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Time running out for Watkins Glen?

John Oreovicz
July 7, 2010
Will Power leads the field during the July 4th meeting © Getty Images
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This year's Camping World Grand Prix at The Glen celebrated 50 years of top-level formula car competition at one of America's most famous road-racing venues, with a reasonably exciting Izod IndyCar Series race and a solid Fourth of July weekend camping crowd.

Yet Watkins Glen International is one of several IndyCar race venues believed to be "on the bubble," mainly because of a perceived lack of attention and promotion from track owner International Speedway Corp. Add in a new regime of Indy Racing League management that is taking a cold, hard, look at the bottom line, and it's easy to conclude that IndyCar racing could soon be extinct at WGI.

That's a sad prospect for anyone who loves road racing and proper natural-terrain road courses. In the United States, only Road America in Wisconsin rivals Watkins Glen as a test of road-racing bravery. They're both fast and fearsome tracks that should annually host America's top road-racing formula.

The Glen is probably in less danger of being dropped from the IndyCar schedule than ISC-owned ovals in Kansas City, Kan., and Homestead, Fla. If the decision rested solely with WGI President Michael Printup, the IRL would be back.

"We haven't even sat down and talked about it yet," Printup said. "These guys and girls race the hell out of this track, so I'm personally pushing very hard. The date is fine; I know we had some question about the date last year, but I'm ready to have this come back. It's just a business component of sitting down with the IRL."

Recently installed IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard was impressed with what he saw on his first visit to Watkins Glen. He hopes to make a decision about returning to the historic and popular venue within six weeks.

"This is a beautiful track," Bernard said. "The weather's perfect, and there's quite a lot of fans out there -- a lot of campers. I'd really like to find a way to continue to race here. But I'm held accountable for my bottom line, and I want to make sure each facility is held accountable with plenty of butts in the seats. I don't want to go anywhere where we don't have the full support of making the event successful. The key to me is to get 18 promoters behind us who really want to make the series grow to reignite open-wheel racing. That's one of my primary goals."

These decisions rarely rest with the participants, but none of the drivers in the IndyCar field would be happy to see Watkins Glen dropped from the schedule.

"We need tracks like this on the schedule," race winner Will Power said. "This is the nicest track we race on. You can pass here, and it's just a nice, flowing track with fast, banked corners. It's a real dream to drive, especially when the car is working. I'd be really disappointed if we don't come back here. It's such a great racetrack -- fantastic. It's got a lot of history as well."

Indeed, international road-racing competitions have taken place in greater Watkins Glen since 1948, with the first iteration of the current permanent circuit coming on board in 1961. Formula One lasted until 1980, but plans to have Indy car racing take over as the track's flagship event fell through, and Indy cars were absent from The Glen from 1982 to 2003.

Into the void stepped NASCAR, which staged its inaugural Bud at The Glen stock car road race in 1986. Like so many other communities in America, the village of Watkins Glen is now a NASCAR town.

And despite a fervent formula car following, it appears that Watkins Glen International could turn to being almost exclusively a NASCAR track.