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Watkins Glen International

Watkins Glen International is a 3.45 mile road course located near Watkins Glen, New York, at the south end of Seneca Lake. A paved dragstrip and a paved oval have also operated here, but not for quite some time.

Watkins Glen has hosted a remarkable variety of races over the years, including most of the various IMSA series, most of the various SCCA series, Formula 1, Indycar, and NASCAR.

Pro races make up a very small part of the Watkins Glen Schedule; one or two SCCA National races and a large number of SCCA regionals occur at the track during the course of a year, as well as a large number of Club Dates put on by organizations such as the Porsche Club of America, the BMW Car Club of America, and so forth.

Last Updated: 2019-11-18

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Track Facts

Elevation: 1500 feet to 1600 feet Latitude: 42.336564 Longitude: -76.925068 Time zone: EST/EDT (-0500/-0400)

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Historical Note

A 1/4 mile paved dragstrip operated from 1957-1959, and another as "Watkins Glen Dragway" around 1970. A 1/5 mile paved oval operated briefly in 1993. This may have been an experiment with the "inner loop" chicane on the back straight.

Road Racing -- The Beginning

Road Racing came to Watkins Glen in 1948; the projected was initiated by Cameron Argetsinger, an Ohio resident who often stayed at his father's summer house on Seneca Lake. Argetsinger, an early member of the SCCA, proposed a an amateur Road Race to be called the "Watkins Glen Grand Prix" to the Watkins Glen Chamber of Commerce. The Chamber was enthusiastic; Argetsinger selected a 6.6 mile course using paved, gravel, and dirt roads, permissions were obtained to close a NYC railroad track and the roads needed, and SCCA sanction was obtained. The first race was held at 12 Noon on October 2nd, 1948, a 4 lap qualifying race with a standing start. Subsequently, 15 cars started the 8 lap, 52.8 mile Grand Prix, and 10 finished. The winner was Frank Griswold, of Wayne, Pennsylvania, in a pre-war Alfa Romeo 8C2900 coupe, closely followed by Briggs Cunningham in his infamous Bu-Merc. Other prominent entrants included William Milliken, the noted Aircraft and Race Vehicle dynamics expert-to-be (who rolled his Bugatti 35 on the last lap of the qualifier, giving "Milliken's Bend" its name), Charles Addams, the cartoonist who created the Addams' Family, and Miles and Sam Collier, major figures in the early history of US Road Racing (it should be noted that Milliken and Argetsinger were original members of the first SCCA Competition Board, holding competition licenses numbers 6 and 1, respectively. Milliken wrote the actual supplemental regulations for the first Watkins Glen race.)

The 1949 Grand Prix was won by Miles Collier in a Ford-Riley, narrowly defeating Briggs Cunningham in a Ferrari. The 1950 Race (the first on the FIA calendar, via the AAA contest board), brought tragedy to Wakins Glen for the first time. Sam Collier was killed when his car fishtailed and rolled during the race; his brother Miles never raced again. Later in the day, a car left the road, injuring a fireman and two spectators.

Change started in 1951; there was a need to spend real money on a communication system, and gain better control of the spectators. After some debate, it was decided to continue with SCCA sanction rather than switching to AAA sanction. The 1951 race was relatively uneventful after that; it was won by George Weaver of Boston in a blue-and-white Cunningham, narrowly defeating John Fitch in another blue-and-white Cunningham.

1952 was the last year of the original circuit that passed through the center of town; spectator control and money problems had been mounting, and change was clearly the order of the day. This point was brought home when for the second time, tragedy struck at Watkins Glen: in a 3 lap trial prior to the main race of the day, a car left the course on the start-finish straight in town, entering the crowd. 12 spectators were injured and 1 died. The day's race schedule was abruptly halted, and never completed; the race would never pass through town again.

