WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. (WETM) – As NASCAR fans look forward to Sunday’s big race, a glance in the rear-view mirror shows a long road of motorsports history in Watkins Glen. On October 2, 1948, Watkins Glen held the first road race in America after World War Two.

The International Motor Racing Research Center says the inaugural race attempted to revive road racing in the United States, bringing the excitement and prestige of European road racing across the Atlantic. Cameron Argetsinger, a lawyer and racing fan, had a dream of creating an international road racing circuit in the remote Finger Lakes Region.

“Cam Argetsinger had the idea, hey, I want to go race!” said Josh Ashby, a Research Assistant at the International Motor Racing Research Center on 610 South Decatur Street. “He had an MG-T Series, laid out the plan, and talked to the town board who said, why not?”

Cameron Argetsinger sitting in his Bugatti which he raced at Watkins Glen in 1949.
Cameron Argetsinger racing in the original 1948 race in his MG-TC at speed navigating “Milliken’s Corner” in downtown Watkins Glen.

“By 1952, the last year they held the street race, there was a conservative estimate of over 100,000 people. This weekend there’s going to be 100,000 people around a 3.3 mile course. That’s a big crowd,” said Ashby.

Today drivers can retrace the original 6.6 mile circuit through the Village of Watkins Glen, around the gorge in Watkins Glen State Park, and around surrounding farmland. The start and finish line is in front of the courthouse on Franklin Street.

After a crash killed a spectator in 1952, road racing was stopped. Drivers started using a temporary track near the site of the Watkins Glen International raceway, which opened in 1956.

“This year we celebrate 75 years of racing in Watkins Glen,” said Mark Steigerwald, Executive Director of the International Motor Racing Research Center. “Racing is very important to the region, all the way back to 1948. We’ve seen everything from the evolution of sports car racing to Formula 1. Formula 1 was here for 20 years, from 1961 to 1980. Huge economic impact on the area. Now we have NASCAR as the premier race of the season. The track is owned by NASCAR, Watkins Glen International, and its busy all year round. So, racing has come full circle, NASCAR itself is celebrating 75 years,” said Steigerwald. “Motorsport is enjoying, I’d say, a resurgence in popularity. There are so many interesting series that fans can sort of pick and choose. I’m partial to this weekend as well, so the future is bright for motor sports.”

“It’s always going to be a good race in Watkins Glen,” Ashby added.

You can watch the full interviews Mark Steigerwald and Josh Ashby below: