Locate Finger Lakes Business Journal

‘Best NASCAR Track’ in America is in the Finger Lakes


In sports, there are few lines more recognizable than “Gentlemen, start your engines!”

You can hear that popular call in the Finger Lakes at Watkins Glen International, a world-renowned road course in the village of Watkins Glen, New York.

This year marks the 70th anniversary of the track’s first race in 1948, when law student and sports car enthusiast Cameron Argetsinger fulfilled his dream to bring European-style road racing to the village where he spent his summer vacations. That inaugural street race was the first post-World War II road race in the United States.

Today, the track known as The Glen is regarded as one of the best in the country.

According to Michael Printup, president of Watkins Glen International, it ranks in the top three.

“You can go anywhere in the world and the three race tracks that come to everyone’s mind right off the bat are Watkins Glen, Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Daytona International Speedway,” he said. “That’s a pretty special feeling when you know that.”

The Glen was twice voted “Best NASCAR Track” in America by readers of USA Today.

Its biggest event of the season is just days away – “Go Bowling at The Glen” NASCAR weekend is August 3-5. It’s a tripleheader, featuring NASCAR’s K&N Pro Series East on Friday, XFINITY Series on Saturday, and the headliner Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series on Sunday.

At Sunday’s main event, fans will see some of the sport’s most popular drivers, including Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick, who stand at number one and two, respectively, in this year’s series; and Jimmie Johnson, Kurt Busch, Clint Bowyer and Chase Elliott, who currently rank in the top 15.

Building on an historic legacy

In 1957 – a year after the Watkins Glen track moved off public roads to a 2.3-mile permanent circuit – the Glen hosted its first professional race, a NASCAR Grand National Stock Car event. International competition began the following year with the running of a Formula Libre race.

Legends of The Glen

Watkins Glen International’s hall of fame, known as “Legends of The Glen,” honors individuals who have made a significant impact on The Glen’s storied history. Inductees include: Mario Andretti, Cameron and Jean Argetsinger, Derek Bell, Geoff Bodine, Jimmy Clark, Jeff Gordon, Walter Hansgen, Hurley Haywood, Graham Hill, Al Holbert, James Hunt, Mark Martin, Otto Linton, Bill Milliken, Scott Pruett, Jim Riesbeck, Sir Jackie Stewart, Tony Stewart and Phil Walters.

In 1961, The Glen hosted its first United States Grand Prix and was home to the annual Formula One race through 1980. For those two decades, Watkins Glen was the center of American road racing.

Over the years, the track hosted a variety of competitions, including the Can-Am, Trans-Am, Formula 5000 and CART Indy Car Series.

Today, The Glen hosts major NASCAR and Sports Car Club of America events, as well as the United States Vintage Grand Prix, one of the largest vintage racing events in the country.

Many of the top names in international motorsports have raced at Watkins Glen, including NASCAR Hall of Famers Fireball Roberts, Terry Labonte, Mark Martin and Rusty Wallace, and 2019 inductee Jeff Gordon. Other well-known drivers include Sir Jackie Stewart, Mario Andretti, Helio Castroneves, Tony Stewart, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Chemung, New York native Geoff Bodine.

“This track is so historic,” said Printup. “Our team right now is holding a place in time. I’ve held up a picture from the 1960s and told them, that’s going to be us someday. There’s going to be a picture of us and people will say we continued the great tradition of racing at The Glen. I always think and reflect on how important we are as individuals to this track – and how important the track is to the community because of the jobs and economic impact.”

After a brief closure in the early 1980s, the track reopened in July 1984, after Corning Enterprises purchased the track and formed a partnership with International Speedway Corporation, which also owns Daytona International Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway. Corning Enterprises is a community development-focused subsidiary of Corning Incorporated, the iconic specialty glass manufacturer headquartered in the Finger Lakes city of the same name. In 1997, International Speedway Corporation became the sole owner of The Glen, a step that completed Corning’s mission to revitalize both the race track and the southern Finger Lakes region.

