On Watkins Glen

Yesterday’s Mobil1 car swap saw Lewis Hamilton driving Tony Stewart’s NASCAR sprint cup car and Tony driving Lewis’ McLaren from a few years back (from the low rear winged days before the F1 cars were beaten with the ugly stick).

The event shone a great spotlight on the former home of the US GP East and reminded me fondly of my own pilgrimage to the Watkins Glen circuit in upstate New York, to see the penultimate INDYCAR Grand Prix at the Glen. It’s sad that neither F1 or INDYCAR now visit the circuit, in the case of the loss of INDYCAR, this is probably because the circuit is owned by NASCAR’s International Speedway Corps.

The town of Watkins Glen sits on Seneca Lake, one of many ‘finger lakes’ in the region which carries the same name, and my home for the visit was the beautiful Harbor Hotel, which offered views of the lake, and the opportunity for alfresco dining in the summer sun. There was even a firework display the night before the race.

Image Courtesy http://www.fingerlakes.org/

The circuit itself is a 10 minute drive from the town and sits on high ground surrounded by farmland, woodland and villages. It’s a beautiful setting, more reminiscent of Brands Hatch than Silverstone in its charming surroundings.

It has a large infield and plenty of undulations which give the track such character. Spectator wise the RV is king, with the vast majority of INDYCAR attendees taking the RV / camping route. There are ample opportunities to park your RV with a direct view of the circuit so you don’t need a grandstand ticket. I understand there are more grandstands installed for the NASCAR events which obviously attract a much bigger crowd.

I sat in the pit straight grandstand overlooking pit road, it was a good vantage point, but not a great one, and if I went again I would station myself somewhere with a good view of one of the circuit’s amazing high speed banked corners.

The current president of the circuit made warm noises yesterday about his dream of seeing F1 cars return to the Glen, but I can’t see it happening to be honest. There’s no-one to put up the money, the circuit’s catchment area is too sparsely populated to attract anyone other than hardcore fans, and the works which would be required to bring the circuit up to standard in terms of runoff would in all likelihood ruin the circuit’s unique character and timeless quality.

I will return one day to Watkins Glen, maybe to see the annual historic grand prix. And I will always have great memories of the place.

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