The Second Course

In response to the events in the 1952 Watkins Glen Grand Prix, the State of New York imposed new policies forbidding racing on state highways; this effectively ended racing on the original circuit. After some searching, a location was selected in the Town of Dix, on the top of a hill to the southwest of town. A 4.6 mile course was selected using existing Town roads, agreements were reached with surrounding land owners, and a lease agreement was signed with the Town. the Watkins Glen Grand Prix Corporation was formed by the Chamber of Commerce to manage the race. George Weaver and William Milliken were consulted and the roads that had been selected were improved prior to the race. Spectator control, parking and concessions were all dramatically improved at the new site. However, the SCCA choose not to sanction the 1953 Watkins Glen Grand Prix.

The actual race was won by Walt Hansgen in a Jaguar XK120C; second place went to George Harris in an Allard. There were no major incidents in the race. In light of the relative safety of the new circuit, the SCCA choose to renew sanction for the 1954 and 1955 races. The 1954 race was won by Phil Walters in a Cunningham C4R. Trouble surfaced in 1955; it became clear that it would not be reasonable to continue using closed public roads that doubled as farm roads, and the drivers expressed concern about poor runoff and poor visibility. The decision was made to build a permanent road course, and the 9th Watkins Glen Grand Prix would be held in 1956 on an all new race course. Thus, the second course only lasted 3 years.

The Third Course

The new race course was located on a 550 acre parcel which overlapped part of the second race course; however, no roadways were shared, as entirely new roads were built for the new circuit. Bill Milliken was consulted on the new course, and several engineering professors from Cornell laid out the new circuit and specified the pavement. The new course would be 2.3 miles long. The new course was completed the night before the first practice. The SCCA had changed management, and the race promotors were not able to come to terms on a race sanction; the race went forward without one. A press release turf war followed, with the race eventually going on anyway, despite an effort by the SCCA to get its drivers to withdraw. The 9th Watkins Glen Grand Prix went off without serious incidents.

The Grand Prix committee decided to hold a "get together" race at the circuit on October 20th and 21st; the turf war continued as the SCCA announced a ban on SCCA driver participation. The race was held anyway, with a small but friendly turnout. The turf war burned out; the SCCA inspected the circuit, asked for a small and reasonable list of changes, and in early 1957 formed the Glen region of the SCCA. The Watkins Glen Grand Prix committee made all the requested changes and more; the SCCA ban was lifted, peace was restored, and on July 5th and 6th, the Glen region put on the First Annual Glen Classic SCCA Regional.

The 10th Watkins Glen Grand Prix subsequently occured on the traditional 3rd Saturday of September, 1957, with Cameron Argetsinger as SCCA Chief Steward. There were over 225 entries, and no serious incidents. The Grand Prix was won by Walt Hansgen in a D Type Jaguar; fast lap was set by second place finisher Bob Holbert in a Porsche RS.

In 1957, Watkins Glen was visited by NASCAR for the first time, as the Grand National Division (which eventually became NASCAR Nextel Cup) appeared. Beginning in 1961, the US Grand Prix was held at Watkins Glen for 19 years.

In 1981, Watkins Glen filed for bankruptcy and closed its doors; in 1983 the facility was purchased by a division of Corning Glass, who reopened the track in 1984. Since then, Corning sold the track to NASCAR.

The Fourth Course - Entering the Modern Era

The fourth course is basically the course which exists today. The "short course" follows the rough outlines of the third course, with turns 2, 3, and 4 corresponding to turns 1, 2, and 3 of the third course. Turn 5 ("the Loop") corresponds to turn 4 on the final version of the third course. Turn 6 of the short course (turn 10 of the long course) is a dramatic (and rather tighter) revision of the third course turn 5; the remainder of the fourth course is distinctly different from the third course, relocating pit lane and the pit straight (the relocation of pit lane triggered the turn renumbering for those parts of the third course that were retained in the fourth course.)

A chicane known as the "Inner Loop" was added in the early 1990s after the tragic death of NASCAR Winston Cup driver J. D. McDuffie in a Turn 5 accident; this chicane was added on the right side of the back straightaway, just before the entrance to "The Loop". It is numbered as 4 distinct turns (Turns 5, 6, 7, and 8), although it is generally taken as two turns. When the chicane is used, 4 is added to the turn numbers for all subsequent turns on the course.


