10 Watkins Glen Memorable Moments
by Tom Jensen August 06, 2021
This scenic New York road course has produced high drama in NASCAR since 1957, with more to come.
Watkins Glen International returns to the NASCAR premier series schedule this year, with the running of the August 8 Go Bowling at the Glen, a 90-lap battle at the picturesque 2.45-mile road course.
Located in the Finger Lakes region of New York, Watkins Glen is one of the most beautiful stops on the NASCAR circuit, surrounded by lush green woods and breathtaking scenery. And, oh, yes, there are some pretty good wines produced in the area.
Road racing has made a huge resurgence in NASCAR in recent years, in large part due to the exciting races that Watkins Glen seems to put on every year. Here are 10 memorable moments at a very memorable track.
Even before a permanent racetrack was built in 1956, the town of Watkins Glen hosted racing on public roads. The first race sanctioned by the Sports Car Club of America was in October 1948, when Frank Griswald drove this Alfa Romeo 8C 2900B to victory in the Watkins Glen Grand Prix.
During NASCAR’s first visit to Watkins Glen in 1957, Hall of Famer Buck Baker (2013) won the 101-mile race in his “Black Widow.” A replica of Bake’s race-winning car is on display in the NASCAR Hall of Fame as part of our exhibit entitled “Dale Jr.: Glory Road Champions.”
In 1986, the premier series raced at Watkins Glen for the first time since 1965. Tim Richmond (car No. 25) started from the pole alongside Hall of Famer Darrell Waltrip (2012). Driving for team owner Rick Hendrick (2017) Richmond captured the victory in the Budweiser at the Glen.
Hall of Famers Mark Martin (2017) and Rusty Wallace (2013) were both great road racers who enjoyed success at Watkins Glen. Martin (car No. 6) won three straight at Watkins Glen starting with this race in 1993, while Wallace was a two-time winner at the track.
From 1998 to 2001, Jeff Gordon (2019) won four of five races at Watkins Glen, including the 1998 Bud at the Glen, which he won by 3.437 seconds over Mark Martin.
A victory in the 2005 Sirius Satellite Radio at the Glen was the third of a record five Watkins Glen race wins for Tony Stewart (2020), who also captured races here in 2002, ’04, ’07 and ’09..
Before coming to NASCAR Juan Pablo Montoya won an IndyCar championship, his first of two Indianapolis 500s and seven Formula One races, including the Monaco Grand Prix. But the 2010 Heluva Good! Sour Cream Dips at Watkins Glen was just his second and final premier series victory in 255 starts.
One of the most interesting events at Watkins Glen came in 2011, when Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain and three-time NASCAR champion Tony Stewart traded places as part of an event called the Mobil 1 Car Swap. Stewart drove Hamilton’s Vodafone McLaren Mercedes MP4-23, while Hamilton turned laps in the No. 14 Stewart-Hass Racing Chevrolet.
In a chaotic and dramatic finish, three drivers led during the final lap of the Series Finger Lakes 355 at the Glen. Kyle Busch was leading when he spun out after contact with Brad Keselowski, who in turn was passed for the win by Marcos Ambrose. It was the second and final premier series victory for Ambrose, a former champion in the Australian V8 Supercar Series.
Despite badly missing Turn 1 on the last lap of the 2018 GoBowling at the Glen, Chase Elliott managed to hold off Martin Truex Jr. to score his first career premier series race victory. Since that time, Elliott went on to win the series championship in 2020 and he has become the dominant road racer of this generation.