ATLAS F1   Volume 6, Issue 38 Email to Friend   Printable Version

Atlas F1   The Library

  by Don Capps, U.S.A.

The world of motor racing has long needed a central place where people can research and search through the archives of the sport. Don Capps writes about the Watkins Glen Motor Racing Research Library, a facility that aims to provide that archival and research home for motor racing

The Watkins Glen Motor Racing Research LibraryWith the return of Grand Prix racing to the United States, attention is once again being directed at the history of the United States Grand Prix. When you look at the venues at which the US GP was run, one venue stands out from the rest: Watkins Glen. First, it was the venue which hosted the most events, 20 - from 1961 through 1980. Second, of all the places that have hosted the US GP, this was the logical place for it. What? In the middle of the Finger Lakes District of New York State? Exactly!

Watkins Glen is a special place in the history of racing in the United States. It was here that road racing was revived after World War II by Cameron Argetsinger. How there came to be a road race in a remote corner of New York is a story in itself, but in October 1948, the first Watkins Glen Grand Prix was run on a 6.6-mile circuit. When driven around the original circuit a decade later, Joakim Bonnier compared it to the Nurburgring, and mentioned that the drivers were indeed brave men! What is truly wonderful is that the original course still exists and mere mortals like you and I can still do laps on it - albeit at slightly reduced speeds. Sometimes, that is.

As the track gained recognition nationally, Cameron Argetsinger was thinking about bringing the world to this little town at the south end of Lake Seneca. In 1961, his dream became a reality, and in October of that year, the US GP came to Watkins Glen where it stayed for 20 years. However, Watkins Glen was not merely the host to the US GP and Sports Car Club of America sports car races, it also hosted a variety of other forms of racing over the years.

Inaugural event memorabiliaWhile most are familiar with the annual NASCAR Winston Cup event held there each August, few realize that NASCAR ran races there as long ago as 1957 (Buck Baker being the winner)! Even a short list of the organizations and the series is fascinating to look at: the United States Road Racing Championship (USRRC), United States Auto Club midgets(!), American Motorcycle Association & Association of American Motorcycle Road Racers events, the Canadian-American Challenge Cup (Can-Am), events in the World Sports Car Championship - the Six-Hours, the Trans-American Series (Trans-Am), International Motor Sports Association (IMSA) events, the Continental Series (SCCA F5000), Championship Auto Racing Teams (CART), and even the US Snowmobile Association - to name but a few!

Plus, how many tracks can boast of winners such as these: Innes Ireland, Jim Clark, Graham Hill, Stirling Moss, Bobby Unser, Buck Fulp, Francois Cevert, Walt Hansgen, Paul O'Shea, Miles Collier, Bob Tullius, Bob Holbert, Eddie Johnson, Jim Hall, Ken Miles, Billy Wade, Sam Posey, Mark Donohue, Allan Moffat, Oscar Koveleski, P. L. Newman, Jacky Ickx, Jerry Titus, Jackie Stewart, Jochen Rindt, Bruce McLaren, Pedro Rodriguez, Jo Siffert, Denis Hulme, Vic Elford, Ronnie Peterson, Peter Revson, Peter Gregg, Hurley Haywood, Graham McRae, Mario Andretti, Bertil Roos, Jackie Oliver, Brian Redman, Niki Lauda, Joe Ruttman, Alan Jones, James Hunt, Keke Rosberg, Gilles Villeneuve, Michael Andretti, Al Holbert, Rick Mears, Willy T. Ribbs, Tim Richmond, John Andretti, Calvin Fish, Rusty Wallace, Joe Varde, Geoff Brabham, Ricky Rudd, Juan Fangio II, Kyle Petty, James Weaver, Mark Martin, Jaki Scheckter, Geoff Bodine, Jeff Gordon, and Erwin Goldschmidt.

In other words, a lot of history has passed through Watkins Glen! And what a great place for a research library dedicated to motor racing. It was with this in mind that the idea of what is currently called the Watkins Glen Motor Racing Research Library came into being. As the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the first race at Watkins Glen was approaching, various activities were being planned for the celebration. But one person had something more permanent in mind as way to celebrate not only the rich history of racing at Watkins Glen, but motor racing in general.