Allan E. Brown, The History of America's Speedways: Past & Present. Comstock Park, Michigan: Brown, 2003 , ISBN 0931105617 , pp. 10-12,19-20,510-511. Order from National Speedway Directory

Henry Valent, Road Racing at Watkins Glen. Watkins Glen, New York: Watkins Glen Chamber of Commerce, 1958 .

Track Office

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

Watkins Glen International
P.O. Box 500, C.R. 16
Watkins Glen, NY 14891

607-535-2486    Extension 201    Administration
                Extension 220    Operations
                Extension 206    Race Operations

607-535-2481    Extension 261    Tickets
                Extension 229    Sales & Marketing

Track Maps and Imagery

Video overview:

The maps presently available are:

1948 course

The Original Course

1953 course The Second Course

1956 course The Third Course

1963 course Alternate View, Third Course (ca. 1963)

fourth course Vertical View, Fourth Course

fourth course, elevation view Elevation View, Fourth Course

The elevation view dates from before the addition of the new chicane on the back straightaway. In interpreting these maps, note that the course direction is clockwise, that is, the infield is to the driver's right. Turn 1 is the first turn after Start/Finish (the extreme left end of the map). Turns 2, 3, and 4 are the Esses, leading to the back straight. The chicane which appears at the end of the back straight on the elevation map is the old "SCCA chicane" which is no longer used; it does not correspond to the new "Inner Loop" which appears on the Vertical View. Turn 5 is "The Loop", which may feed either the long course or the short course.

The long course consists of an addition refered to as the "Boot"; the driver on the long course takes a different, wider line through "The Loop", following a short downhill straight into the lefthander known as "The Chute" (long course Turn 6); the track levels off somewhat and then enters a long, banked, climbing hairpin called "the Toe of the Boot" (long course Turn 7), and a goes up a steep hill onto a short straight; this is followed by a right hander of slightly more than 90 degrees called "the Heel of the Boot" (long course turn 8). A short straight ensues, followed by a left hander of more than 90 degrees called "the Off Camber" (long course turn 9), which rejoins the short course between short course turns 5 and 6 (long course turns 5 and 10).

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Getting There

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From Albany, NY


Take I-88 west to Binghampton; take NY 17 west from there. In Elmira/Horseheads, turn right off of NY 17 onto NY 14 North. Take NY 14 North to Montour Falls. Most of the accomodations are further North just off of 14; to reach the track, you may also turn left in Montour Falls and follow the "Race Track" signs up the hill. Alternatively, you may simply take 14 North and then turn Left onto NY 414 in Watkins Glen. Climbing the hill sucks either way. The two roads meet at a traffic light at the top of the hill; WGI is to the north (go straight from here if you are on the Montour Falls road; turn right if you are on NY 414.) Head on up the hill to the race track, which will be on your left. For marque club dates, enter at the first turn; for SCCA events, head further up the hill to the registration building.

Not Towing

A more scenic route than the above is possible, but it is only about 15 minutes shorter. It is a very poor choice of route to tow on, though.

Take I-88 west to Bainbridge (Exit 8.) Take NY 206 from Bainbridge to I-81; when you reach I-81, switch to NY (mumble) towards Ithaca. Leaving Ithaca, turn onto NY (mumble) towards Watkins Glen. Follow NY (mumble) until it ends in a T intersection at the foot of a long hill; turn left at the T onto NY (mumble) and follow this road into Watkins Glen. In Watkins Glen, turn left at a traffic light onto NY 14. Turn right at a traffic light onto NY 414 and at the top of the hill, turn right at a traffic light towards WGI and head up the hill.

From the NYC area

Take NY 17 west, and use the Albany/Towing instructions once you get past Binghampton.

Racer's Guide to Watkins Glen International


Registration is generally near the top of the hill on the east side of the track, on Bronson Hill Road. The Driver/Crew line generally is at the front of the building, and the Worker/Official line generally is around to the side.


Once registered, turn right (downhill) on to the road you took to Registration, and head down to the first gate you passed on the way up the hill. Turn right to enter the track. Display your credentials to the track employees at the gate, and enter the track. Pass through the tunnel under the Esses. Continue straight through the 4 way stop, and through the 2 way stop. Open Paddock space will be all around you, the garages and pits straight ahead. There is additional paved paddock space on the far side of the garage.


