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May 30th, 2007

The Hill-Ginther 375 Ferrari on display at the International Motor Racing Research Center.

This year the Ferrari Club of America has decided to have their annual meeting in Watkins Glen. The International Motor Racing Research Center will host the club’s dinner, complete with a Ferrari on display in the IMRRC’s fantastic library. Since March, the building, located in the town of Watkins Glen, has offered shelter to the famous Phil Hill-Richie Ginther 375MM (#0286) which they drove in the 1954 Panamericana. But the famous Ferrari, now owned by Bruce and Jolene McCaw will only be there until June, when another significant Ferrari (to be announced) will take it’s place and remain for the FCA meeting helf from August 29 to September 2nd 2007.

Cameron Argetsinger, in driving suit and glasses, stands next to his Healey Silverstone prior to the 1950 event. Photo by Frank Shaffer.

Hopefully, the FCA members will be able to take in the local sights and history, for visiting Watkins Glen is taking a walk—and a drive--through the history of American sportscar racing. Through the efforts of Cameron Argetsinger, road racing in U.S. began right here; you can tour the original, dangerous, yet beautiful circuit, virtually unchanged in 59 years. The original and complete circuit consisting of public roads has been not only preserved but protected under the National Register of Historic Places.

Ledyard Pfund in a Ford Special leads a HRG and Allard at the Glen in 1949. Photo by Frank Shaffer.

Remarkably, one can still drive the original circuit, where races were held from 1948 to 1952. While progress may have snubbed Watkins Glen, it is wonderful to see that the major changes are the size of the trees and new siding on some of the older farm houses. Two miles up the hill from the Start Finish line, stop at the Sam Collier monument, placed where the Cunningham Ferrari 166 left the road in 1950, then dive into the State Park, over the Stone Bridge where Denver Cornett’s MG took a swim in the creek, and through the woods to Archy Smith’s corner, Friar’s Curve and Big Bend, which is in fact a very long, long curve. Finally, one ends up back into town after Milliken’s Corner, where Bill rolled his Bugatti Type 35A in 1948.

Robert Gillespie's brilliant mural of the Milliken Bugatti at 200 N. Franklin Street.

The town of Watkins Glen is full of historical items for the car enthusiast. The Seneca Harbor Station at the end of Franklin Street offers a great view of Lake Seneca, outside seating (in good weather) and good food at reasonable prices. From here you can walk back down Franklin Street and begin to enjoy race history, embedded into the sidewalks and painted on available building walls.

Photographer Frank Shaffer caught the expressions on the face of young boys at their first meeting with a Fiat 1100 Zagato at the Glen in 1950.

The mural of the Milliken Bugatti at 200 N. Franklin will catch your attention, and on the next building, another mural, this of the Cunningham of Phil Walters and Bill Spear’s Ferrari 4.5 is even more impressive. Both are brilliantly painted by noted artist Robert Gillespie. Walking further south, keep your eye on the sidewalk, for here lie the 55 markers of the Drivers Walk of Fame.

Denise McCluggage is among the many drivers who are honored with markers on the sidewalks of Franklin Street.

Walk all the way down Franklin Street to the corner of Old Corning Hill Road. Just before the intersection, on the left, is the sight of the fatal accident which took the life of young Frank Fazzari in 1952 and ended the first era of racing at the Glen. Across the bridge, still on the left going south, is Smalley’s Garage, a landmark with a living history. Established by Lester Smalley in 1941, the his wife Flossie performed tech inspections for the race cars from 1949 to 1960. Much like it was in the early fifties, the garage is still a very active business, now run by Lester’s son Tom.

Smalley's Garage hasn't changed much in over 60 years.

What’s even more interesting is to compare the old circuit with the current Watkins Glen International racetrack, located off of Route 16. During the lunch hour from May to October, buy a ticket for $25 which allows you to tour the track for three laps. The laps are led by a pace car, however, and motorcycles need not apply.

Take a break, for your next visit will probably take in a half a day or more. Driving south on Franklin, turn left on 14th street and you will find the IMRRC, open 9-5 Monday-Saturday. Around and above the display of significant cars such as the Ferrari 375 are the books, files, collections, and magazines devoted entirely to our favorite subject. Meet Mark Steigerwald, resident Reference Librarian, and noted historian Bill Green, and spend hours finding and enjoying those rare books on Ferraris which you should have bought when first published. The library now has over 2500 book titles, with more being added every day. The second floor houses the collection of 110 magazine titles, most in complete sets. There are always knowledgeable people to help you find what you are looking for. Or sit down in the film room and enjoy a rare racing video from a selection of almost 3000. If you arrive early, you may also get a chance to meet the IMRRCs most valuable asset—the man who started it all in 1948, Cameron Argetsinger. There is another library in the U.S. which exceeds the material housed in the IMRRC. If there were nothing else to see in Watkins Glen, the IMRRC is reason enough to make the pilgrimage.

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