The Original Watkins Glen Track

Two weeks ago I took part in the 2018 Rally Round The Erie Canal car rally in upper New York State.  Part of this rally was a lunch stop at the Glenn Curtiss Museum in Hammondsport, New York.  Glenn Curtiss was one of America’s best engineers at the beginning of the 20th century.  He was a pioneering engineer, builder, and entrepreneur in the motorcycle, airplane, and automotive field.  The Glenn Curtiss Museum certainly covers this man’s varied interests.

While there I purchased a book about the racing at the nearby Watkins Glen race track in Watkins Glen, New York.  The cover of this book which was written by Kirk W. House and Charles R. Mitchell is shown below.

Great Pictoral History Of Racing At Watkins Glen

This book is an easy read consisting of some 130 pages of mostly racing pictures from the 1950s.  It also is a great record of racers and race cars on the east coast of the USA in the 1950s.

The book shows the original configuration of the Watkins Glen race circuit.  The original course was not a closed circuit, but a 6.6 mile route through the village of Watkins Glen and the surrounding countryside.  The illustration of the original course shown below is included in the book.

Sam Corbean’s Sketch Of The Original Watkins Glen Circuit

The countryside nature of the original circuit is shown on the aerial photograph is presented on Page 10 of House and Mitchell’s book.

Aerial Photograph Of The Original Watkins Glen Circuit

The origin of many well known race tracks is based on using public roadways.  But what is surprising to me is the railway crossing, marked as location 5 in the aerial and identified on the Sam Corbean’s sketch.  Imagine a race track with a railway crossing!

An MG TD After Crossing The Railway Track!

Look at the effect on a MG TD after crossing the railway tracks as shown above.  Imagine what this must have been like in the very fast cars!  I am somewhat surprised that racers would bring their cars to a race track that had such a major bump.

Despite the railway crossing, the original Watkins Glen course seems to have been very well supported and many major races took place there in the 1950s.  The photo below shows John Fitch taking part in the 1951 Watkins Glen Grand Prix driving a Cunningham C-2.


John Fitch In A Cunningham C-2 At The 1951 Grand Prix

In 2013 I photographed a Cunningham C-2R at the Lime Rock Historic Festival.  The Cunningham cars are very impressive cars and would have looked very impressive on the rural Watkins Glen circuit.

A Cunningham C-2R

The Watkins Glen circuit evolved and changed significantly into a closed race course over the years and was the location of many Formula 1 Grand Prix races over the years.  Formula 1 races are no longer held at Watkins Glen, but the current dedicated, closed race course is still a busy race venue.

If you have any comments or questions about this post, Watkins Glen, or the Glenn Curtiss Museum, then leave a comment below or you can send me a private email message at the following address: shanna12 at comcast dot net

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4 Responses to The Original Watkins Glen Track

  1. Jeff Becker says:

    If you would like to see this and virtually every Cunningham ever built then come to the Greenwich, CT Concours in two weeks. Cunningham will be the featured marque and all but two will be there.

    • Hi Jeff,
      Under other circumstances, I would be there for sure. However starting next weekend I am traveling with the Endurance Rally Association’s Trans America Motor Challenge as the Deputy Clerk of the Course. The Cunningham cars are very impressive cars and I would like to see them. I did see some of them at Lime Rock five years ago.
      Steve McKelvie

  2. Mike Mazoway says:

    You can still drive the old course at Watkins Glen. They are all public roads. The best time is during the Grand Prix Festival on the Friday after Labor Day.

  3. Jay Nemeth-Johannes says:

    There is a similar experience here in Wisconsin with Road America and the original Elkhart Lake street course. You can drive all but 500 ft of the original course and it is well identified with historical markers at points of interest. There is a very nice site dedicated to the old road course

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