Space in the garage is generally rented; ask about it at registration. The bays closest to the Pits are reserved for Tech Inspection.


The fuel pumps are next to the Tech Bays near the garage area.

Tech Inspection

During safety tech, the path through the Tech inspection starts on the track side of the garage. For gear checks, enter and go to one of the tables on this side of the garage. The inspector will approve your gear and send you to the table on the other side of the garage to get your log book stamped and recieve your tech sticker.

For full techs, bring your car to the track side of the garage, and enter from this side when space is available. You may wish to have your gear check done separately while waiting for space for the rest of a full tech. Again, once you complete the required tech inspection, go to the table on the other end to have your logbook stamped and recieve your tech sticker.

The scales are located in the Tech bay on the side away from the track. If the area is clear, enter from the side away from the track. Do not attempt to do so if annual techs are in progress, however. It is unlikely that scales will be available if any form of Impound is in progress.

False Grid

The False Grid is behind the Pits, at the far end from the Garage and Tower. Note that Pit Marshalls at Watkins Glen wear red shirts, and are quite serious about directing traffic in the area between the Fuel Pumps, the Garages, the Pits, and the Tower.


Upon leaving the track, impound for the top finishers (or sometimes all cars for compliance efforts) starts on the side of the garage away from the Track. You will be directed into the garage bay where the scales are located, and then may be directed to stop after leaving the scales for compliance checks. After clearing the Tech bays, impounded cars are parked in a pyloned off area between the garage and the track. This is adjacent to the gravel area where disabled cars are placed by the wreckers for Post Accident Scrutineering.


Watkins Glen has recently made major upgrades to their water supply; the situation is vastly improved over years past.

Hot Lap

Hot Lap courtesy of Chris W. Ingle, 2003 Southeast Division T1 National Champion, #7 T1 Corvette Z06. Track Tapes has a video of laps of this track as driven by Chris.

Overall, Watkins is an incredibly fast and quite frankly, dangerous road course near the Finger Lakes region of New York. It is a high-horsepower track that has everything a great road course should have -- elevation changes, length (3.4 miles long), high speed straights (near 150 mph), fast 'pucker-factor' corners, wide, smooth, low curbs, and a few tight corners thrown in just for good measure. The bad part about this track though is that there is absolutely no room for error. The entire course is surrounded by Blue Armco (guard rail) and it's only 2-10 ft off the racing surface in most locations. If you make a mistake going up thru the very fast uphill Esses, you will become a pin-ball bouncing off the rails that border the road. And to make matters worse, if you bend a piece of their railing, you have just purchased it! Ouch!

The amenities of Watkins Glen are what you'd expect from a track that hosts some of the best racing in motor sports -- professional garages, large paved paddock area, permanent admin buildings, great viewing/vantage spots, etc.) It also hosted some of the earlier Formula 1 races held in the U.S. too so you know it's set up well.

It helps to have a neutral car here that you can easily point where you want it to go and one that can easily be recovered (forgiving) if you make a mistake. A car that understeers or oversteers severely will most likely find the Armco some time during the weekend. The curbing/rumble strips are reasonably smooth, but it does help to have a compliant suspension to take advantage of them. The course is used quite a bit and kept in fantastic condition so the tires grip immediately. It's a difficult track to learn and master because of blind apexes, elevation changes, and ever-present Armco. The track is so wide and smooth, that most of the corners are much faster than they look.

All shift points and approximate speeds are relative to my T1 prepared 2001 Corvette Z06.

Leaving the pits, stay to the right as cars will be coming thru turn 1 off to your left. There is a 'merge' area, but cars will be getting set up to fly up thru the uphill Esses - so check your mirrors carefully.

As you head down hill toward 2 and the Esses, you should be in 4th gear. You need to line up on the left side of the track. It is possible to negotiate the next 3 turns under full throttle, but it takes a perfectly set up car and lots of guts! Turn 2 is a very fast, right-hand, 45 degree dip that begins these Esses. Late apex this curve and stay to the right to get set up for scariest turn on the track (#3).

