is one of the most challenging and fastest road racing courses in the country.
  • A sweeping 141 feet of elevation change greets drivers from the end of the Inner Loop to the toe of the Boot, before climbing back up through to the finish line.
  • Professional drivers regularly reach speeds above 100 mph through the track’s Esses of turns 2, 3 and 4 before the Back Straight.
  • The Watkins Glen Grand Prix was awarded “Best Staged Grand Prix” in 1965, 1970 and 1972 by the Grand Prix Drivers’ Association.
  • From 1968 through 1981, the “Six Hours at The Glen” endurance race featured top drivers such as Mario Andretti, Jacky Ickx, Pedro Rodriguez and Derek Bell.
  • The 1995 NASCAR XFINITY race was the first conducted as a 200-miler and was the first-ever XFINITY race to be televised.
  • The Glen has been named America’s Best NASCAR Track four times in USA Today reader polls.

Events at Watkins Glen International are always exciting. Find a complete schedule of upcoming events at The Glen. And as always, make sure you and your car are protected during track day events with insurance from Lockton Motorsports. Find the policy that fits your needs and explore more track resources.