That person was Jean Argetsinger, wife of Cameron Argetsinger - the organizer of the original 1948 race, mother of nine, and one very determined lady. She had the idea of placing in Watkins Glen a research facility for those interested in motor racing history - not just that of Watkins Glen or the United States, but covering international racing as well. She recognized the void that existed in researching motor racing history, and wished to create a means to fill the need. With the same determination that saw the US GP come to a sleepy hamlet in New York, she set out to bring that vision into reality.

At the opening of the library: Jackie Stewart, Jean Argetsinger and Phil McCrayMrs. Argetsinger launched into action, and among the first of many she recruited into her crusade was the then-president of Watkins Glen International, now vice-president of the International Speedway Corporation, John Saunders. Needless to say, he was quickly recruited to The Cause. Next she recruited John Bishop and his wife Peg - Bishop is the founder of IMSA and one of the most influential men in US motor racing, and others soon fell into line as Jean Argetsinger set about raising the funds for building The Library (it just sounds as if it is in capital letters when folks speak about itů). Many enthusiastic donors committed funds to the project, to include Peter McLaughlin, Bob Snodgrass, Bert Roberts, Isabel Collier Read, and countless others. As mentioned, the Argetsinger family is in the habit of making amazing things happen and few could resist the energy and charm (plus a wee bit of arm twisting from time to time) of Mrs. Argetsinger.

In early June 1999, The Library officially opened its doors with World Champion Jackie Stewart doing the honours. Jean Argetsinger's vision had come to fruition. The Library is a 5,000 square foot facility open to both the casual fan and serious researchers alike. It has a remarkable collection of books - more than 2,500 and growing every week - it includes historical films, manuscripts, race programs and posters, thousands of periodicals (the academic term for what you and I call "magazines"), photographs, records of various organizations and clubs, plus many items that are wonderfully referred to as motor sport "ephemera."

The latter category includes such items as one of Juan Manuel Fangio's helmets, a trophy awarded to Tazio Nuvolari, a driving suit worn by Mark Donohue, the lavender suit worn by the famous starter of races at Watkins Glen, Tex Hopkins (I was impressed, especially having seen him in action), and for awhile something that had to be seen to be truly believed: the very same number 98 Allard J2 that won the 1950 Watkins Glen Grand Prix.

The Allard has been restored and is in the same gorgeous shade of red that it was raced in that year. The current owner, Bruce McCaw, loaned it to The Library where it sat for a year and a half in the atrium - smack dab in the middle of everything. Look at the list of winners several paragraphs above, and note the last name on the list, Erwin Goldschmidt: he was the winner of that race in that car. It was the sort of thing that makes one remember why you love motor racing.

The #98 Allard J2, winner at Watkins Glen in 1950Although the Allard is now back in Seattle with its owner, it is just the first of what will be a series of similarly wonderful cars to grace the atrium of the of The Library. Soon the atrium will be graced by an Aston Martin, to be followed by Vic Franzese's Champagne Car which raced in the Can-Am series, and then an Austin-Healey - the latter a reminder of the many SCCA events run at the circuit. The list is still being developed, but one senses that a few surprises are in store for future visitors.

The staff is headed by Phil McCray, the Director and Curator of The Library. One of the early decisions made by Mrs. Argetsinger was that the staff would consist of professional archivists and librarians. Prior to joining The Library, McCray was an archivist at Cornell University Library's Division of Rare Books and Manuscript Collections for over 13 years. This expertise is reflected in the way The Library operates and goes out of its way to assist researchers who visit the facility, call or even email for assistance. The Library operates according to professional archival standards of preservation and bibliographical cataloguing.

The Reference Librarian at The Library is Mark Steigerwald. Like McCray, Steigerwald is advanced in his area of expertise (his Masters is from Syracuse University) and is both a thorough professional, and a great source of information on the holdings of the collection. Steigerwald has performed hundreds of reference searches for those who can't get to The Library, including requests from abroad. Rounding out the staff is the Community Relations Director, Glenda Gephart. She handles the contacts with the local and national media, the many events which take place at The Library, and many other jobs too numerous to list. Gephart has worked for a number years at several area newspapers and somehow juggles all the demands of the position with apparent ease.

The staff were extremely friendly and helpful during my visit at the end of August. They went out of their way to be of assistance, and I clearly got the impression that this was how they treated everyone. Indeed, the hospitality of The Library is such that it serves as the site for many meetings and receptions. Its popularity is due in large part to the friendly welcome and wonderful atmosphere which seems to permeate through the facility.

