Growing up in Upstate NY I always knew about Watkins Glen International. I knew it was a road course and I knew NASCAR raced there. Other than those two facts I knew nothing else of the track. I grew up a car guy. We were constantly going to car shows and cruise-in nights and other such automobile related events. The one thing we never did was attended an actual race. We would watch NASCAR on television but we never went to a race. I had actually visited Watkins Glen State Park with the waterfalls more than the track itself.
Fast forward to my late twenties. A friend of mine asked me to come and shoot two races as a Social Media photographer. Basically I was to go and get images of the cars and the fans and shoot directly from my camera to my phone and push it out on the track’s twitter feed. I thought this sounded like fun, and to familiarize myself with the track I went with my father to the Thunderoad opening day and we took his Corvette around the track. (I recommend doing that it is an awesome experience driving a track.)
After that I was thinking to other major concerts and events I had been to as a spectator. It was a lot of looking from afar and not truly being a part of the action. So I showed up for my first day as the Social Media photographer and I was blown away by the way the track gears its events for the fans. The first race I shot was the Sahlen’s 6 hr Endurance Race. This event in my opinion is the one to go to if you want to get close to the action and see some great racing action. There were constantly cars going around the track, fans could walk the paddock, watch the teams work and actually talk with team members. I had never seen this level of openness before. From speaking with the fans they loved this event for that reason.
As a car guy I was a bit awestruck my first day shooting- Porsches, Corvettes, Ferraris and Daytona Prototypes- I could walk right up to and look at. The sound of these collaborative engines running and being tuned was like the car gods symphony. It was a true gear head's dream. If you truly want to experience racing I would recommend this event, it will give you access as well as racing action all weekend long.
Now I know most people will say “Why would I go to the track I can see more on TV?” Yes, you may see more from your couch but there are more important senses you will miss out on. There the sound of the motors. It is something that the greatest surround sound could not replicate. The ground shakes and you cannot help but smile. The smell of race gas and tires is permeating through the paddock and food being grilled fills the campground. There the people you meet. I met diehard fans who come every year to people who it was their first race, and they all had one thing in common, they would be back next year.
To wrap this up, even if I wasn't shooting for the track again, I would be back. Watkins Glen International is a track who lives their slogan of Fans Are First or as I wrote many a time #fansr1st.