WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. (WETM) – Hundreds of Corvettes, classic cars, and motorcycles roared through Watkins Glen Friday, for the 30th Grand Prix Festival. Drivers hit the gas on the same starting line on Franklin Street where in 1948, the first American road race was held after World War 2. Drivers followed a pace car through the original 6.6-mile circuit, which includes the famed Milliken’s corner right before crossing the finish line downtown.
“I just decided to come and do it, and it was exhilarating to know how many legends, the people that were on the same road as I am, to be able to crack the throttle, have some fun,” said John Sotak, who rode his motorcycle.
“It is the best day of the year in Watkins Glen, for me anyway,” said Christina Notarfonzo. “The cars, they close the street down, we get to drink on the streets. Every year I meet new people, there are friendships made, it’s a lot of fun.”
Dean Heckman and his friends arrived at 6 a.m. to save a spot next to the start and finish line, on their couch on wheels.
“It’s a 1996 Raymour and Flanigan so it’s a classic, powered by an electric wheelchair motor,” said Heckman. “It started as a joke six years ago. Then 5 years ago we built it, and we’ve been taking it here and up to the track ever since then. We’re known as The Couch Guys.”
You can watch the full interview with The Couch Guys below:
Denver Cornett’s father participated in the inaugural 1948 race. He now shares his father’s legacy by bringing his original 1947 MG-TC to the Grand Prix Festival.
“It’s a lot of fun to come up here because I feel like I visit with my dad when I come up here,” said Denver Cornett. You can watch the full interview with Mr. Cornett below:
Another main attraction is a 1951 concept General Motors LeSabre. The one-of-a-kind vehicle was brought to the festival from Detroit.
“This is pretty much emblematic of concept cars of the 1950’s,” said Kip Zeiter, Visitor Services Coordinator for the International Motor Racing Research Center located in Watkins Glen. “You’ll notice the fins. We don’t want to use it, but if it started to rain the top would automatically open, the windshield wipers would work. Stuff that in today’s cars we take for granted. But again, this is a 77-year-old car. It has a suspension that you plug it in and it automatically lifts the car in case you have a flat tire. It’s a super-charged 215 cubic inch V8.” You can watch the full interview about the 1951 LeSabre below:
According to the International Motor Racing Research Center, the inaugural race on October 2, 1948 “attempted to revive road racing in the United States, bringing the excitement and prestige of European road racing across the Atlantic. Cameron Argetsinger’s outlandish dream of creating an international road racing circuit in the remote Finger Lakes region of Upstate New York required the support of local and racing communities to implement. It brought together members of the fledgling Sports Car Club of America, Watkins Glen Community leaders, the Chamber of Commerce, and local journalists and boosters. Village automobile garages and car dealerships served as team headquarters and provided technical support. State, county, town, and village governments as well as park service supported the effort, granting permission to racers to run their cars over roads maintained by multiple jurisdictions. Residents welcomed, housed, and fed visitors; admired the fast, beautifully designed sports cars; and cheered racers. It sparked the long tradition of hosting motorsports events and the racing community in the village of Watkins Glen and surrounding areas.”
In 1952, an accident killed a 7-year-old boy and injured several spectators, marking the end of road racing in Watkins Glen and the U.S. Drivers started using a track near the site of the Watkins Glen International Raceway, which opened in 1956.