In Southwest New York lies a happenin’ little town by the name of Watkins Glen. It’s bordered by Seneca lake from the North, which feeds the Glen Creek, forming an achingly beautiful tourist attraction. Over thousands of years, glaciers ran their course through the creek and carved out an artistic array of gorges. It can be easy to be entranced by the vast natural intricacies; I stood at the foot of the falls just biting my fist in awe. Luckily for hikers of the gorge, the sound of the waterfalls and rushing water drowns out the thunderous noise of Watkins Glen’s second great tourist attraction: the raceway.
Watkins Glen International is known for its Nascar Stock races in the late 50’s to representing America in the glamorous Formula One seasons of the 60’s and 70’s. However, the Glen holds its roots in sports cars, the manifestation of a simple and completely idiosyncratic idea that the automobile is more than just a tool.
I visited Watkins Glen to see a race held by the Sports Car Club of America (SCCA). The entire event had a relaxed feeling that was a relief from the tightly-regulated, high-end races so widely popular on TV. My friend likened it to college football. Most of the pros care about getting paid, and it shows in their performance. When you’re not being paid to play, then the drive comes from your soul, from your love of the sport. These SCCA racers are amateurs. All the funds to race at the Glen and other racetracks come from their own wallet.
I entered the paddock, which would normally be a bold move at a pro race, but here the gates were wide open. It was no trouble to ask what kind of setups the mechanics were using, or to take pictures of some truly bizarre machines. One was pretty much a frame smaller than my go-kart with a snowmobile engine. They had an entire class for those things; when they went by you thought there was a mob approaching armed with weed-whackers. Racers brought everything from Porsche cup racers to little VW Golfs to feather-light, open-wheel racers. If it had four wheels and an engine, there was a class for it.
These are die hard racers. Men and women who find a hobby in what spectators see as just driving a car around and around in circles. How is this different from any other kind of race, be it cross country, track, or swimming? To any type of racer, to be in the moment, it’s so much more. Be it through a relationship with your physicality, a relationship with your competitor, or a relationship with a machine, it’s about finding different ways to keep pushing further, to keep raising the bar.
We all crave sensation. Whether it’s through accomplishment, heroism, or excitement, we’re wired to react with hormones in response to stimuli. Aldous Huxley, author of the lauded novel Brave New World, believed that “speed provides the one truly modern pleasure.” A culture surrounding this pursuit of speed has evolved beyond necessity since the dawn of the automobile. This culture is fast, intense, borderline suicidal. It is brave and insane and noble and ridiculous all in the same breath. It’s heart beats thousands of times a minute, pumping red-hot, high octane blood. This is racing. May it’s manic efforts to push faster and faster never end.