Driving the regional economy and tourism

Located at the southern tip of Seneca Lake, Watkins Glen is a top tourism destination in the Finger Lakes.

That makes The Glen more than a race track. It is a point of community and regional pride.

“We are the spectacle of racing throughout the world because of our entire region,” said Printup, a western New York native. “It’s not just about Watkins Glen International. We embrace the Finger Lakes, the state parks, the eateries, the wineries.”

According to a 2014 study completed by the Washington Economics Group, The Glen has a $220 million annual economic impact in the Finger Lakes region.

Printup noted that number is likely higher now as ticket sales have increased.

Fans come to Watkins Glen from 44 states across the nation and five countries throughout North America and Europe.

“It’s a really diverse crowd for NASCAR,” said Printup. “Fans range from two years old to 99.”

The track employs about 36 people year-round who call the Finger Lakes home. Printup called them the “best team in motorsports.”

Employment grows throughout the season as major events get underway. During NASCAR weekend, 3,000-plus workers and volunteers keep things running smoothly for drivers and fans alike. Among the volunteers are community non-profits such as the Boy Scouts, Rotary and Lions Club. In return for their time, Watkins Glen International makes a donation to their cause.

Printup likens operating the track to “making a city.” In many ways, The Glen becomes a self-sustaining community of its own – offering families lodging, hospitality and amenities – and responsible for basic necessities like lawn mowing and garbage collection.

“We do everything but deliver the mail race weekend,” he said.

The Glen has diversified in recent years, hosting the popular Finger Lakes Wine Festival in July and the Ticket Gallery Beer Festival this October, featuring the state’s breweries, distilleries and cideries. Known as one of the largest camping-oriented races in NASCAR, the track recently added the growing trend of glamping, or glamourous camping, to the mix.

A thrilling experience at every turn

Printup said International Speedway Corporation has invested about $57 million into capital improvements at The Glen over the last decade. Recent years saw the repaving of the track, the construction of new grandstands and a state-of-the-art Media Center.

One of the most exciting projects, Printup said, was the addition of party decks, which have been especially popular among millennials looking for a more socially-oriented race experience. A third deck is in progress and two additional decks have been proposed.

Those newer seats are in addition to 38,000 grandstand seats and up to 15,000 general admission tickets available at The Glen.

“General admission is important at a road course because you don’t necessarily need a seat,” said Printup. “You can bring your lawn chair and find lots of places to watch the races.”

Drivers love the track for a variety of reasons, from its white-knuckle turns to its sell-out crowds.

“I was with Clint Bowyer the other day and he said, ‘Man, your track is hard, but I love it. You have to be on your game when you come to Watkins Glen,’” recalled Printup.

Asked to name a couple of his favorite moments at The Glen, Printup recalled the 2009 NASCAR race with Kyle Busch and Marcos Ambrose “fighting it out” in the final laps. On lap 64, Ambrose made a surprise inside pass on Busch at the ‘bus stop’ section of the circuit. The risky, late-breaking move ended up earning Ambrose his second-consecutive NASCAR win at Watkins Glen.

His other favorite moment is off the track: giving area youth – who have braved a variety of challenges – the opportunity to see what it’s like to run a race track.

“We show them the jobs. We talk about salaries within the sport,” said Printup. “Our goal is to be a friend for the weekend and give some inspiration to some young adults.”

Dale Earnhardt Jr. recently tweeted news that The Glen was close to its fourth grandstand sellout in a row. General admission seats are still available.

“Buy your tickets and come watch the best racing in the world,” said Printup.

Following NASCAR weekend, The Glen will host the season finale of the Pirelli World Challenge August 31-September 2. The Hilliard United States Vintage Grand Prix follows September 7-9. For ticket information, visit

Watkins Glen International

2790 County Route 16
Watkins Glen, NY 14891
Twitter: @WGI

Krista Gleason is a contributor to the Locate Finger Lakes Business Journal. She is a freelance writer and owner of Gleason Writes in the beautiful Finger Lakes.

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