Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Watkins Glen 2018

After Le Mans 2016, Monterrey 2017 and Sebring 2018, Don, Shirley, Nan and I continued our quest to visit as many Corvette Racing venues as possible by going to Watkins Glen, New York in early July.

History: Watkins Glen is a town in western New York, at the southern end of the Seneca Lake, one of the deep, glacial “Finger Lakes”. For Car People, the name has become synonymous with the legendary race track on the outskirts of the town. Races have been held there since 1956 including: The World Sports Car Championship, Trans-Am, Can-Am, NASCAR, SCCA, IndyCar, the United States Grand Prix of Formula One (for 20 consecutive years), and for our purposes, a host of one of the eleven International Motor Sports Association (IMSA) season races. 

Racing is such a huge part of the history and culture of the town that reminders of the racing heritage can be found everywhere. When we arrived in town on Friday night we found this mural at a grocery store!

Saturday: Corvette Corral Volunteers rolled out the red carpet with a huge tent at turn #1 with plenty of room for parking. The Corral was sold-out with 258 cars from Canada to Texas represented. We were told that this event had the largest Corvette fan representation in the twenty-year history of Corvette Racing.

A few people showed up in their new ZR1 Corvettes – the first time we had seen an owner’s edition of the 755 HP monster. Don decided he liked the Red one.

Z06-C7R:  I recently became aware of a limited edition Corvette that holds a strong attraction for me. In 2016, to celebrate the success of the C7.R Corvette race car, Chevrolet offered a limited edition Corvette designated as the Z06 – C7R. Only 500 were built. They came in two colors: the yellow of the race car or black; buyers could choose a coupe or a convertible. The car is equipped with all the standard Z06 goodies (including 650HP), special brakes, carbon fiber treatments, distinct badging, and racing seats. For the time, it was about as close to a track-ready car-for-the-street as you could buy. Christmas morning for a five-year-old could not hold more excitement than I found at Watkins Glen when I discovered that four of these cars were driven to the Corvette Corral.

Above are examples of the yellow coupe

And an example of the yellow convertible

Through one of the drivers I learned that you can essentially (nearly) duplicate the Z06-C7R by buying a new Z06 and specifying the right options: yellow Corvette Racing Tintcoat paint, the Z07performance package, 3LZ interior upgrades, the black wheels with the yellow stripe, and the yellow brake calipers.

Everywhere I looked there were yellow Z06 Corvettes!

There were even paintings of yellow Corvette race cars.

By late morning I was able to tear myself away from fantasy Corvette shopping long enough to watch the qualifying session for Sunday’s race. Early on the Corvettes were slightly off the pace, but by the final few laps the Corvette drivers had turned quick enough lap times to place 3rd and 4th. Ironically at the end of qualifying the eight GTLM entrants were arranged into four rows of two cars each with Fraud in row 1, Corvette in row 2, Porsche in row 3, and BMW in row 4.

Watkins Glen State Park:  With the exciting racing events over for the day, we decided to escape the heat of the track in favor of a visit to the Watkins Glen State Park, the most famous of the Finger Lakes State Parks. With hiking, camping, and other outdoor activities, the park is a favorite of tourists in this part of New York. The main attraction of the park is a trail that parallels a stream that descends 400 feet in a distance of two miles, revealing 19 waterfalls along its course. With trails that go over, under, and around waterfalls, cool, moist air, and shaded paths, the hike was the perfect escape from the July heat.

Having enjoyed a full day of Corvettes and nature, we headed to our hotel in Corning, New York for showers and dinner. Downtown Corning is both quaint and beautiful. Because it was about 20 miles from the track we were surprised to see racing team members and fans everywhere. After a great dinner at Burgers and Beer, the lure of homemade ice cream drew us to the east end of Market Street to Dippity Do Dahs.

It was here that we encountered the engine mechanics for Corvette Racing.

While inside the jam-packed store, filled with people escaping the July heat-wave, who should appear but Doug Fehan, Corvette Racing Program Manager. It was a real treat to visit with Doug in this private setting and to talk about the program, season, and the coming race.

Doug, like all of the Corvette Racing people, is a real gem.

Sunday:  We were up early Sunday morning and off to the track. Don drove us through the beautiful New York countryside encountering barely any traffic. The Corvette Corral was even more jammed on Sunday than it had been on Saturday. To celebrate the upcoming Independence Day Holiday, the organizers arranged to park groups of Red, White, and Blue Corvettes in a long and wide banner on a bluff overlooking turn 1 of the track. Everyone thought this was cool! I wanted to find a vantage point to get a few photos of all the Corvettes. I talked my way into getting access to one of the bridges that spans the track for some nice photos of the sea of Corvettes before the start of the race. I told Security that I was a famous writer and needed photos for my next publication. That’s almost the truth, right?