One of the many pieces of art at the libraryThe need for such a facility as The Library is something that those of us in the motor racing history trade have been groaning about for decades. While there are a number of libraries with material out there, their focus is not the same as a research library or archives. The focus is on that object or perhaps that class of objects on display, but the ability of a researcher to gain access to materials is often quite limited, and we are talking about the professionals, much less the serious amateur or casual fan wanting to know more.

An unexpected surprise for The Library is the collection of fine art that has blossomed there. This collection is rapidly becoming an impressive repository of the best of the automotive arts. There have been generous donations of Gotschke and Halck portfolios, original oils, and some exquisite rare prints. The stunning collection of visual documentation is a delight to look at and savor. It is expected that one of the future expansions of the facility will a gallery dedicated to the display of this wonderful collection.

The Library is, in my opinion, the place so many of us have been looking for. A central archive and research facility for those interested in motor racing history. I am completely smitten by The Library. The collection of books, periodicals, and manuscripts means that some of us can now do much of our research almost on a one-stop basis, rather than the hit-or-miss way most of us now do our work - which also sometimes means the outlay of serious dollars for books and other materials when (and if) we find them.

One important project currently underway is the Oral History program. Interviews are being conducted with a wide range of motor racing figures and the transcripts will become a part of the manuscript collection. Soon, these transcripts will also be available on the web site. In addition, there is an effort underway to begin scanning many of the photographs in The Library's incredible collection of visual images. This will provide not only a digital record of the images in the collection, but like the transcripts will also be available on the web site.

Some of the rare periodicals kept at the libraryRecently, the Library Council took a hard look at the name of the facility - the Watkins Glen Motor Racing Research Library, and realized that many thought the facility was concerned only with events connected with Watkins Glen. That, of course, could not be further from the truth. As a result, there will soon be a new name for The Library - the International Motor Racing Research Center at Watkins Glen. The latter title is more accurate and genuinely reflects the mission of The Center. After all, The Center has a complete collection of the magazine (sorry Mark, I meant to say "periodical") "Der Nurburg-Ring," which not even the museum at the Nurburgring has! Plus, the Associated Press has turned over its collection of motor racing photographs to The Center: I saw a picture of the great Tazio Nuvolari lying in state in his home as well as several pictures of the my beloved Maserati 250F at the 1954 Pescara race which I had never seen before! The name change is just one reflection of how The Library, ah, The Center, is evolving. Doubtless, there will be others, but this is one that is very important and significant of where The Center is heading.

Currently, The Center is looking for assistance in collecting materials - both original and copies - for its archives. The need for manuscripts, factory or team records, private collections of photographs and films, and similar materials are their greatest need. However, the most amazing things can come from both some ordinary and extraordinary places, so it is rare that anything is ever refused. Indeed, some of the most fascinating items I looked at during my visit came from donors almost literally clearing out their attic.

One last item that really gets my attention: soon The Center will commence a lecture series. The first lecture will be held this Winter, with the details to be placed on the web site very soon. These lectures will become a part of the overall program, to provide both the casual fan and the dyed-in-the-wool Enthusiast with an opportunity to see and hear, as well as interact with those who record the history of motor racing. I, for one, am really excited about these lectures and looking forward to attending as many as possible.

The International Motor Racing Research Center at Watkins Glen is open Monday through Saturday from 9am until 5pm. On race weekends, it is often open on Sunday, but you might wish to check in advance before dropping by for a visit. Indeed, if you wish to visit to conduct research on a specific topic, call ahead and they will prepare some items for your visit.

The mailing address is:
Watkins Glen Motor Racing Research Library
(soon to change to the "International Motor Racing Research Center at Watkins Glen")
610 South Decatur Street
Watkins Glen, New York 14891-1613

Their telephone number is: 607 535 9044

The Library's web site is:

The Director, Phil McCray, can be reached at:

They are working on placing the items in the collection online for access through the web, but it is slow business with such a limited staff and so many demands - but they are working hard at getting it done. Whether just curious, mildly interested or a serious researcher of motor racing history, there are no end of reasons to both visit and support this great and much needed enterprise.

May both the US GP and The Center have long and successful lives!

Don Capps© 2000 Kaizar.Com, Incorporated.
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All images courtesy of the Watkins Glen Motor Racing Research Library

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