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The Times
  • Chris Gill: The things I've learned at The Glen can help

  • This is my 15th year of covering events at Watkins Glen International, and more than 20 new calendars of attending races there. In that span, a lot of things have changed, but what I take away from time I’ve spent on the hill is what I’ve learned.

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  • This is my 15th year of covering events at Watkins Glen International, and more than 20 new calendars of attending races there. In that span, a lot of things have changed, but what I take away from time I’ve spent on the hill is what I’ve learned.
    Be it fan or member of the media, the experiences at the grand old race track have granted me wisdom, which I will now impart onto you.
    When camping, bring everything you can fit in a mid-sized sedan. There’s nothing worse than leaving behind an item you regret forgetting – i.e. playing cards, toothbrush, toilet paper.
    Don’t accept homemade brownies from fellow campers, lest you wish to spend the night staring into darkness until dawn breaks.
    I learned how to properly drink from a funnel, without beer splashing down my shirt and into my eyes.
    K9 police really don’t want you petting their German shepherd.
    You’re not the most interesting person in the campground.
    Girls don’t find you irresistible after a case of Milwaukee’s Best.
    I learned not all Southerners sound like Ward Burton. Who knew?
    Always go to the media food troth when lunch is announced, or spend a half hour standing in line with hunger pangs bouncing off the inner walls of your stomach.
    The media talks a good game about the fans, but most are so far removed from being on the outside they completely lose touch.
    It’s doesn’t matter what story you’re working on (NASCAR, college basketball, astrophysics) always talk to Jeff Burton.
    The men and women who built modern-day racing could have never pulled off constructing Indianapolis, Watkins Glen or Daytona in today’s business-driven environment – no more room for dreamers. Everyone who came after them are just caretakers.
    It’s unimaginable that anyone could’ve screwed up sports racing worse than Andy Evans did.
    Most relevant to this weekend, I learned that The Glen isn’t like any other track on this side of the planet.
    Not long after being hired as sports writer, without falsifying my resume, stories surfaced that International Speedway Corp., was going to sell the track. Dr. Don Panoz was going buy the place. NASCAR was pulling the lucrative Winston Cup race weekend.
    Human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together ... mass hysteria!
    People still showed up in droves for the annual August race weekend.
    New sparkling race tracks were popping up in every major market except New York City (still a bit of a sore subject around the ISC offices, so if you run into one of the France’s this weekend, best not to pick at that scab). Meanwhile, The Glen featured all the amenities of a major facility from the 1930s – electricity, character and not much else. The press executed the journalistic equivalent of a public stoning for years. Many who traveled with the NASCAR circus planned vacations around the second weekend in August, just to avoid coming here.
    Page 2 of 2 - Fans didn’t care. They kept coming, and in greater numbers than before.
    It became apparent to everyone in NASCAR and at ISC that casting The Glen aside would be foolish. Regardless of the weather, wooden bleachers or current configuration of the race cars, every year people pack the infield tighter than Snooki fills out medium-sized yoga pants. The Daytona Beach brass said, “Hey, not every track can claim this. Heck, let’s give them a budget to fully modernize The Glen over the course of several years. Next on the agenda: Any buyers for land on Staten Island?”
    At least that’s what I assume was said. I asked to sit in on that meeting and never got a reply. I’m sure it’s just because my message went into the junk mail folder or something.
    How The Glen survived an extraordinarily rocky 1990s and economic meltdown in the latter 2000s has less to do with who ran the place, how it was marketed or which major markets surround it, but more to do with the fans. The Glen isn’t simply a place to go watch a race, there are plenty of those. The Glen is a rite of summer for tens of thousands locally, regionally and reaching into Canada. The vibe is unlike anything you’ll experience at an oval, which struggle to sell seats in the face of global financial strife. The energy generated by NASCAR weekend at The Glen is entirely unique, and something people wait 362 days every year to experience again.
    If The Glen has taught me anything, it is this: The track, cool and unique as it is, does not define it – the people who inhabit it four days out of every year do.
    (Chris Gill, who covers auto racing for The Leader, can be reached at cmgill@the-leader.com or follow him on Twitter at @TheLeaderGill).

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