SVRA U.S. Vintage Grand Prix
by Angelo Lisuzzo * SVRA Photojournalist and Reporter
Watkins Glen International is celebrating the 50th anniversary of the first Grand Prix held on the famed track back on October 8, 1961. The raced marked the first win by Team Lotus and the only Grand Prix win by Innes Ireland. It all started with a law student’s dream. Cameron Argetsinger’s dream was to bring European style competition to the village where he spent his summer vacations. There were many challenges skillfully completed to include the asphalt, cement, and dirt roads in and around the village of Watkins Glen. On October 2, 1948, the event became reality on the 6.6-mile street course. It was known as “The Day They Stopped the Trains” in the first post-World War II road race in the United States.
After a five-year tenure, it moved up the hill near the current location as a temporary course in 1953, and then the permanent circuit was built in 1956. The famed track originally was a 2.3 mile, seven turn fast, sweeping road course with the start/finish line between the current turns one and two. The circuit expanded in 1971 to a 3.377 mile, 11-turn layout with the pit lane and start/finish relocated to their present location. In 1992, the Inner Loop was added increasing the length of the course to 3.4 miles.
The first professional race in 1957 was a NASCAR Grand National Stock Car event won by Buck Baker over Fireball Roberts. Then, 1958 brought international competition with the running of a Formula Libre race.
The history is deep though out the years since the dream began thanks to the diligence of the original group of founders who fought the necessary battles to get us to where we are today—the cars competing in the SVRA Glenora Wine Cellars U.S. Vintage Grand Prix at Watkins Glen.
The 19th annual Grand Prix Festival in downtown Watkins Glen on Friday had a major gathering of cars and spectators. About 150 historic cars were on display lining Franklin Street where vendors with art, food, wine, and music added to the celebratory mood of the beautiful machines. “The Legends Speak” at Lafayette Park in the afternoon featured Bob Sharp talking about his racing days and related subjects.
Films about three Formula One racing legends, done by Mark Stewart, son of three time F1 champion Sir Jackie Stewart, in cooperation with the BBC, made there first public viewing in the United States. The legendary subjects were Graham Hill, Jackie Stewart, and Jim Clark, each featuring interviews with family members, team mechanics, fellow drivers, and racing authorities. They were free to the public and donations went to The International Motor Racing Research Center (IMRRC) at Watkins Glen.
Michael Argetsinger launched his newest book, “Formula One at Watkins Glen: 20 Years of the United States Grand Prix, 1961-1980,” published jointly by Argetsinger, the Racing Research Center, and David Bull Publishing. All profits of the sales will benefit the Center. He spoke about his book that evening at the Annual Vintage Weekend Reception.
Frank Griswold III and his family attended the gathering. Griswold is a former Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church of the United States and son of Frank Griswold Jr., the winner of the first race through the streets in Watkins Glen, on Oct. 2, 1948.
Now for the track action!
The Grand Marshall, Bob Sharp, enjoyed the weekend talking with spectators and media through autograph sessions and the “Fan Forum” talks. He openly welcomed conversations from many people on a one-on-one basis making everyone feel like one of his long acquaintances. Full of enthusiasm, he described the cars, many drivers, and crew members he had associated with over the years. His son, Scott Sharp, currently races a Ferrari F458 Italia in the ALMS for the team he owns, Extreme Speed Motorsports.
A rare treat indeed arrived from the United Kingdom to breathe the air of Upstate New York for the first time since it was raced in anger by its Formula 1 pilot Denny Hulme—the 1973 McLaren M23. Driven by Frank Lyons, he set a personal best lap time of 2:04.557 in Race 2 on Sunday morning.
On a cool, partly cloudy Saturday morning, I stood driver’s left entering the esses just past the apex for the Group 3/4A Race 1, witnessing a beautiful display of “being on the edge” as Dudley Cunningham in a 1959 Lotus XV drifted through the sweeping right-hand corner at the perfect slip angle. His average speed of 87.298 mph edged the much larger 350 cid, 1960 Chaparral 1 driven by Jack Boxstrom by 3.901 seconds, who also had a good drive of his own.
The Classic Enduro involved six Groups for the 90-minute event. Two pits stops were required. The overall win captured by Roy Walzer in a 1963 Lotus 23B by a huge margin of 45.987 seconds over Erik Weyls driving a 1992 Porsche 911. Terry Wolters lead many Group 8 Class cars in his 1970 Porsche 914/6.
