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The Thrill & the Fright
of Watkins Glen

Racing at the Glenn

This is real life at 150 mph; it's no video game. If you screw up, you don't just reset and start over.

by Dave Edney

The blue railings are leaping at me. My leather gloves are sweat-soaked, and my right foot is twitching. In three seconds I will die. Two. My toes curl around the throttle peddle to keep from lifting. I want to lift. I don't want to die. There's a guy behind me, his racer's shark nose tucked right up under my gearbox. And there's another guy right next to him, almost touching his wheels. If I lift, even a smidgen, I'll collect them both, and we'll become splashes of fiberglass and scrap metal against the Armco.

One. The guy on my tail is going to try me; I can see his wheel in my mirror. Well, he's going to have to work for it! The braking and downshifting are coming up NOW. As late as I dare. A heartbeat more, impossibly late. Then on the brakes until the tires smoke, and the rubber peels off in strings. Hold the dance with one hand; feet flying on the clutch, accelerator, and brake, right fist flogging the tiny gear shift lever.

This is real life at 150 mph; it's no video game. If you screw up, you don't just reset and start over.

Tonight, around hilltop campfires, we'll relive it all over cold chili dogs and warm beer. In the background, the generators will hum, and fluorescent lights will burn until dawn. Expensive wrenches will clink on metal and thud into the dirt. Engines will be changed; brake pads, and gear ratios and a hundred other things. The war chariots will be attended to, while the gladiators trade parts, guffaws and war stories. No one will sleep very much.

On the morrow, as the blood red orb rises on Watkins Glen above Seneca Lake, the gladiators will mount their steeds again, making memories. The grit and sweat, and incinerated hydrocarbons will blend in some magical way, and in future years, this will be our Brigadoon. Where the rolling green-splashed hills, and glistening lake made the backdrop for what we thought were the best days of our lives. Where we defied physics and the fates, and became giddy with it all.

If you go: Watkins Glen. Route 16, Schuyler County. 607-535-2481.
Ticket information, 607-535-2481. Save time to experience the lovely village at the head of Seneca Lake with its famous glen and laser light show, dinner cruises on the lake, and much more.

Dave Edney drove open-wheeled racing cars in Sports Car Club of America races from 1970-74. He believes there's "no such thing as too much power, too much speed, or too much knowledge."

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