By Mike Ennis
Scott Ressler, Joe Horn, and I participated once again in the annual Watkins Glen Zippo Vintage Grand Prix Race Festival Weekend on September 8-10, 2000. Here is a description of some of the activities and events that comprise the event for your information, and possible participation next year. If you like old cars and beautiful driving roads you should plan to go.
Thursday night: Assembled at Scott's house in Wayne about 6 pm. Full of nervous anticipation, cars clean and filled with gas, stomachs empty, we headed up Rt 287 north to NY thruway, got off onto Rt. 17 west at Harriman. Two hours later we stopped at the famous (at least to the NGCA crowd) Roscoe Diner for dinner. Ate too much (this becomes a habit which continues through the weekend), refueled and cleaned off 1,000s of bug guts from windshields.
We continued west on Rt17, dodging the construction cones, which have been in place as long as any of us can remember, and in another two-plus hours we found the Red Carpet motel. We're really impressed with just how decrepit this place is (makes the Bates Motel look good), but we're too tired to care.
Friday Sept 8: We’re up at the crack of 9:30 am (another habit begins) for coffee and donuts. Clean off 1,000s more bug guts using buckets of water from our rooms (so that's why they give you plastic waste baskets!) and refuel. Head out to the Wagner Winery to stage for the Founder's Tour. The winery is one of many which line both the east and west banks of Seneca Lake. It is a truly beautiful view from the decks off the back of the winery. The old cars are filing in a steady stream and parking in order on the grassy slopes. What a collection of machines! Many old British, German, and Italian cars, and also a surprising number of Vettes. We all think our cars are pretty interesting until a Big-block Cobra Stretch Limo with ten foot long side-pipes, a built-in bar and a killer stereo rolled into the lot! The Wagner Winery has a very nice dining room with floor to ceiling glass walls overlooking the decks and the lake. It is all set up for our luncheon buffet, which we make the most of. Very nicely done.
After a short driver's briefing, in which they show you a map of our Founder's Tour Route and tell you to just keep turning right, we assemble at our cars and begin the escorted tour through downtown Watkins Glen and around the original race course. It's a lot of fun even though the pace is very slow. People are along the route waving at us and taking pictures of the parade of old metal (and fiberglass) as we pass by.
After two laps we're parked back downtown and join the crowded main street for lots of activities. There's the Concours Display of perfect old cars of every size and type (including two big-block midyears), several bands playing at different points along the street, booths full of car-related memorabilia, and lots more cars. There's a re-enactment of an early race, which features the oldest of the racecars (pre-1950) driving around the original course. The drivers are wearing leather caps and goggles, flowing scarves, etc. and are really pushing some of these spindly-wheeled antiques. The wild-eyed passengers are holding onto whatever they can, and trying to keep from swallowing bugs. It's a great time for everyone participating or spectating.
Later in the afternoon the racecars are brought down from the new track and parked all along Main St., where we can all walk among them and talk to the drivers and crews. There's everything from wild Formula 1 cars to mild Morris and Austin Mini Coopers. There's an unbelievable mix of sounds and smells in the air. The ground literally quakes as they start all the racecars and do two, fast laps around the old course. The sidewalks are two to three people deep all along Main St., cheering and waving to the racers as they tear it up. Can it get any better than this? Yes, just wait.
Joe has befriended a guy from a Miata club and we lose track of both of them, so Scott and I went for dinner at an excellent Italian restaurant where we have gone in other years. It's as good as ever, and, after another oversized meal, we head back out to the street for more fun. A very good band is playing up on the roof of a bar so we stop and listen and people-watch for awhile. Then we walk to the far end of town where there is a surprisingly good fireworks display in the stonewalled gorge. The gorge amplifies the sounds, but also traps all the smoke, so I figure that the exhaust fumes combined with black powder smoke will probably take a few years off our lives. Eventually, Joe re-appears. Did you know that Miatas are cheaper than Vettes and get better mileage? We head back to the motel.
Saturday Sept 9: Up at the crack of 9:30 again; life is tough. Cars are still pretty clean for a change, so a quick wipe-down and we're off for the track. We are signed up to exhibit our cars in the Antique Display in a nice grass area behind the pits. It starts to rain and the nice grass becomes not so nice mud. We go out on the track for the parade of old cars (including Joe's not so old '93). By the time we get back and parked again, the cars are a total mess – covered with mud. Now the sun is out and the mud gets baked on.
We decide to scour the memorabilia stands and the track's store to try to spend Scott's money. We were successful. Scott even got his new book signed by the author, Burt Levy.
Later in the afternoon we decide to take a road tour up to the town of Geneva at the far end of Seneca Lake. It's a nice drive and Geneva is a very nice town with some impressive estates visible from the road. It is a college town so there are a lot of young people milling around town and in the park at the lake. We stop at the park ask a local couple for a good place to eat that is on the lake. They send us to their favorite spot called the "Crow's Nest". At the restaurant we are seated pretty quickly on the deck area overlooking a marina, even though we should have had reservations but didn't. We all agree that the folks around here are very friendly and accommodating. This is nice relaxing area. Another big meal and we are back on the road to go down the far side of the lake and back to our hotel.
That night we had to go to the Do-it-Yourself car wash (remember when they were a quarter?) and scrub the mud and more bugs from our cars. Even that task turned into a good time as we met the owners of the car wash and their maintenance man when they came over to get a closer look at all our cars. The maintenance guy was overwhelmed by Joe's 40th Anniversary Edition. Then we went back to the motel parking lot and conducted a tech session there in the dark, where I adjusted my headlight aim on the side of the building. Better late than never. It's a good thing it was dark considering Joe was in his BVD's.
Sunday Sept. 10: Up at the crack of 9:30 again. Cars are clean from last night, so we're off to the track. We wandered through the pit garages and checked out the frantic action as the mechanics got the cars ready and, in one case, checked out the badly damaged front end of a car that wrecked earlier that day. The wrecked car's owners were trying to keep the damage from view, and were very upset if anyone took a picture of it. We didn't know why. Bruised egos maybe. We were all a little tired from our busy weekend so far, so we found a shady spot among the campers and watched the cars race for awhile. Scott took some pictures of the interesting ones, and there were a lot of those.
Finally, it was time for the race we were waiting for – the big-block Vettes, Cobras, Camaros, Mustangs, etc. It's a big field which stages by the front of the grandstand, so we get as close as possible by standing under the grandstand, right behind the line of staged cars. At the one-minute warning they all start their cars and rev up the engines to warm them up. It's a car nut's nirvana.
The race began and pretty soon it was clear that the Penske-Donahue-Sunoco Camaro was the fastest of the fast. Wasn't Donahue infamous for bending the rules? Anyway, there was a great battle going on for second place and each lap just got more and more exciting. My perennial favorite, the black '66 Vette coupe No. 66 of Ron Deppert, just couldn't move up in this amazing field of raw power and finished 7th or 8th; which was about where he started in the grid. Oh well, maybe next year.
It was getting late, so we started back home. We stopped again at the Roscoe Diner and ended up getting the same waitress we had 72 hours ago. None of us could believe the weekend had passed by so quickly. After dinner we headed to our respective homes – sunburned, tired, and very happy.