Watkins Glen Race Track

As automotive enthusiasts, we are captivated by the adrenaline-pumping world of motorsports, where speed, skill, and precision come together in an exhilarating display of human and machine performance. And when it comes to iconic racetracks in North America, few can match the storied history and racing legacy of Watkins Glen International. Nestled in the picturesque Finger Lakes region of upstate New York, Watkins Glen Race Track has been a mecca for motorsports enthusiasts for over 70 years, hosting world-class racing events and serving as a proving ground for some of the most legendary drivers and cars in motorsports history. Join us as we delve into the rich history, legendary moments, and thrilling racing legacy of Watkins Glen Race Track.

The history of Watkins Glen Race Track dates back to the post-World War II era, when a group of local enthusiasts and business owners came together with a vision to bring racing to the scenic region of Watkins Glen. In 1948, the first Watkins Glen Grand Prix was held on the streets of the village, marking the birth of an iconic racing tradition. The race was a success, drawing crowds of spectators and showcasing the talent of skilled drivers as they navigated the challenging street circuit.

The success of the Watkins Glen Grand Prix paved the way for the construction of a permanent racing facility. In 1956, the first permanent racetrack was built on a 550-acre plot of land on the outskirts of Watkins Glen. The track was initially designed as a 2.3-mile circuit with a mix of fast straights, challenging corners, and sweeping elevation changes, making it a true driver’s track.

Over the years, Watkins Glen Race Track has undergone several upgrades and renovations to meet the evolving demands of modern motorsports. Today, the track features multiple configurations, including the 3.4-mile “Long Course” and the 2.45-mile “Short Course,” which offer a variety of challenges for drivers and teams alike.

Watkins Glen Race Track Layout

Legendary Moments Throughout its illustrious history

Watkins Glen Race Track has witnessed numerous legendary moments that have left an indelible mark on the world of motorsports. From iconic drivers and teams to unforgettable races and championships, Watkins Glen has been a stage for some of the most memorable moments in racing history.

One of the most iconic moments in Watkins Glen’s history took place in 1961 when Formula One made its debut at the track. The United States Grand Prix, held at Watkins Glen, was the first Formula One race ever held in the United States, and it attracted legendary drivers such as Juan Manuel Fangio, Stirling Moss, and Phil Hill. The race was won by Innes Ireland, driving a Lotus, and it marked the beginning of a new era for American motorsports, firmly establishing Watkins Glen as a world-class racing destination.

In addition to Formula One, Watkins Glen has also hosted numerous other racing series and events over the years, including the NASCAR Cup Series, IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, and the SCCA National Championship Runoffs. The track has witnessed thrilling battles, nail-biting finishes, and unforgettable moments that have earned it a reputation as one of the most challenging and prestigious tracks in North America.

Racing Legacy

Watkins Glen Race Track has a rich racing legacy that spans over seven decades, with many drivers and teams leaving their mark on the track’s history. Some of the most renowned names in motorsports have competed at Watkins Glen, etching their names in racing folklore.

One of the most legendary drivers associated with Watkins Glen is the late great Formula One driver, Ayrton Senna. Senna, considered one of the greatest drivers in the history of motorsports, competed at Watkins Glen in the 1980s and left an indelible mark on the track. In 1984, Senna famously won the United States Grand Prix at Watkins Glen driving for the Lotus team, showcasing his exceptional driving skills and determination. Senna’s victory at Watkins Glen was a defining moment in his illustrious career and cemented his status as one of the all-time greats in Formula One.

Another iconic moment in Watkins Glen’s racing legacy is the legendary battles between Mark Donohue and George Follmer in the 1970 Trans-Am season. Donohue, driving a Chevrolet Camaro, and Follmer, driving a Plymouth Barracuda, engaged in fierce on-track duels, thrilling spectators and establishing Watkins Glen as a premier venue for Trans-Am racing. The Donohue-Follmer rivalry is still remembered as one of the most thrilling chapters in the history of American motorsports, and their performances at Watkins Glen are etched in racing folklore.

In recent years, Watkins Glen has continued to host prestigious racing events, such as the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship and the NASCAR Cup Series. The track has also become a popular destination for track days and driving experiences, allowing amateur drivers to test their skills on the same hallowed tarmac that has seen racing legends make history.