The Collier Cup Race for MG’s was run later in the day. The trophy, dedicated to Sam Collier, who was killed while leading the September 23, 1950 event when his Ferrari 166 left the road on the right-hander going up the hill. A memorial stone is placed at the spot along the road.
During The Collier Cup Race a variety of MG’s put on spirited battles throughout the field until Charles Guest in a 1967 Midget took the win by 10.826 seconds over the second place 1972 MGB GT driven by Don Munoz. A trio of Midgets were led by third place finisher John McCue. New York State was well represented by drivers Alan Tosler, Brian McKie, Alan Costich, Tom Glanville, Ted Hershey, Frank Filangeri, Dick Powers, and Roger Morse, all driving various MG models.
Many special awards are given out during this event. One being the “Bill Glanville Memorial Cup for MG Midget Racers,” sponsored by the MG Car Club Western New York Center, and was presented to John McCue for his efforts in his MG Midget.
The Denver Cornett, Jr. Cup was awarded to Charles Guest in his 1967 MG Midget who took first overall.
Manley Ford won the Jack Archibald Memorial T Cup for finishing as first production T Series MG, a 1952 MG YTD.
Bill Treffert won the Bob Bucher/Sherm Decker Trophy for the first MGA to finish in a 1961 MGA MKIII C.
Selected by the participating MG vintage racers in the 27th Collier Cup race was this year’s Collier Cup winner Larry Smith from Richmond, Virginia, driving a 1962 MG Midget.
On Sunday, the weather held until the end of the day. There were many interesting races and a couple feature races including the marquee Nissan/Datsun Feature Race in the afternoon.
The Sprint for the Dick Mooney Memorial Trophy event saw thirty-four Group 6 exhaust outputs thunder off in close proximity of the light blue guardrail synonymous with The Glen. This fast-paced seven-lap sprint had an average speed of 95.988 mph recorded by Peter Klutt, from Ontario, Canada, driving a 454cid 1969 Chevrolet Corvette. The close margin of victory was 0.748 seconds over Mike Donohue driving a 327cid 1963 Chevrolet Corvette, followed by Andre Ahrle in a 427cid 1965 AC Cobra.
Starting the Vintage Enduro in third, Travis Engen sliced through the forty-five car field in a 2005 Audi R8 LMP to take victory by three laps over the 2000 Riley/Scott 3C of Mark Brannon. Third, sharing a 1987 GTP Ferrari Spice GTP, was Peter McLaughlin\Steve Millen
In the New York’s Governor’s Cup for Formula Historic, the trophy was presented by Bob Sharp to winner Phil Harris driving a 1979 March 79B who lead by 1.178 seconds over Gordon Medenica in a 1978 March BMW 782. Third place was the 1976 Ralt RT1 of Travis Engen. Fastest lap went to Justin Frick at 1:53.085, 108.237 mph in his 1982 March 822.
The Nissan/Datsun Feature Race field was led to the checkers by Mike Murphy in his 1975 Datsun 280Z. The next seven Datsun 240Z’s were headed by Joe Riolo in a 1972 model and Phil Hollenbeck in a 1971. Twenty-one cars saw the green flag in a mix of 300ZX, 280ZX, 260Z, 240Z, SRL 311, 510, 1200 cpe, 200, and PL510 models.
Steve Millen drove the Datsun 280ZX Twin Turbo powered by a Ford V8 block and Chevy intake. Paul Newman had put this in on pole at Road America in 1981 ahead of many disgruntled Porsche drivers. Steve said he had not driven at Watkins Glen since 1994 in a Nissan 300ZX Twin Turbo. Today was the first time Bob Sharp met Steve Millen. Who would have thought?
Elliott Forbes-Robinson visited the town during the Friday festivities and took the controls of a 1992 Porsche 964 for a few races, which is owned and driven by Scott Welliver from Hector, NY.
Next, it is off to New Jersey Motorsports Park on the Thunderbolt Raceway. Opened in 2008, this road circuit features over 2.25 miles of asphalt, 14 challenging turns, a one half mile straightway and approximately 40 acres of paddock space. Amenities include concession buildings, event garages, twenty VIP Suites, banquet rooms, and a three story-timing tower with media center located on over 700 acres. The variety of sweeping corners, kinks, elevation changes, and long straight makes this a challenge to drivers and machines.