With its rise from ragged infancy in 1948 to its position as America's premier racing facility surely qualifies The Glen as an astounding and unlikely success story, which continues to be written fifty years later. Law student Cameron Argetsinger dreamed of bringing European style competition to the village where he spent his summer vacations and he drew up a challenging course that encompassed asphalt, cement and dirt roads in and around the village of Watkins Glen. The dream became reality on October 2, 1948, 'The Day They Stopped the Trains,' in the first post-World War II road race in the U.S. For five years, the top names in American sports car racing visited the small village and huge crowds came out to watch them race.
Competition moved to a temporary course in 1953, and 2.3-mile permanent circuit was built in 1956. The following year, The Glen hosted its first professional race, a NASCAR Grand National Stock Car event won by Buck Baker over Fireball Roberts. True international competition began in 1958 with the running of a Formula Libre race.
The Formula 1 stars all visited The Glen in 1961 for the first Watkins Glen U.S. Grand Prix, which would be a fall tradition at the circuit through 1980. Innes Ireland won the inaugural running, with great drivers such as Clark, Hill, Stewart, Lauda, Fittipaldi and Hunt among the winners of later Grand Prix.
The circuit itself was expanded in 1971, as the seventies brought a wide variety of competition to The Glen, including the Can-Am, Trans-Am, Six Hours, Formula 5000 and CART Indy Car Series. Race winners included many of the top names in international motorsports, including Mark Donohue, Mario Andretti, Jody Scheckter and Bruce McLaren.
Alan Jones' victory in the 1980 United States Grand Prix at Watkins Glen marked the close of an era. Financial difficulties led to the Watkins Glen date being dropped from the Formula 1 schedule and as a result, the bankrupt track closed following a CART race in 1981. Over the next two years the track fell into disrepair, hosting only a few non-spectator SCCA weekends. Corning Enterprises, a newly-chartered subsidiary of Corning Glass Works, purchased the track in early 1983 and formed a partnership with International Speedway Corporation forming Watkins Glen International.
The Glen reopened on July 7, 1984, with Al Holbert, Derek Bell and Jim Adams winning the inaugural Camel Continental at the renovated facility. On August 9, 1986, fans witnessed Tim Richmond's triumph at the return of the NASCAR Winston Cup Series. The Bud at The Glen grew to become New York State's largest motorsports event and saw some of NASCAR's finest take the checkered flag including, Martin, Wallace, and in 1998, Jeff Gordon, won his second consecutive Glen race before a record crowd.
In 1991, Terry Labonte won the first NASCAR Busch Grand National race at the Glen beginning an impressive streak of four wins in six years, including three consecutive wins in '94 through '96. His three year win streak ranks him with other Watkins Glen three-time winners: Formula One ace Graham Hill, SportsCar drivers Al Holbert and Derek Bell and Winston Cup driver Mark Martin.
1992 saw a major reconfiguration of The Glen's back straightaway. The addition of the Inner Loop increased the length of the long course to 3.4 miles and the short course to 2.45 miles. The new turns enhanced competition while adding quality spectator viewing. The Glen cemented its distinction as North America's fastest road course when Davy Jones won the pole for the Camel Continental IX with a fast lap of 150.334 mph on the reconfigured 2.45 mile short course.
In 1997, International Speedway Corporation, whose holdings include Daytona International Speedway, Talladega Superspeedway, Darlington Raceway and Phoenix Int'l Raceway, became sole owner of the historic road course, exercising a stock option buy-out of Corning Incorporated. The sale completed Corning's mission of rebuilding the race track while revitalizing the Southern Finger Lakes Region.
In addition to holding major NASCAR and SCCA events, Watkins Glen International also hosts one of the nation's premier vintage events, the Zippo U.S. Vintage Grand Prix. This event was the climax of the 50th anniversary season, returning many of the original cars and drivers to the original 6.6-mile street circuit through the village during the Grand Prix Festival Race Reenactment.
1998 saw a first time combination event featuring the Lysol 200 NASCAR Busch Series and the Bully Hill Vineyards 150 NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series as the 'Festival of Speed and Sound' weekend at Watkins Glen International. A weekend filled with great racing and live musical entertainment.
In addition, Frontier Corporation (now known as Global Crossing), a nationally known communications, cellular phone and electronic media company headquartered in Rochester, New York, became the new sponsor of NASCAR's biggest event in New York, The Frontier @ The Glen, NASCAR Winston Cup event in 1999 for a three year deal designed to showcase talented, cutting edge competition on The Glen's historic course.
Fans that attended NASCAR Winston Cup Series races in 2000 and 2001 saw two unforgettable finishes. In 2000, Steve Park held off Mark Martin to capture his first ever Winston Cup victory and shared his emotion with the fans, celebrating on top of his car on the frontstretch. Then, history was made in 2001 with Jeff Gordon's remarkable seventh road course victory, setting a NASCAR Winston Cup record.
Watkins Glen International celebrated the 50th anniversary of road racing in Watkins Glen during the 1998 racing season. Throughout fifty years of change, Watkins Glen has embodied more than giant crowds and great speeds. The racing community continues to return to Watkins Glen for broader reasons. Watkins Glen has become a racing institution, the premier road racing facility in the United States.