If you’re making a list of legendary race tracks in North America, then it’s pretty much a requirement to include Watkins Glen International Raceway. Nicknamed “the Glen,” the road course is located in New York state near the Finger Lakes region, and it’s been a staple for motorsports since it opened in 1956.
In its earlier years, it was known as the home of the Formula One United States Grand Prix, but tons of different classes have raced at this premier road racing facility, including the IMSA Weathertech Sportscar Championship, NASCAR Cup Series, ARCA Menards Series, IndyCar Series, and so many others.
This place has a ton of history and has seen plenty of race weekends over the years, so below we’ll learn a little bit more about what’s gone on at WGI over the last 66 years.
A Quick History of Watkins Glen International
Over the years, Watkins Glen has gone through a couple different layouts. Even before a permanent course was constructed, they placed the track in a way that used public roads. For the first few years, it even went straight through the town with spectators watching from the sidewalks. After several accidents went down on the track, they eventually re-did the design.
In 1956, the Grand Prix course was constructed on 550 acres. They used it for 20 consecutive years until 1970, when the circuit underwent a major renovation overhaul for the first time. The track introduced a short course, removing some corners and replacing them with a new pit straight. The new start/finish line also sat on the new straightaway.
Around the time of completion, the track ran its first annual Six Hours of the Glen race in 1971. One of the more significant changes to the track includes “the boot” (long course) addition. It was completed in 1972, and the new layout measured 3.377 miles overall.
After some tough times in the early ’80s, Watkins Glen was purchased by Corning Enterprises in partnership with International Speedway Corporation in 1983. The renovated track was open in ’84.
Along with the annual SCCA races, NASCAR started racing at the track relatively early, despite it not being a traditional speedway. The first professional NASCAR Grand National Division race was held in 1957.
Unfortunately, there have been several crashes that have occurred at Watkins Glen over the years, resulting in serious injury and even death. They were much common and severe in the earlier years, but track officials actively and regularly assess dangers at this track and have made countless changes to improve safety.
One of the biggest changes came in 1991, after NASCAR Cup Series driver J. D. McDuffie died in an accident at the Budweiser at the Glen. Massive design alterations were made to improve safety, including a bus stop chicane being added to the back straight.
Significant structural improvements were made at Watkins Glen in the mid-2000s, and today, NASCAR weekends are a staple at Watkins Glen. The tracks hosts the Bully Hill Vineyards 150 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race, the Zippo 200 at The Glen NASCAR Xfinity Series race, and the Go Bowling at The Glen NASCAR Cup Series race.
The circuit has also been home to some pretty big music concerts, including the 1973 Summer Jam, Super Ball IX, the Allman Brothers Band, the Grateful Dead, and numerous Phish festivals.
If you’re looking to attend a race in the grandstands, the track is located off of County Route 16 in Upstate New York. For more information about the history of this amazing track and to check out upcoming events, you’ll want to go to their website at www.theglen.com.
NASCAR Cup Series Records at Watkins Glen
Most Wins: Tony Stewart (5)
Most Top 5s: Mark Martin (12)
Most Top 10s: Mark Martin (16)
Most Starts: Jeff Gordon (24)
Most Poles: Jeff Gordon (4)
Most Laps Completed: Jeff Gordon (2,075)
Most Laps Led: Jeff Gordon (262)
Best Average Start: Tony Stewart (5.9)
Best Average Finish: Carl Edwards (8.9)
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This post was originally published on July 15, 2021.