Watkins Glen International is hallowed ground, a legendary racetrack steeped in the history of motorsports. Formula One, NASCAR, IMSA, CART, IROC, Can-Am, Trans-Am and IndyCar drivers all have raced here. It is a track like no other, and probably something that couldn’t be built today because of how little margin it leaves for error. They don’t make them like this anymore.
Designed by Bill Milliken and engineering professors at Cornell University in nearby Ithaca, N.Y., Watkins Glen has been in operation since 1956. Of the most significant changes to the course, the addition of “The Boot” in 1971 forever changed the nature of the course and added a series challenging new downhill and uphill corners for drivers who take on this track. The addition of the “Inner Loop,” what many drivers call the Bus Stop, was added in 1992 to enhance safety after a number of spectacular crashes in the “Outer Loop” in the preceding years.
At the 2016 NASA Eastern States Championships, drivers faced the long course and all the challenges it brings. Many were coming in cold to a track they had to learn, then learn how to go fast there — not an easy or enviable task.
Twenty-three racing classes and eight Time Trial classes converged on Watkins Glen in late September to determine which drivers had prepared well enough and put together enough error-free laps to claim the coveted title of Champion. There were crashes and cautions and carnage, highs and lows, and winners and losers. Here are their stories.