New York, New York ~ Frank Sinatra Could Have Sung the National Anthem
Somewhere around 15-20 years ago, Sandy and I were coming back from a vacation in New York, driving south on U.S. 15 on a Wednesday or Thursday, and all of a sudden, NASCAR haulers started passing us headed north. Of course, it’s Watkins Glen weekend, I reminded myself, settling back (with appropriate concentration on driving) to watch the rest of NASCAR’s finest pass in review.
If Big Bill France had had his way, though, that parade might be less of a novelty today, because in the early days, the old man sure seemed to work hard to schedule Grand National (Cup) races in the Empire State. Too bad it didn’t catch on.
New York has been with Cup racing since the start. One of those eight races in the first year for NASCAR’s premier series was at Hamburg Speedway on September 18, when Jack White (in his only start that season) beat a field of mostly local and regional racers. North Carolinian Glenn Dunaway, famous for winning the first-ever Strictly Stock (later Grand National/Cup) race and then being disqualified, dominated this event, only to lose a wheel two-thirds of the way through.
They still hold horse races at the Erie County Fairgrounds in Hamburg, N.Y., but recent years apparently have seen only a Figure 8 race on a temporary course and this school bus demo derby at the horse track.
The next year, four of the 19 GN events were in New York, with Hamburg repeating, joined by two in Vernon and one at the Monroe County Fairgrounds in Rochester.
That’s where the growth ended, though, as the number of New York stops dwindled to one or two per year. Rochester remained the stalwart, joined at various times by the Watkins Glen and Bridgehampton road courses, the Syracuse mile and other short tracks. Then, from 1959-62, there was no GN racing in New York.
Absolutely love this photo of David Pearson overtaking Larry Hess’ Rambler at Bridgehampton.
Things picked up when NASCAR inaugurated its “Northern Tour” in 1963. That lasted until 1971, and the one-fifth mile Islip Speedway on Long Island was the most frequent participant, with Fonda, Albany-Saratoga (Malta) and the road courses also making appearances. Then the Winston Cup era and the “major-races-only” schedule began, and New York disappeared.
The Glen returned in ‘86 and has been the New York stalwart since then.
Maybe that’s too bad. There are a lot of race tracks and race fans in New York, and they could be supporting NASCAR today along with all the weekly tracks they attend. The sport could certainly use them.
Here’s hoping for a big crowd of NASCAR supporters at the Glen.
Frank’s Loose Lug Nuts
I’ve mentioned from time to time NASCAR’s habit in the early days of running races on the East Coast and West Coast the same day and counting both in the Grand National standings. New York figures in a really trivia oddball among those.
On August 4, 1957, a GN race was run at Watkins Glen, the first of the Glen’s events for the division. That same day, a few hours later, another Grand National race got underway in Bremerton, Wash., on a 0.9 mile road course layout at the Kitsap County Airport.
As far as I can tell, it was the only time NASCAR scheduled one of its “doubles” with both events on road courses.