WATKINS GLEN-a small town, that’s not much more than a village, in upstate New York. Located at the bottom of one of the finger lakes -Seneca- this town puts on multiple faces at the same time, and does it with great warmth and charm. WG was home to the first post-WW2 Grand Prix Road Race, a race course starting in front of the County Courthouse and winding 6.6 miles up into the hills above town before coming back in from the other side. The organizers were able to get the local roads closed and the trains to stop running; quite a feat that went on for 5 years (1948-52) until a proper race course was built. WG is also a center for the extensive wine culture around the finger lakes. Much like Napa in California.
We came back for our second visit to the Grand Prix Festival and SVRA races weekend September 5-8. This year we drove the SP 650 miles up and back, traveling with our friends from BRRTA, Linda & George, in their 1964 Morgan 4/4. The tops were down, the skies mostly clear, and the trip went as smoothly as the 50 year old suspensions allowed.
We arrived at the WG Harbor Hotel late Thursday afternoon, unpacked and settled in, then walked over to “downtown” and had dinner. The featured marque for 2013was the Austin Mini, and they were everywhere. Friday was an early start, so we didn’t spend a whole lot of time in town. Friday in GP Festival Celebration day; we were enrolled in the Glenora Wine Cellars rally event and had to be there before 9am to get our paperwork and assemble for the event. This event is for cars at least 25 years old, so it has more older classics than any of the other driving events. The format called for a pleasant tour of back roads for a couple hours, ending in the town of Montour Falls for a drive through the grounds of the Hospital, patients waving hello from both in and outside the buildings. Then on to a buffet lunch in a WG State Park building and staging for our 2 laps of the “old course”. These laps are done at legal speed, and the roads are not closed to other traffic. There are police at intersections to wave the cars thru, and by everyone keeping up with the car ahead, very few non-sport cars get into the procession. There are 5 different driving events plus 3 parking lot events, and all participants get to do the 2 laps as their group is scheduled. After the almost 700 participant cars have done laps, they are parked by groups in various parts of town. The Glenora Rally group was parked along the main street thru town, a great location as hundreds (thousands?) of people walked by to look at them.
Late in the afternoon, a large number of the SVRA race cars come down from the track and park in town for awhile, then do their 2 laps of the old course and end up back at the track. The sidewalks are lined with spectators and the whole scene one big party. The local alcohol laws are modified to allow for open containers and sidewalk sales. Friday night dinner with L&F was at the re-commissioned train station at the edge of the lake.
Saturday we 4 went to the track -Watkins Glen International Raceway (WGRI)- for a car display/show and 2 parade laps around the course during racing lunch break. Another chance to see sports cars and play race driver wanabee. We were the only SP250 there that weekend, so drew a fair amount of attention from both fans of the car and those that had never seen one. We met some SP owners, and others, that we have seen at other events over the years, along with talking about the marque with those unfamiliar with the car &/or car company. Cars on display worth mentioning include a 1955 MB 300SL Gullwing, Aston Martin DB4, classic Ferrari, Porsche 356 Speedster and a Jowett Jupiter.
Saturday night we had dinner at the hotel with BCF friends from Horseheads, (the Erways). Before bed, it was time to put the top up as it started to drizzle. But, morning looked more promising so we started for home with it down. The wet weather held off and the trip back was pleasant.
We’ve done this twice now without seeing the physical attraction of WG State Park and all the waterfalls in the glen. No excuse; we plan to back next year and spend an extra day looking at the natural sights. We already registered for the Glenora Rally, since it will be full and closed out by mid-October of this year. The featured marque for 2014 is MG so we expect even more cars/people that usual. We’ve already seen plans for MG club participation as they try to lock up blocks of rooms in the area towns.