During last weekend’s IRL race at Watkins Glen I had dinner every night at the Glen Motor Inn. It’s always a pleasure to stay at this unpretentious motel on the shores of Seneca Lake on the northern outskirts of Watkins Glen town.
Owned and run by Vic Franzese and his wife Linda, the motel is steeped in racing lore and the walls of the reception area are chock full of photos of the many great drivers who have stayed there over the years.
Franzese was himself an enthusiastic amateur racer for many years, competing for quite some time in the Firestone Firehawk sedan series, entering a car in the Can-Am series in 1970 and ’71, and before that racing a Lotus 11.
Vic remains a great fan of the sport and always has a tale or two to tell about the old days. As we dined last Saturday he joined us for a drink.
“Back in the ’60s, of course, most of the Formula 1 teams used to stay with us for a few weeks,” he said.
“They would come down from Canada after the GP and stay here before and after the race, and when there was a Mexican GP they stayed for another week before heading south. It was a great time and we got to know many of them well.
“In those days we used to have an impromptu victory party after the race, and the teams and drivers would sit together. One year, I think it was ’64, we were enjoying the evening and Jim Clark and Colin Chapman were sitting together at the Lotus table.
“They were in good spirits and Jimmy suddenly threw a bread bun at Richie Ginther, who was sitting at the BRM table next to Jean Stanley. They were having a great time and the bread bun, on which Jimmy had slathered butter, hit Ginther square in the cheek.
“Well, when that happened Richie dropped his head and was about to hit the table when Jean Stanley put her hand out and caught him. Being the aristocratic Brit, she didn’t flinch. She was sitting there with Louis Stanley, both of them looking very posh and formal, and she just pulled Richie back upright. She remained completely composed. You wouldn’t have thought anything was happening around her.
“But of course, when Richie snapped back upright he was grinning madly and that’s when it began in earnest. Richie and the BRM guys started pelting the Lotus table with bread buns and Jimmy and Chapman tried to hide below the table.
“They were just kids, really. They were all young and in the prime of their lives, and it was a great time for us, too.”
Back to last weekend and the following day we watched Justin Wilson drive a magnificent race to score Dale Coyne Racing’s first win in 558 starts and 25 years!
Justin is one of the world’s most talented open-wheel drivers, who has been unjustly unrewarded over the years for his talent and hard work.
After a frustrating time in F1, Wilson moved to America five years ago to race in Champ Car where he immediately showed his speed, winning in Toronto and Mexico City in 2005, Edmonton in ’06 and Assen in ’07.
Last year he joined Newman/Haas and scored a great win in Detroit, but he was released at the end of the season as the team struggled for sponsorship.
Late last winter Wilson was hired by Dale Coyne, and Coyne’s faith in him has been rewarded with extremely competitive runs at St Petersburg and Long Beach, and Sunday’s victory at the Glen.
Justin had qualified second, out-braked Ryan Briscoe to take the lead on lap five, and went on to lead 49 of the 60 laps. To defeat the Penske and Ganassi teams – which until last weekend had won all this year’s IRL races – was a tremendous accomplishment.
So if you ever find yourself in upstate New York, near Watkins Glen, you should drive north up Route 14 and check into the Glen Motor Inn.
Stay for a night, enjoy Seneca Lake and visit the Glen’s history-rich International Motor Racing Research Centre in the middle of town.
And during dinner, you might be lucky enough to bump into Vic Franzese and hear one of his many tales from the great days of motor racing.