Race fans know that there’s more to a race than the immediate performance of the teams—and at Watkins Glen, that was no exception. Brian Morgan has an extensive piece detailing the trials and tribulations of the racers on the track, but off it, there’s quite a bit of history and fanfare to the Finger Lakes region’s six-hour endurance race.
As usual during IMSA’s WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, I was attending the action alongside BMW Team RLL, but despite living just a couple of hours away, this past weekend’s race was my first experience at the Glen. It’s a legendary course, and a fast one—a downforce track through and through, as we discussed in the bar after the race. The racing is intense, fast, and flowing, and you get the sense that this is a driver’s course at its heart.
The history of Watkins Glen extends beyond the NASCAR road-course racing and recent IndyCar events, back into the Formula 1 heyday that run until 1980. Watching the archival footage that played on loop in the media center and team dining hall (both from F1 and from the GTP era) was just a taste of the story that blue Armco could tell.
In those four-by-three broadcasts of races from decades ago, it’s immediately obvious that the spectator presence was once massive—campfire smoke rises even in the middle of the day from the field of RVs, and the media center’s 30-year Watkins Glen veterans have stories of the infamous “Bog,” a traditional upstate New York mud pit full of mud trucks, golf carts, and whatever else 100,000 wild race fans could throw into the wetlands behind the course. (This tradition ended, allegedly, when a tour bus from a group of foreign spectators was commandeered, driven into the Bog, and torched).
For us, in 2018’s high-tech world of carbon-fiber and data-banked telemetry, the jumps have been leveled and the infamous Bog removed, but the spirit of the Glen remains. It was brutally hot for the duration of the race weekend—but rain, heat, or shade, the race goes on.
For a videographer around the track, ducking behind sponsor signs and waiting for the M8 GTE to whisk by for a 200-mm panning shot, all the while battling the heat and the immense distances of the 3.4-mile circuit, it’s a vivid reminder of why I do what I do. There are few experiences like motorsport, and even fewer like walking into a room where you can discuss everything from 1986 prototype racers to contemporary driver gossip and racing politics, to the latest press cars driven by the media.
Motorsport is a living, breathing entity, and it’s a joy to experience it at a track as steeped in history and legend as Watkins Glen.—David Rose
[Media courtesy of BMW of North America.]