Location Watkins Glen, NY
Track Configuration 3.40-mile, 11-turn Long Course with Inner Loop
Longest Straight 1,839-foot back straight
Elevation Change 141 feet (from the end of the Inner Loop to the toe of The Boot)
Other Facilities North and South paddocks, garages, media center, grandstands, pit terrace, Tower Suites, Pyramid Souvenirs, Car Club Corral
Watkins Glen International, often referred to as The Glen, is one of America’s most storied and challenging road racing circuits. Located in the southern Finger Lakes region of upstate New York, The Glen was the brainchild of a law student who dreamed of bringing European-style road racing competition to the village where he spent his summer vacations. He drew up a challenging course in and around the village of Watkins Glen, and that dream became reality in 1948. It wasn’t until 1956 that a permanent road course was built, hosting its first professional race the following year, a NASCAR event won by Buck Baker over Fireball Roberts (gotta love these good old boys names).
The Glen made its biggest mark on the international motorsports calendar when it began hosting Formula 1 events, starting in 1961. The U.S. Grand Prix remained at The Glen through 1980, when financial difficulties led to it being dropped from the F1 calendar. A change of ownership in 1983 breathed new life into The Glen, officially reopening in 1984 with NASCAR returning in 1986. But it wasn’t until 1992 that the Inner Loop was added to the back straight as a way of adding a passing zone. Despite this, The Glen remains one of America’s fastest road courses, as well as one of its most daunting, thanks to the ever-present Armco barriers that line the course.
Major upgrades were made in 2005, which brought IndyCar to The Glen that same year. But this high-speed rollercoaster of a racetrack also hosts many grassroots and SCCA Club and Pro race weekends, from World Challenge all the way down to driving schools hosted by Trackmasters and the BMWCCA. The last time we were at The Glen was for an open lapping day with the Chin Motorsports group, where our gone-but-not-forgotten lime-green EG Civic passed a Ferrari F40 and earned itself a glorious 15 minutes of YouTube fame in the process.
Truly world-class garage space at The Glen lets you feel like a pro even if you’re just there for a lapping day.
The best part of Watkins Glen isn’t just passing exotics driven by little old men with more bank than bravery — it’s the dramatic downward right-left-right combo from the exit of the Inner Loop, through the Outer Loop (turn 5), down the Chute (turn 6), on your way to the Toe (turn 7). You lose an amazing 141 feet of elevation through this section of the track, only to climb even more steeply up The Boot to the Heel (turn 8). The high-speed esses (turns 2–4) are also worth noting, given that speeds in excess of 100 mph can be carried through them if you’ve got the courage required to keep the pedal to the metal. This will also give you tremendous top speed up the back straight, so it’s a key section of the track to carry speed through.
If you do find yourself at The Glen as a spectator or a driver, be sure to pay a visit to the rustic bar at the nearby Seneca Lodge, where all sorts of cool and historic racing memorabilia hang from the walls. It doesn’t suck that The Glen is located in such a gorgeous part of the country, either, with lots of upscale food and accommodations to go along with what’s widely considered one of the world’s most beautiful wine regions.