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  • Writer's pictureChris Green

Watkins Glen International – US Vintage Grand Prix

Photos by Chris Green, Stadium Journey

Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 3.86

Watkins Glen International 2790 County Route 16 Watkins Glen, NY 14891

Year Opened: 1956

Capacity: 38,900


Vintage Racing Heaven in New York

While Watkins Glen International may be best known for the annual IMSA 6 Hours or the NASCAR Cup Series race, the yearly celebration of vintage racing that is the Hilliard US Vintage Grand Prix is perhaps the most unique event at the track. Since the track first began racing in 1948, the speedway has attracted some of the greatest racers in all of motorsports, across a wide variety of manufacturers. Now, this history is celebrated yearly when SVRA, Trans-Am, and IGT take to the track.

Food & Beverage 3

Watkins Glen International doesn’t have a lot of food vendors, with the main paddock cafe located in the main paddock near the front stretch. Those fans looking to visit the outer parts of the track may have slimmer pickings than those watching from the finish line.

That said, the choices in the fan zone are simple, ranging from burgers and hot dogs to chicken sandwiches and smaller snacks. Food trucks also line up inside the paddock area, offering additional different options as well.

Atmosphere 5

Watkins Glen International is located in New York’s Finger Lakes region, making the facility a beautifully located sports venue. The area is full of beautiful trees, meaning fans can find some shade in the hot sun. In addition, the track is laid out to be one of the fastest road courses in North America. Large grandstands line the front straight, turn 1, the esses, and the final corner complex, offering many different views for fans to watch from.

For a raceway filled with history (the track regularly hosts NASCAR, IMSA, and others, and has also hosted the likes of IndyCar, Formula 1, and others in the past), you cannot help but feel like you are witnessing history come alive at this SVRA weekend.

However, the biggest and most unique aspect of this event doesn’t even take place at the track itself. Held on Friday of race weekend, the historic reenactment takes place in downtown Watkins Glen. Here, starting in the morning and going all through the day, laps take place on the original street course that coursed through the area around Watkins Glen.

Fans can look forward to current and vintage cars lapping past all day long, as well as various car shows all around the area. Area stores and restaurants are open as well, offering specials for the day, while vendors also line the streets with everything from wine tasting to vintage motorsports memorabilia.

Neighborhood 4

The track itself is about 5 minutes south of the town of Watkins Glen, nestled on the southern shores of Seneca Lake. The town is beautiful and quaint, featuring numerous local shops and restaurants. North of town is the New York wine country, with countless wineries all along the lake.

For those willing to drive, the town of Ithaca is just a half hour east, where you can find hotels, restaurants, and shopping in the same town that is home to Cornell University. To the south, Elmira and Corning are 30 minutes away. Here, you can visit the Corning Museum of Glass or the National Soaring Museum.

In addition, sightseers routinely flock to Watkins Glen State Park for stunning hiking through a canyon of waterfalls, as well as Lakeside Park to watch the stars rise over the waters of Seneca Lake.

Fans 4

The fans at Watkins Glen International are once again a cross-section of sportscar racing diehards. New York racing fans are among the best in the country and know how to throw a great party – the camping grounds are full all weekend long, and the fans know who to cheer for when the race is on the line. In addition, Friday’s vintage reenactment will see fans line the street where the cars dive past for hours, propping up folding chairs to get a great view of the fun, much like one would see at a Fourth of July parade in a small town.

Access 3

The biggest downside in getting to Watkins Glen International is its relatively isolated location – the nearest major highway is I-86 to the south and west, at least a 30-minute drive. Traffic thankfully doesn’t back up, though, and the roadways are relatively clear all weekend.

Once at the track, parking is plentiful all around, but navigating the track’s tunnels, bridges, and walkways can be daunting, as the facility is rather large. Track maps are placed throughout the venue, however, making getting from place to place a little easier.

Return on Investment 5

Tickets to SVRA weekends are relatively affordable compared to IMSA or NASCAR. The weekend also features several warm-up races before the big Trans-Am events, which means fans will have plenty of time to see some great action on track throughout the weekend.

Watkins Glen for SVRA is the perfect weekend summer racing getaway for the whole family if you want to mix the great outdoors, camping, and exciting sports.

Extras 4

There are always several autograph sessions throughout the weekend for fans to meet their favorite drivers in each respective series. The track also has several fan zones to get you up close and personal with show cars, as well as to pick up some free giveaways. Fans can also wander the paddock area for free, giving you a great look at the teams working away at their machines. Victory Lane is also open to all fans, unlike large race series, offering fans the ability to take part in the podium celebrations.

Final Thoughts

The Watkins Glen vintage weekend is a showcase of the sport’s history and future, putting on a stellar weekend of racing that stretches across five days in early September. Without a doubt, this event is a great one to put on your racing calendar, offering great weather, unparalleled access for fans, and top-notch on-track activity. The addition of the downtown vintage reenactment makes this event one of the more unique events on the yearly schedule for race fans.

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