A WALK THROUGH AUTO RACING HISTORY
First of all, on behalf of the Finger Lakes Museum & Aquarium trustees, staff, and volunteers, I wish to offer our sincere condolences to the people of Seneca County who lost their homes or incurred property damage in the recent flood event this week. We wish a speedy recovery to those families who were affected.
This month we are celebrating Seneca Lake as part of our year long focus on the eleven Finger Lakes. At the south end of Seneca Lake lies the picturesque village of Watkins Glen, home to one of America’s best state parks and where American auto road racing experienced its revival. Last Saturday, the FLM&A Adventure Team set out for Watkins Glen State Park with the intent of hiking the South Rim Trail. We chose the South Rim trail because most people who have visited the park have hiked the famous Gorge Trail. Unfortunately, Mother Nature had her own plan of what we should be doing that day, and it did not include hiking. Just as the team met up in town, the rain came. While other areas of the Finger Lakes had sunshine and blue sky, Watkins Glen fell under a siege of torrential rain that continued over the next few hours. So, what do you do if you can’t hike?
It was a little too early for wine tasting, so instead the team indulged themselves with tasty, homemade treats from the Glen Mountain Bakery and Market. Be sure to add this little bakery to your list of “must stops” in the village. The fresh brewed coffee and sinfully delicious baked goods will certainly put a smile on your face even on a rainy day. After consuming a day’s worth of calories, a walk was definitely in order. Umbrellas in hand, we splashed our way to Famous Brands for a little shopping. Famous Brands carries a wide assortment of outdoor clothing and shoes, often with discounted prices. It’s one of my favorite places to shop when I visit Watkins Glen. Our next stop was the Visitor Center, where Deb found the car of her dreams (see picture). It was there where I acquired some information about the contribution of Watkins Glen to auto road racing history that I will share with you today.
One of the first things a visitor to Watkins Glen notices upon entering the village are the colorful murals painted on the sides of two of the buildings. The murals were painted by Penn Yan artist and race car enthusiast Robert Gillespie, who incidentally is a former colleague of mine. The murals on two separate buildings depict race car drivers Bill Milliken (Watkins Glen 1948), Phil Walters and Bill Spears (1954 Grand Prix Race). The murals are so realistic they appear to be speeding right out of the building!
The second thing a visitor will notice are the plaques embedded into the sidewalk that line both sides of Franklin Street and part of Fourth St. The collection of over 125 plaques comprises the Watkins Glen Grand Prix Driver’s Walk of Fame. The Drivers Walk of Fame was established in 1993 to honor the great drivers, beginning in 1948, who competed on the original road circuit and the permanent track. The Watkins Glen Grand Prix Historical Committee, the organizational committee of the Grand Prix Festival that is held each September, Watkins Glen International, the Schuyler County Chamber of Commerce and other private businesses and individuals all helped develop the Walk of Fame. On your journey down Franklin Street, you will find plaques for such car racing legends as Stirling Moss, Robert Penske, Dale Earnhardt, and Mario Andretti. There is even a plaque for the movie star, race car driver, and heart throb, Paul Newman! I would suggest stopping first at the Visitor Center for a list of the drivers’ plaques and their locations, especially if you are looking for a particular driver. Also be sure to pick up the map of the original Grand Prix Course 1948-1952 that runs through the streets of town. This is a self guided tour that’s even more fun to drive if you are in a vintage sports car! To find more information about the contribution of Watkins Glen to automotive racing, be sure to visit the International Motor Racing Research Center at Watkins Glen, located at 610 South Decatur Street.
If you are looking for even more automotive excitement, come to Watkins Glen on Friday, Sept. 7th for the 25th Anniversary of the Watkins Grand Prix Festival. This event attracts vintage sports cars from all over the United States and Canada where drivers will participate in a mock race on the old circuit course. Franklin Street will remained closed to traffic to allow the drivers to experience what it was like to race on the streets of Watkins Glen from 1948 - 1952. The mock race is preceded by a car show during the day where exhibitors will display their vintage cars. Each year, a different car make is featured. This year the Jaguar is the featured car. Festival admission is free and there are usually live music and food vendors on site. Get there early to find a parking space on one of the side streets.
The FLM&A Adventure Team is still planning on hiking the South Rim Trail. Maybe next week. Move on rain clouds, move on!