Turn 3 is a blind apex sweeping left hander over a crest where the car gets very, very light. It is essential to be very smooth thru here, under a consistent throttle and have a neutral handling car. Keep your eyes focused on where you want the car to go -- NOT THE ARMCO!! Your car will follow your eyes.

Once thru the apex of 3 you'll be on the right side of the track. Stay tucked in tight thru the entrance of #4 and slowly unwind the wheel all the way thru the exit. Afterward is one of the few places to catch your breath and check your gauges and mirrors. Stay to the left down the straight to get set up for the Chicane/Bus-stop or 'Inner Loop.'

The braking zone is flat and smooth so work your braking points closer and closer to the turn-in. Heel-toe downshift to 3d. The first part is a quick right hand flick so turn in under throttle and nail the rumble strips/curbing on the right and the ones immediately after on the left. Run over as much curbing as your suspension will allow and keep the car turned to the left setting up for the exit of the Loop. Again, nail the curbing on the left and right to straighten the exit as much as possible.

Once thru the loop, stay under throttle, but you should be close to the left side of the track for the right hand turn 5. It's a late, downhill apex and you should be at or near full throttle shortly after apex. You must hit the apex because there is no run off room at the exit. Once the car gets straight enough, smoothly shift to 4th gear.

Turns 6-9 are the long part of Watkins Glen and they call it 'The Boot.' The braking zone and entrance to turn 6 ('The Laces') is steeply down hill lefty so you must brake very hard and heel-toe downshift to 3d. Again it's a long, sweeping, 130 degree blind apex with no curbing at the apex or exit so be careful.

After exiting 6, you can either shift to 4th gear or remain in 3d and the high rpms. I prefer shifting to 4th, then back to 3d for the entrance to turn 7 ('The Toe').

Turn 7 is a long, sweeping right hand, uphill 180 degree turn that requires lots of early power to get up and over. Trail brake here. The turn-in is banked uphill so you can turn in harder than you think, but the apex is late and the exit is a bit slippery so it's difficult to get all the power down. Be smooth and try to avoid too much wheel spin and oversteer.

The braking zone for turn 8 ('The Heel') is a downhill bumpy zone and it takes much longer to get slowed down that it appears. It is however an excellent passing opportunity due to the critical exit of 7. Turn 8 itself is a sharp right hand 130 degree turn with a little room for runoff if you make a mistake.

You then head uphill toward the sharp, left hander turn 9, which is the transition corner from the boot to the part that NASCAR actually uses. It has a very late apex on a crest. It is also very difficult to put the power down on the exit because the track drops away slightly after the ridge. To compound matters, the ARMCO (with some padding) is directly in front of you. Again, look where you want the car to go and not at the pretty blue Armco. The exit is only a few feet away from the rail, so it's important not to spin the rear wheels and play dirt-trackin'!!

Stay in 3d gear down the small straight and brake very late for turn 10. It's a 70-80 degree left hand corner and much, much faster than it appears -- due to the banking, the curbing at the exit, and the run off room. Stay in 3d upon exit and get back to the left to set up for #11.

Turn 11 (right hand 90 degree) is also much faster than it appears, but the exit is only a few feet away from the Armco. Begin using a late apex and slowly work an earlier turn in until you find the right spot. Shift to 4th and then you'll cross start finish. The earlier you have to shift to 4th, the better you did the last corner.

Turn 1's braking zone is down hill and a little bumpy. By this time, your brakes are pretty hot so it takes longer to stop than you think. Trail brake here. There's a tendency for the car to push upon initial turn in because of how the track drops away. It's a 90 degree down hill right hand turn with lots of curbing on the inside of the apex and at the exit too. Use as much of each as your suspension will comply. Power down the hill, shift to 4th, and set up for the Esses again.

Watkins is a horsepower and guts track. It's imperative you keep your head and eyes up and look only where you want the car to go! It's awesome! Enjoy!

Chris W. Ingle www.tracktapes.com


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