Thursday, August 6, 2009

NASCAR is Back at The Glen, Watkins Glen, That Is

NASCAR SPRINT Cup drivers and teams will be taking on the second and last road course of the season this weekend at my home track, Watkins Glen. I went to my first race at Watkins Glen when I was about 8 or 9 years old. My brother Bill and some of his friends took me along--they probably didn't have any choice--to watch sports cars, those funny little two seater European cars, and also the predecessors of Formula 1. Saw all the great road course drivers over the years, Sterling Moss, Graham Hill, Jackie Stewart, and so many more. Also saw all kinds of cars and motorcycles race there, FI, Can-Am, Trans-Am, and of course eventually the real race cars, NASCAR stock cars. Even saw some drag racing there in the 60's.

Then the track went quiet for around 10 years in the 70's and into the 80's. Corning Inc., formerly Corning Glass Works, bought the track in the early 80's to spur tourism to the area, in part to help soften the blow of decreased manufacturing employment in the Southern Tier/Finger Lakes Region of New York. NASCAR was a major part in the resurgence of The Glen. NASCAR was getting hot, thanks to ESPN TV coverage, and The Glen benefited from the resurgence.

I attended the first three or four NASCAR races at the Glen, before the little chicane was put in on the backstretch to slow the cars down before the tough downhill 180 degree turn at the end of the very long straightaway where speeds were reaching 175 or so mph. Geoff Bodine took a wild ride in the grass into the tire piles, one of the worse crashes he ever had. And I was there in 1991 when J.D. McDuffie died after he lost control at the end of the backstretch. I will never forget seeing his car come back on the wrecker all covered with a tarp. We knew he had died when we saw the car all covered up. Tragic. But of course, the race went on! And, many safety improvements were added, most notably the "kitty-litter" gravel areas to catch and slow cars when they go off the track to keep them from hitting the retaining walls at great speed.

The double-file restarts will be fun to watch. Turn 1 is one of the most exciting turns in racing, as far as I'm concerned, all about going as fast as you can down the front straight and then out-braking your opponent to get the preferred line through the corner. Lead going out of turn one and you will probably lead the rest of the way around.

Hopefully the weather will be beautiful in the Finger Lakes this weekend. If you never been to that part of New York State, you should go, and short of that, enjoy the views of the area you will see on TV during the race. The Glen is a special track, one of the most historic in the U.S. Enjoy!


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