30th Watkins Glen Grand Prix Festival Celebrates the 70th Anniversary of the Corvette
In the picturesque town of Watkins Glen, a palpable sense of excitement fills the air as the community and spectators gather to commemorate two remarkable milestones—the 30th anniversary of the Watkins Glen Grand Prix Festival and the 70th anniversary of the iconic Chevrolet Corvette. Amidst the lush landscapes and charming streets, the town comes alive with the thunderous roar of engines and the gleam of classic cars and motorcycles. But at the heart of this jubilant celebration, it is the Corvette that truly takes center stage, casting a timeless spell over the festival. As the festival unfolds, it’s not just an event; it’s a testament to the enduring legacy of automotive excellence and the enduring love affair between enthusiasts and the Corvette.
On September 8th, 2023, the streets of Watkins Glen echoed with the thunderous roar of hundreds of vehicles, but amidst the classic cars, motorcycles, and the mighty Corvette. This remarkable spectacle marked the 30th Grand Prix Festival, a celebration of automotive prowess and history.
The starting line on Franklin Street, where the first American road race after World War II took place in 1948, was once again alive with the sheer power of Corvettes and their drivers. They followed a pace car along the original 6.6-mile circuit, a route that included the iconic Milliken’s corner, just moments before the thrilling finish line in the heart of downtown.
Among the stars of the event was a true gem: the 1951 concept General Motors LeSabre. This unique vehicle had traveled all the way from Detroit to grace the festival. Kip Zeiter, Visitor Services Coordinator for the International Motor Racing Research Center in Watkins Glen, aptly described it as an emblem of 1950s concept cars. With its distinctive fins and cutting-edge features such as automatic top opening, windshield wipers, and an advanced suspension system, this 77-year-old car was nothing short of extraordinary, boasting a supercharged 215 cubic inch V8 engine.
But the Corvette enthusiasts weren’t disappointed either, as an original #075 out of the 300 ever produced 1953 ‘Vette owned by Alan Blay, editor of “On Solid Ground,” the magazine for the Solid Axle Corvette Club, graced the courthouse lawn. The ’53 Vette, along with the LeSabre, drew crowds and admiration throughout the day.
The significance of this event went beyond the vehicles themselves. According to the International Motor Racing Research Center, the inaugural race in 1948 was a bold attempt to breathe life back into road racing in the United States and bring the excitement and prestige of European road racing to American soil. It was a dream that required the collective support of local and racing communities, ultimately leading to the birth of an international road racing circuit in the Finger Lakes region of Upstate New York.
However, tragedy struck in 1952 when an accident claimed the life of a 7-year-old boy and injured several spectators, leading to the end of road racing in Watkins Glen and the United States. The racing community then shifted its focus to the Watkins Glen International Raceway, which opened its doors in 1956, forever altering the landscape of motorsports in the region.
As we continue, through the lens of Jan Hyde, the curator of the Registry of Corvette Racecars, we embark on a visual journey that captures the essence of this remarkable occasion. With photos that breathe life into the legacy of the Corvette and details that make history come alive, we step into the heart of Watkins Glen’s homage to seven decades of automotive excellence.
Corvette production began 70 years ago in 1953 for a sports car conceived by GM Stylist Harley Earl while serving in 1951 as Grand Marshal. The races were held on a death-defying 6.6-mile circuit listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Drivers started on Franklin Street in downtown Watkins Glen, climbed a long hill, braked hard to enter the state park, raced across the old stone bridge spanning the gorge, emerged, crossed the NYC railroad tracks, and plunged down a long sweeping curve, braked for a hard left/right to finish where they started.
On display at the Subway parking lot downtown was the # 1 1959 SCCA BP Nickey Chevrolet Purple People Eater owned by Phil Schwartz and the # 4 1960 Le Mans Camoradi team Corvette owned by Dominick Testa.
Brian Barker, Director of Education and Community Outreach for the National Corvette Museum (NCM), drove this C8 Corvette Convertible from Bowling Green, KY, to lead a symposium with Alan Blay, encyclopedic editor of On Solid Ground, published by the Solid Axle Corvette Club and owner of 1953 Corvette 075 shown above.
Brian and Alan led an informative symposium, All You Ever Wanted to Know about Corvette, hosted by the International Motor Racing Research Center (IMRRC).
This # 21 1989 ex-Fred Baker Corvette Challenge car brought by Will Bernatovich was on display downtown and at the US Vintage Grand Prix races held by the Sports Car Vintage Racing Association (SVRA).
Jim Glass’ wife and his crew, Simon Lane and wife, Ray and Zach Zisa, and Chuck Ward and his wife took part in the traditional race re-enactment staged on the original road course.
As we conclude this captivating journey through the 70th anniversary celebration of the Chevrolet Corvette in Watkins Glen, the echoes of roaring engines and the timeless allure of the Corvette linger in our minds. This historic event not only pays homage to a legendary automobile but also reflects the enduring passion and camaraderie of its enthusiasts.
The picturesque town of Watkins Glen, with its lush landscapes and charming streets, served as the perfect backdrop to commemorate this milestone. As we bid farewell to this unforgettable gathering, we carry with us the memories of a timeless icon and the vibrant spirit of a community bound together by their shared love for the Corvette—a love affair that shows no signs of waning even after 70 remarkable years.
Exploring the Hallowed Grounds: A Journey Through Watkins Glen’s Historic Course
Guided by none other than Brian Baker, the Director of Education and Community Outreach at the National Corvette Museum, our adventure unfolded. At the helm of the Museum’s Mobil 1 Corvette Stingray, we embarked on a remarkable journey. Our destination? None other than the hallowed Watkins Glen International, where history beckoned.
The Mobil 1 Corvette Stingray, gleaming with pride and precision, led a procession of the most illustrious Corvette race cars in the annals of history. With 20,000 fervent fans as our witnesses, we set out on an extraordinary mission – to traverse the very asphalt that bore witness to the early racing legends, making “The Glen” the stuff of automotive legend.
As we cruised through those iconic turns and straightaways, our hearts raced in harmony with the roar of the engine. It was a rare privilege, a chance to retrace the tire tracks of yesteryears and relive the glory of those pioneering racing days.
The National Corvette Museum stood as the vanguard of this historic congregation, representing not just its devoted members but the entire Corvette community. We paid homage to the visit of Harley Earl in 1951, a seminal moment that forever intertwined the fate of the Corvette with the vibrant tapestry of Watkins Glen’s auto racing history. This was more than just a lap around the circuit; it was a salute to 70 years of Corvette excellence and the enduring legacy of a motorsport icon.
For those eager to continue their Corvette adventures, our Corvette event calendar is your gateway to a world of thrilling experiences with your Vette. Discover more exciting events, gatherings, and celebrations that will fuel your passion for these iconic American sports cars. Join us in exploring the road ahead and uncover your next unforgettable Corvette adventure on our Event calendar. Your journey of speed, style, and camaraderie awaits!
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