We met some new friends, including Kevin and Linda Brooke, who drove their C7 Corvette all the way from Massachusetts. They have been to the Watkins Glen annually since the early 90’s so they knew everything about the town and the track. They have participated in NASCAR, IMSA, and club racing with “Corvettes of Massachusetts”. Kevin has restored a Corvette or two over time and is very knowledgeable about everything Corvette. Kevin and Linda have owned more than 30 Corvettes from a 1962 to their current C7. Their best memories of Watkins Glen are all the people they have met there.

The race was scheduled for six hours, one of the longer races of the season. At the beginning of the race, and for a full hour, there was no contest as the Frauds led the GTLM class easily, increasing their lead with each lap. Close behind and equal to the leaders, the two Porsche teams were running very strong. Then the two Corvettes trailed, followed by the two BMWs. The track and uncovered stands were scorching hot, so very few people braved the summer sun to watch from otherwise ideal locations. We roamed the track taking turns watching the race from different vantage points and trying to find ice cream vendors.

The Corvette Racing people have borrowed a line from Winston Churchill, “Never give up!” a motto that has served them well. As the race bore on, and caution periods and pit stops interrupted the early monotony, the two Corvette teams became more competitive. By the final 20 minutes, Jan Magnussen had negotiated his way to second place, sandwiched in between a Fraud and a Porsche. The three of them raced nose-to-tail until the checkered flag.

Always hoping for a win, we were almost happy to settle for a podium (2nd place) finish. We decided to go watch the trophy ceremony, which was fun, and to stop by the Corvette pits to congratulate and encourage the teams.

In the hot July afternoon, with no time to rest or reflect, the pit crews were crawling around and under the still scorching hot cars getting them ready for the race at the Mobil 1 Sportscar Grand Prix in Ontario, Canada, just one week away. Dedication knows no better adherents than Corvette Racing.

By the time we departed the track the crowds had cleared and we enjoyed another peaceful drive through the country toward Corning. After showers, we headed for another dinner at one of the nice restaurants in town; tonight it would be Italian cuisine at Sorge’s. Who do you suppose we saw in the dining room? Right – Doug Fehan! We congratulated him on a valiant fight and for the points increase achieved that day, moving the #3 Corvette team into 3rd place for the season and Corvette to 2nd place in the manufacturer’s points. We made a repeat visit to Dippity Do Dahs for more ice cream.

Glenn Curtis Museum:  The next morning we did some touristy sightseeing. The first stop was a drive out to Hammondsport to visit the Glenn Curtiss Museum.

Everyone has heard of Glenn Curtiss, but few know of his amazing career and inventive prowess. The Museum is a showcase of turn-of-the-20th-century technology including bicycles, engines, motorcycles and airplanes. Who knew that Curtiss revolutionized bicycle technology and had a huge production operation in this remote part of New York? From his early days as a bicycle racer and builder, he quickly moved to motorcycle production, creating his own engines when those on the market proved subpar. His 1906 V-8 powered motorcycle was so powerful that he set a speed record of 136.36 MPH, a mark that was not broken until 1911 by a car, and remained the motorcycle speed record until 1930! Later in his career, a chance flight in a dirigible so influenced Curtiss that he immediately turned his inventive mind to the problems facing early aviation. Historians of aviation pioneers have given perhaps way too much credit to the Wright Brothers, to the exclusion of other significant pioneers, including, San Diegan John Montgomery and New Yorker Glenn Curtiss. We left Hammondsport with a fuller appreciation of the impact Curtiss had on such details as ailerons, light-weight yet powerful engines, seaplanes, and so much more.

Corning Glass Museum:  Our next adventure was a trip to the Corning Glass Museum. You could spend days here, but we only had a few hours. Inside the glass-walled (what else?) museum you will find more about glass than you could have ever imagined: its history through millennia; its manufacture; the zillions of uses; regal glass; designer glass; artistic glass; industrial glass; high-tech glass; everything imaginable glass. The place was simply amazing! We had to leave before we were able to fully explore all the amazing exhibits.

It was time for Don and Shirley to take me and Nan to the Elmira airport. They wished us well as they headed for Canada for the next IMSA race the coming weekend.

During the two flights and seven hours that it took to get back to San Diego all I could think about were those beautiful, really fast, yellow Corvettes.


  1. Well it looks like you two had a good time. Where are you off to next? Canada??
    I like the red one!

  2. How cool is that story! Enjoy the fruits of your hardwork and dedication. Let the good times roll, I guess this meams we'll be meeting up at Spring Mountain. Hope I don't have to breathe too much of your exhaust! Congrats, well deserved retirement gift and a great choice!