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Official Review by Joshua Guiher, Stadium Journey Special Correspondent
Watkins Glen International is one of two road courses that NASCAR runs at each year. The track is located in the Finger Lakes region, a small, touristy area of New York. Over the history of the track, just about every racing series in the world has run at the famous track including Formula One, IndyCar and NASCAR.
The FANFARE scale is our metric device for rating each stadium experience. It covers the following:
Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
Watkins Glen is a huge track, at 2.45 miles for the "short course" which is what NASCAR uses. So, you have to walk around a bit to find the areas where the food is.
The best area was inside the track in the fan zone. The best stand was probably the ice cream stand where you could get a small Slush Puppie for ($2). They also had other sizes for $3, $4 and a souvenir cup for $6 and $3 refills all weekend. They also offered banana splits ($6), peppermint delight ($6) and sundaes ($4). The stand even offered a children's sundae for $2.50 in a Barbie or Spiderman cup.
Other stands included pizza ($6), kettle corn ($4 & $7), half-pound burgers ($7), steak hoagies ($7) and sausage hoagies ($7).
For drinks, a 20oz bottle of water was $3 and 20oz bottles of Coca-Cola products were $4.
With a huge area for camping inside the track, the atmosphere at Watkins Glen was amazing. The track had all sorts of nightly entertainment for the fans including a concert on Saturday night and a movie both Friday and Saturday.
It is really neat to see all of the people on top of their RV's, watching the race and cheering for their favorite drivers.
I really like the Watkins Glen area. Downtown has some local restaurants and bars. Be sure to get there early because there certainly aren't enough for as many people that are in town for the race weekend. Further up route 414, there is a 12-mile stretch of wineries along a picturesque drive along lake Seneca.
The fans are great. The hospitality they showed as I walked around the infield camping was incredible. I was offered all sorts of food and beer along the way.
During the race, fans have their eyes glued to the action on the track. Despite some corners being over a mile from each other, you can hear the roar of the crowd every time a wreck happens.
These are probably the most enjoyable fans I have run into at the various NASCAR tracks I have visited.
The roads leading into the track are narrow and there are not enough for all of the traffic. Getting around the track involves a lot of walking because the seating areas are so far apart. Above all else, make sure you have a pair of comfortable shoes at Watkins Glen. A nice trolley or transportation system is badly needed.
Bathrooms are older but easy enough to find near the grandstands. The track could benefit with adding a few more port-a-johns around the camping areas for those staying in tents.
I know, you are probably wondering how I can have so many five-star categories and only give return on investment a lower score. The answer is simple; you can't see enough of the track. I know it is a road course, but the track really needs to add some bigger video replay boards so fans can see the rest of the action.There are currently nine boards in place, but it is not always enough to see them well from every seat.
Currently, fans can only see a few hundred feet of the track, then must wait about a minute for the cars to come back around to their section. While you can hear the fans in another corner cheering when an accident happens, you really have no idea what happened unless you can hear the radio broadcast on the speakers over the roar of the engines.
To be fair, this rating is based upon being able to watch the sporting event. If you are there to party, enjoy the scenic area and maybe watch some of the race, well then this would probably be a five-star rating.
You can get a "pit pass" and get to walk around the pit area in the morning before the race. If you do buy one, be sure to go early because it was very tight once everyone showed up. The other bonus is for the fan zone, which is bigger and better than any other I have seen at a NASCAR race. Well done with interactive games, and free t-shirts and free (sample size) BBQ sandwiches from the famous Dinosaur BBQ.
I really enjoyed my trip to Watkins Glen. Not only was the race enjoyable, but the entire area is a place where I could spend a week or two just on vacation. If you go, make a long weekend out of the trip and enjoy yourself.
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