Lawman who ran the race right into town

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Cameron Argetsinger never imagined being hailed as the founding father of modern road racing in the United States. He just wanted somewhere to compete in his new MG TC. But when the 27-year-old law student began to formulate his plans for a track around Watkins Glen, he was only just beginning a 30-year stint as a race organiser.

When it was originally suggested that the inaugural event be known as the American Grand Prix, Argetsinger is said to have retorted: “No, we’ll call it the Watkins Glen Grand Prix, because one day we’ll have the American Grand Prix.” His career encompassed the fulfilment of that prophesy, but it was a few years before Watkins Glen hosted the US GP.

Argetsinger was elected general race chairman by the SCCA for the first Watkins Glen GP. And he subsequently oversaw the move to a second road course track for 1953 event, following the previous year’s fatal accident.

“It wasn’t that we couldn’t close the roads, but Lloyd’s of London said they wouldn’t cover the race if it ran through the town,” says Argetsinger. “So we moved up the hill and formed the Grand Prix Corporation, which went on to much bigger things.”

The creation of 4.6-mile ‘Interim Course’, again all public road, near the village of Dix, was financed by the selling of certificates of indebtedness. Argetsinger realised the new company was “throwing good money after bad” keeping the roads in good order, and so instigated the purchase of 550 acres around the site of the second track.

Work on the 2.3-mile permanent venue began in June 1956, and the circuit was completed on the eve of the first meeting at the end of October the same year.

After staging international Formula Libre events in 1958-60, Watkins Glen did a late deal to host the 1961 US Grand Prix and became its permanent home following false starts at Sebring (1959) and Riverside (1960).

Argetsinger remained at the helm of the Grand Prix Corporation until 1970, and then went on to run the SCCA.

He retired from motorsport in 1977 to practise law just down the road from Watkins Glen, in Montour Falls.