In the pantheon of historic motor racing circuits in the United States, one of the most famous and august names is Watkins Glen International, the venue for the 2016 NASA Eastern States Championship presented by Toyo Tires. This is a bucket-list track and if you’ve ever dreamed of racing at “The Glen,” this is your year. Pack your bags and load your car. This installment of “The Motorsports Tourist” will show you how to make the most of your trip. Winning races is up to you.




Motorsports in the upstate New York resort town of Watkins Glen got started in 1948 when a group of racing enthusiasts led by attorney Cameron Argetsinger put together a street circuit that ran through the town much like races that were held in Monterey’s Del Monte Forest around the same time. Unfortunately, after a serious accident it became evident that a dedicated racing circuit was needed. So a suitable piece of land was located outside town near some roads that were used as part of a modified version of the original street circuit for a few years. The track opened in 1956, making it one of the first roadracing facilities in the country. Watkins Glen has played host to nearly every major racing series, from Formula One to NASCAR, and continues to be a fan favorite for its beautiful setting and the high quality of racing that happens on track. Over time, the track has added major improvements to the facilities and the racing surface to make it into a welcoming and challenging place for drivers and fans.




Getting there

Watkins Glen lies in the Finger Lakes region of New York in the central part of the state. The closest local airport is Ithaca (ITH) but more airlines have service into Rochester (RST), which is about an hour’s drive away. There are many good connections to both airports from the major East Coast hubs such as La Guardia (LGA), John F. Kennedy (JFK), Philadelphia (PHL), Newark (EWR), and Dulles (IAD), so finding a flight in is not too difficult.

AER Watkins Glen International 2015  NASCAR Cheez-It 355;

In terms of towing or driving, Watkins Glen is not too far off Interstate 86 with a short transit on State Highway 14, which makes access from the highway easy.


Staying there

The Finger Lakes region where Watkins Glen is located is famed for its scenery, wineries, and exceptional lake views. The town itself is located on the shores of Seneca Lake northeast of the track. Probably the most historic place in town to stay is the Seneca Lodge, which tends to fill up fast, but offers plenty of local charm and ready access to the track. The pro tip for Seneca Lodge is to avoid the cabins because they can be a bit rustic for some tastes. Stay in the main Lodge if you can. Another excellent home for the weekend is the Harbor Hotel, which is on the water’s edge and offers beautiful views along with a bar and restaurant inside the hotel. Since the area is a major tourist destination, there are some B&B options in town and there are opportunities to rent vacation homes through services such as VRBO or Airbnb.

Hector Falls

If you aren’t able to stay in town, there are also many hotels just off the Interstate in Corning and Elmira, which are both about a 20-minute drive from the track. If you find yourself in need of any essentials, there is a Walmart Supercenter in Watkins Glen that should stock anything you forget at home.

Atwater Estate Vineyards view of Seneca Lake


Eating there

The Seneca Lodge offers an outstanding prime rib in its restaurant on weekend nights, and it is a great choice if you can get a seat. For lunch, there is another tasty authentic option with the Mr. Chicken chicken shack in town, which serves local-style fried chicken and sides. Other good local places to try are Nickel’s Pit BBQ and Jerlando’s Pizza.

Mural in downtown Watkins Glen

If you are feeling adventurous and have the time, there are tour services and limousine companies that offer visits to the many wineries in the area and there are lake cruises that let you experience the beauty of the lakes from the water. You also can take a hike in Watkins Glen Park just outside of town in a mature forest with waterfalls and many different levels of hiking trails to enjoy.



Spring in Montour Falls The most famous structure in Watkins Glen is a welcoming site to open waters of Seneca Lake SONY DSC

Driving there

Watkins Glen has all the ingredients of a classic circuit, including sweeping turns, major elevation changes, and plenty of high-speed sections guaranteed to keep your pulse pounding as you zip around inches away from the famed pale-blue Armco that surrounds the circuit. There is not much room for error in many spots, so caution is the key to make sure you keep your fenders pristine and your chance to finish at the top intact. Read Aaron Povoledo’s guide to the circuit elsewhere in this issue for expert tips on how to be fast at the Glen.


For service and parts, there are local auto parts stores in town along with some shops that can provide help with welding and other heavy mechanical tasks. Most major OEMs have dealers in the Elmira and Corning area if you need dealer specific parts. There will be tire service onsite for the event, so plan ahead and get your orders in early to ensure you have enough tread to make it through your championship battle. You also can rent a day garage to have a covered home base for the weekend.


The 2016 Eastern States Championships presented by Toyo Tires will be one for the record books, so don’t miss your chance to drive one of the finest and most famous tracks in the nation while enjoying beautiful scenery and the usual good times to be had at a NASA event.

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Special thanks to the Pantas and Casella families for their tips on Watkins Glen and the surrounding area.


The Facts

Watkins Glen International

2790 County Route 16

Watkins Glen, NY 14891




Seneca Lodge

3600 Walnut Rd.

Watkins Glen, NY 14891



Harbor Hotel

16 N. Franklin St.

Watkins Glen, NY 14891



Watkins Glen Villager Motel

106 E. 4th St.

Watkins Glen, NY 14891



Colonial Inn and Motel

701 N. Franklin St.

Watkins Glen, NY 14891



Watkins Motel

212 S. Franklin St.

Watkins Glen, NY 14891



Seneca Clipper Inn

436 S. Franklin St.

Watkins Glen, NY 14891



Budget Inn

435 S. Franklin St.

Watkins Glen, NY 14891



Anchor Inn and Marina

3425 County Route 30

Watkins Glen, NY 14891



Gorgeous View Motel

3355 NY-14

Watkins Glen, NY 14891




Mr. Chicken

106 S. Franklin St.

Watkins Glen, NY 14891



Nickel’s Pit BBQ

205-207 N. Franklin St.

Watkins Glen, NY 14891



Jerlando’s Pizza

400 N. Franklin St.

Watkins Glen, NY 14891



Quality Wine Tours

P.O. Box 435

Pittsford, NY 14534



Watkins Glen State Park

1009 N. Franklin St.

Watkins Glen, NY 14891


View from Chateau LaFayette
Images courtesy of Watkins Glen International and Watkins Glen Area Chamber of Commerce

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