Watkins Glen International: aka 'The Glen'
Watkins Glen International Porsches racing

Features of Watkins Glen Race Track

Watkins Glen Race Track is known for its challenging layout and unique features that make it a favorite among drivers and fans alike. Some of the notable features of the track include:

  1. The “Esses”: A series of fast left and right turns at the beginning of the lap that require precise car control and a keen sense of timing. The Esses are known for separating the skilled drivers from the average ones and provide a thrilling challenge for those behind the wheel.
  2. The “Boot”: A section of the track that was added in 1971, known for its technical nature and elevation changes. The Boot adds an extra level of complexity to the track, with tight corners and blind crests that demand skill and concentration from drivers.
  3. The “Bus Stop”: A chicane located at the end of the back straight, which requires drivers to brake hard and navigate through a tight left-right-left sequence. The Bus Stop is a key passing opportunity and often results in exciting overtaking maneuvers during races.
  4. Elevation Changes: Watkins Glen Race Track is known for its dramatic elevation changes, with steep uphill and downhill sections that add to the challenge and excitement of racing. The “Climbing Esses” and the “Inner Loop” are particularly noteworthy for their elevation changes, providing drivers with a unique driving experience.

As a race track, Watkins Glen does not have model variations in the traditional sense, as it is a fixed circuit that does not change its layout. However, the track has hosted various racing events for different types of cars, ranging from Formula One cars to sports cars, touring cars, and stock cars. Watkins Glen has also been the venue for different racing series and championships, such as the Formula One United States Grand Prix, NASCAR Cup Series, IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, and SCCA National Championship Runoffs.

Cost and Accessibility

Watkins Glen Race Track offers a range of options for racers and enthusiasts to experience its iconic tarmac. The track offers rental opportunities for private testing, track days, and racing events. Rental rates vary depending on the time of day, day of the week, and the specific configuration of the track. Additionally, Watkins Glen hosts various racing events and series throughout the year, with ticket prices varying depending on the event and seating options.

In terms of accessibility, Watkins Glen is located in upstate New York, approximately 130 miles south of Rochester and 85 miles southwest of Syracuse. The track is easily accessible by car, with ample parking available for visitors. For those traveling by air, the nearest major airports are Elmira-Corning Regional Airport (ELM) and Greater Rochester International Airport (ROC), both of which are within driving distance of Watkins Glen.


Watkins Glen offers a range of accommodation options for visitors, from nearby hotels and motels to camping facilities. The track itself also has on-site camping facilities for those who wish to stay close to the action. The camping facilities provide basic amenities such as restrooms, showers, and electricity, making it a convenient option for racing enthusiasts who want to immerse themselves in the racing experience. Additionally, there are numerous hotels, motels, and vacation rentals in the surrounding area, providing visitors with a variety of choices to suit their preferences and budgets.

Visitor Experience A visit to Watkins Glen Race Track offers a unique experience for racing enthusiasts and fans. The track’s rich history and iconic features provide an exciting and challenging environment for drivers and a thrilling spectacle for spectators. Visitors can watch races from various vantage points around the track, including grandstands, viewing platforms, and the pit area. Many racing events at Watkins Glen also offer paddock access, allowing fans to get up close and personal with the teams and drivers.

Apart from the racing action, Watkins Glen also offers a range of amenities for visitors to enjoy. The track has a souvenir shop where fans can purchase official merchandise and memorabilia. There are also food and beverage options available on-site, including concession stands and food trucks, offering a variety of options for dining. Additionally, Watkins Glen is located in the heart of the Finger Lakes region of New York, known for its picturesque scenery, wineries, and outdoor recreational activities, providing visitors with plenty of opportunities for sightseeing and leisure activities during their visit.

Watkins Glen Race Track is a legendary motorsports venue with a rich history and a reputation for hosting thrilling racing events. From its humble beginnings as a public road course to its status as one of the most iconic tracks in the world, Watkins Glen has played a significant role in shaping the landscape of motorsports in the United States. Its challenging layout, unique features, and storied past make it a favorite among drivers and fans alike. Whether you are a racing enthusiast, a motorsports fan, or simply a lover of speed and excitement, a visit to Watkins Glen Race Track is sure to be a memorable experience. From the high-speed Esses to the technical Boot, and the famous Bus Stop, Watkins Glen offers an unparalleled racing experience that is truly unforgettable. As you walk through the paddock, listen to the roar of the engines, and feel the adrenaline rush as cars zoom past, you will understand why Watkins Glen has earned its place in automotive history as one of the most iconic and beloved race tracks in the world.

Relevant Links:

  1. Watkins Glen International Official Website: https://www.theglen.com/
  2. History of Watkins Glen Race Track: https://www.theglen.com/about/history
  3. Formula One United States Grand Prix at Watkins Glen: https://www.formula1.com/en/latest/article.10-years-ago-this-weekend-the-last-us-gp-at-watkins-glen.7GPsgRybg8WMkd4hEyv3ME.html
  4. IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship: https://www.imsa.com/
  5. NASCAR Cup Series at Watkins Glen: https://www.nascar.com/track-pages/watkins-glen-international/
  6. Vintage Grand Prix at Watkins Glen: https://www.svra.com/events/2023-us-vintage-grand-prix-watkins-glen/
  7. Finger Lakes Tourism: https://www.fingerlakestravelny.com/