If you’ve ever walked along the streets of the historic racing town, Watkins Glen, New York, and wondered what the markers in the sidewalks are all about, you would have found out from the talk about the Walk of Fame on Saturday afternoon, January 23. Hosted by the International Motor Racing Research Center (IMRRC) in the village, the talk featured three men instrumental in originating and keeping the Walk of Fame going — Jim Scaptura, Rick Hughey, and IMRRC historian, Bill Green.
Introduced by Glenda Gephart, Director of Administration and Communications at the IMRRC, Jim Scaptura described the genesis of the project. People of the village wanted to commemorate and honor the history and role of Watkins Glen in the sport of motor racing. In the late 80s, the Rotary Club had marked the start/finish line of the 1948 and later street races with pillars and a display case in front of the Schuyler County Courthouse, where the original line was located. Sometime later, sign markers around the original road course that wound up the hill and back were installed by the Glen Region of the Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) so that visitors could trace the original route, stop at the signs, and learn about the course as they went along. Townspeople wanted something more to add to these two remembrances. Scaptura and others got the idea of placing stone markers honoring racers around town, and the project was born.
The markers in the sidewalk began with the first one dedicated to Cameron R. Argetsinger in 1993. Scaptura explained that, since Argetsinger was the founder of racing in the village, his was chosen as the first marker, and it was placed in the sidewalk at the start/finish line. Spaces along Franklin Street to about 9th Street, he said, are reserved for those racers who actually competed on the road course in the early days of racing in the village. Now, however, markers in other parts of the town feature racers from all the decades since that early time, including sports car racing, Formula One, and NASCAR, among others.
It wasn’t long before businesses in town asked to have stones for specific drivers placed in front of their storefronts. A guide to whose marker is where is provided at the IMRRC. Janet Guthrie, for example, was inducted in 2008. Her marker is located at the Seneca Lodge Sign/Glen Creek Bridge location. Formula One racer Gilles Villeneuve was inducted in 1999, and his marker is at the Watkins Glen State Park East Side.
There are now 116 markers in the village, running the gamut from a club racer who made his/her mark at the course to Formula One multi-World Champions. Each stone has the individual’s name, a brief listing of his/her accomplishments in racing, what race/s were competed in at The Glen in what year/s, and the car driven.
At the talk, Scaptura, Hughey, and Green each selected 10 honorees to talk about. They showed a photo of the person’s marker, told where it was located, the year the person was so honored, and shared a bit about that person’s life and racing career. Perhaps the best part of the talk were the personal anecdotes each of the speakers related about the honorees when they could.
Rick Hughey, for example, told the audience that Jackie Stewart’s and Francois Cevert’s markers are both located outside Specchio Ford. When the dedication took place in 1998 for Cevert’s marker near Stewart’s, Ken Tyrrell, founder of their racing team in the 1970s and who was nearby in Canada at the time of the ceremony, came to the village for the occasion. Hughey explained how he took Tyrrell to the spot at the esses at Watkins Glen International where Cevert had his fatal crash in 1973. He said that Tyrrell had not been there since the crash, and they laid flowers at the site.
Scaptura said that the committee has now laid markers for all of the winners of the Glen street races and the Formula One Grands Prix. They are now working on getting all of the original 1948 grid commemorated as well as racers from the grand prix days and more. Like so many such efforts, the work of the Watkins Glen Historic Racing Committee at the International Motor Racing Research Center operates on a “shoestring,” and could use more funds. Even so, Scaptura said, the money each year to honor a few racers seems to come in so that the stones can be engraved and installed.
The talk on the Watkins Glen Drivers Walk of Fame was the first in the near-monthly Conversation Series sponsored by the research center and held at the IMRRC. The talk in February will feature WGI President Michael Printup, who will speak about the track’s major repaving project and the upcoming 2016 season.
For more information about the IMRRC, its mission or its programs, check out its website or call (607) 535-9044. The center is located at 610 South Decatur Street in the village. It is open to the public and is a not-for-profit organization.