Reading quietly at a golden oak table, I hear voices murmur at the front desk, but continue working, undisturbed. I take a few more notes. Eventually, my glance lifts over the page, and what I find in front of me is striking enough to distract even the most dedicated researcher.
I’m in a library, but one with a remarkable difference from others you may have visited. A rocket ship in the form of a gleaming silver Porsche 917 race car sits just a few feet away. Or it might be a spicy, 1975 M23 Formula 1 car.
Soon, I get up and join what’s clearly becoming an increasingly lively conversation over by the car. I know the best research I will do that day will come from listening in on this spontaneous gathering of cheerful motorsports enthusiasts.
Eternity, as the 19th-century poet Emily Dickinson once wrote, may come in the form of “velocity or pause.” If that’s true, at the International Motor Racing Research Center in Watkins Glen, one may experience a sense of eternity, since the IMRRC is all about the stories of speed and the opportunity to pause and reflect on what speed means, and has meant, to all of us. Research and racing go hand in hand at the center, but this treasure trove of archives and other materials for the serious researcher is also a friendly and pleasant place for anyone to visit who is interested in the region’s history and activities. And it’s free.
Racing back in time
In 1948, Cameron Argetsinger – father of current IMRRC president J.C. Argetsinger – brought road racing to Watkins Glen, instituting the first European-style racing in the United States in the post-World War II era. Since then, several racing series have competed at The Glen, including Formula 1, Indy Car and NASCAR, among others.
When asked how the center came into play, J. C. said it was the “brainchild of my mother.” In the 1990s, Jean Argetsinger, then president of the board of trustees of the Watkins Glen Public Library, and John Saunders, then president of the Watkins Glen race track, wanted to find a significant way to commemorate the 50th anniversary of motor racing at Watkins Glen.
According to Harriet Eisman, current director of the Glen’s public library, a previously organized alcove of motorsports books “attracted the attention of writers, historians and fans,” so the need for a dedicated center became clear. In 1996, the idea got the green flag from both the Watkins Glen Public Library Board of Trustees and the motorsports community at large, and the race was on to create the facility in time for the anniversary. The donations came pouring in from across the entire spectrum of the motor racing community. The building – a wing added onto the library at 610 S. Decatur St. – took only a few months to build.
The building was dedicated during the U.S. Vintage Grand Prix in September of 1998 when the anniversary was celebrated. Sir Stirling Moss and John Fitch were among several racing legends who attended the festivities. In June, 1999, three-time Formula 1 World Champion racer Sir Jackie Stewart and his wife Helen were on hand to welcome visitors to the official opening.
“There are many great automotive and racing museums around the world,” Stewart said then. “But what has been created at Watkins Glen, a center for archives and real research, is truly unique and a tremendous asset to the whole racing community.”
Gauging the center
Today, the center’s 5,000-square-foot space houses over 3,500 rare and reference books; more than 3,500 films; posters, programs, magazines, rare documents, club records, fine art and memorabilia; and
thousands of archival photographs.
“Our success is really our biggest problem,” says J.C. Argetsinger, as the center is running out of room. Organizers hope to expand facilities in the future, and also digitize much of the collection.
The center is still run entirely by donations. Each year, a well-known figure from the sport leads its annual fund drive. Sponsorship team chairs have included Hurley Haywood, Sir Stirling Moss, Mario Andretti, Phil Hill, Dan Gurney, Bobby Rahal, Rusty Wallace, Brian Redman, Sam Posey, John Fitch, Bill Milliken and Denise McCluggage.
Asked why he supports the center, Rochester racer Larry Kessler, CEO of the Kessler Group Inc. and member of the IMRRC’s governing council, points out that racing is an important
economic asset to the area. Watkins Glen is “a worldwide iconic racing venue,” he says. It attracts visitors from all over to the region. “The IMRRC is entwined in its history and will be part of its future.”
You don’t have to be a researcher to find your own timeless moment at the center. Just like in a public library, everyone is welcome. The list of those who have spoken in the center’s popular “Conversations” series, or who have just dropped by for a visit, reads like a motorsports who’s who and includes Jack Brabham, Dan Gurney, Phil Hill, Mario Andretti, Rusty Wallace, Emerson Fittipaldi, Derek Bell, Jim France, Denise McCluggage, Sam Posey, Doug Nye and many more.
When casual visitors stop in, Historian Bill Green and Archival Associate Kevin Hughey are both happy to share their lifetimes of knowledge about racing at The Glen. The two, along with Director Glenda Gephart and other staff members and volunteers, answer questions about the car on display, explain unique items from the collection, or show free films in the media room that match visitors’ personal interests. Visitors can also find motorsports magazines, posters, artwork, used and rare books, and other items for sale that help support the center. A car is raffled off each year as a fundraiser.
It might take something close to an eternity to learn all there is to know about the high velocity world of motorsports that the collection and knowledgeable staff provide at the IMRRC. With its unique combination of resources, however, the center is well worth a pause.
Purchases or donations in support of the International Motor Racing Research Center can be made by calling the center at 607-535-9044,
or visiting the website at racingarchives.org.
The IMRRC is located at 610 S. Decatur St., Watkins Glen.
A History of the Watkins Glen Racetrack
For the popular Arcadia history series, Michael Argetsinger, a member of the IMRRC governing council, and Bill Green, IMRRC historian, have written a history of the Watkins Glen racetrack from 1948 to 2012. Many of the photographs in Watkins Glen International are previously unpublished, and come from their private family collections, since both authors were eyewitnesses to events. Copies signed by both authors are available from the IMRRC.
Argetsinger has also written a book called Formula One at Watkins Glen: Twenty Years of the U.S. Grand Prix 1961-1980. Both the author and the publisher donate 100 percent of the proceeds from the book directly to the support of the IMRRC.
by Connie Ann Kirk