The Best Race Tracks of the '60s: Watkins Glen, Indy, Road America

Ron NelsonGuest ColumnistAugust 16, 2011

The Best Race Tracks of the '60s: Watkins Glen, Indy, Road America

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    In 1956 I was on leave from the Coast Guard and had my first camera in hand

    As I arrived at Elkhart Lake in 1956, I took this shot—one of my first anywhere.

    This was the start of the feature race and drivers were milling around their cars, getting ready for a standing start.

    Carroll Shelby won the race in a Ferrari against a very good field of D-Jaguars and other potent entries. 

    Road America has since become one of the premier tracks in the country.  I managed to get back up there in 1958 and spent the following years there covering the races for Competition Press and many Chicago-area drivers.

    Take a look at the slideshow of some of my favorite motor sport shots...

    and visit my web site for much more:

Jack Brabham in the 1961 Indy 500

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    In 1961, the world champion startled the racing community by entering a rear-engine Cooper in the Indianapolis 500. 

    Jack Brabham ran as high as third in the under-powered car and ended up finishing ninth.

    But, the die was cast.  Dan Gurney and Jimmy Clark followed and the end was near for the big roadsters.

Gurney and Clark in the Lotus-Fords

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    Jimmy Clark qualified on the pole for the 1963 Milwaukee race with Dan Gurney beside him.

    Here the two head for the green flag during the pace lap.  Dan gives a friendly wave and Clark went on to lap the entire field except for Dan and A.J. Foyt. 

    This was the first victory for the Lotus-Ford in USAC racing, and set the stage for many of the drivers switching to rear-engine cars. 

1961 Formula One Race at Watkins Glen

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    In 1961, the Formula One crowd came to Watkins Glen, N.Y. for the first time and would stay there for 20 years, giving race fans the opportunity to see the best drivers in the world. 

    This photograph is the first lap coming up the hill and shows Jack Brabham in the lead over Sterling Moss.

    This was the first win for Lotus as Innes Ireland brought the car home in first place.

    This was a great start for many memorable races at that historic track.

    Cameron Argetsinger was responsible for getting road racing started on a grand scale in the U.S. after World War II, and his efforts made it possible for Formula One racing to come here.

Innes Ireland in the Lotus Formula One Race

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    Driving a steady race Innes managed to stay out of trouble, and as Brabham and Moss dropped from the race, he held off the charge of Gurney in the Porsche and others.

    A first for Lotus, and Clark would go on to become a champion, driving for Colin Chapman and Lotus. 

    His drives at Indianapolis were amazing and he won that race among many others. 

Dan Gurney in the Porsche at Watkins Glen in 1961

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    Practice for the Formula One race at Watkins Glen was pretty informal.  Many drivers just got in the car with a sport shirt, pair of khaki trousers and loafers, and motored on out to see what the car could do and what the layout of the track looked like. Of course they got down to business and eventually may have got into a driving suite and racing shoes. 

    Seat belts were just starting to get in cars and they basically were just a strap across your lap. 

    It was easy to mingle with everyone in the pit area and most of the drivers were friendly.  It was a dangerous time in the sport and many of the greats were lost. 

Roy Salvadori in the Cooper During the 1960 Watkins Glen Formula Libre

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    Stirling Moss in a Formula One Lotus ran away from a mixed group of cars. Formula One cars and sports cars were all in the race. 

    This is Roy Salvadori, a Formula One driver who ran this Cooper sports car and gave a good showing. 

Jack Brabham and Phil Hill

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    Here, Phil Hill talks with Jack Brabham during the Formula One race weekend at Watkins Glen. 

    Phil Hill was already the world champion after the previous race at Monza.

    His teammate Von Tripps was tragically killed along with 14 spectators. 

    Enzo Ferrari declined to send a car to America for Phil to drive so he was deprived of driving in front of his home country fans.  He was a great champion and one of the sports all-time best drivers.

Meadowdale Raceway and the Long Straight After the Monza Wall

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    Meadowdale was just outside of Chicago and was a real challenge to drivers of the era.  It opened in the late '50s and had some classic races there. 

    Roger Ward drove a midget against some of the best sports cars around including the Scarab. 

    The track was the home track for the Scarab in the hands of Jim Jeffords, Harry Heure, Augie Pabst and Don Devine, and the car won a lot of races out there. 

    Many of the drivers in those days were used to having an escape road or area to drive off on if you made a mistake. Not Meadowdale. It had no escape roads, just high dirt banking or guard rails.  If you got a little wide or into a corner too fast you were in big trouble.  But the pros liked the place.

    Stirling Moss conducted a driving school out there and thought the place was great.  Then, that is what you would expect from Sir Stirling.

Ricardo Rodriguez at Meadowdale

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    Ricardo Rodriguez drove the Porsche in a Pro USAC race at Meadowdale, and I think he was only 16 years old.  He had a race-long duel with Jim Jeffords in the Scarab, only to flip the car with a couple laps to go. 

    Ricardo and Jim put on a great race with the lead changing hands on almost every lap.  Ricardo would catch the Scarab on the tight parts of the track and get by, then Jeffords would blast by on a straight section of the course.  Jim really worked for that win. 

The Scarabs and the Esses at Meadowdale

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    After that long straight, Meadowdale had some fast corners. 

    Here Augie Pabst and Harry Heuer drop down through the esses and get ready for an uphill run. 

    The track offered numerous places to watch the action, and the drivers with talent would really get through the tough spots.  You found out who had talent and who didn't pretty fast.

Walt Hansgen in the Maserati Typo 61 at Indianapolis Raceway Park

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    Walt Hansgen drove all types of cars: Formula One, Indy 500, sports cars and Formula Juniors.

    Here he is in the Cunningham Birdcage at Indianapolis Raceway Park.  He was a real pioneer in the development of racing in the USA.

Walt Hansgen in the Birdcage Maserati at Indianapolis Raceway Park

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    This is just a nice shot of a Ferrari coming up the hill from Corner 12 at Road America. 

    I do believe that is Jim Johnson at the wheel of that classic Testrossa. 

A.J. Foyt in the Sheraton Thompson Roadster at Indy 1961

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    What would the slideshow be without a good shot of A.J. in the Sheraton Thompson roadster?

    There isn't much you can add about Foyt.  He drove everything and won in many categories of racing.  He was the ultimate contributor to a great era of racing. 

Berdie Martin in the Elva at Wilmot

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    Berdie Martin was an early sports car legend and a longtime member of the Chicago Region of the Sports Car Club of America.

    Berdie almost went over here but manged to get the four wheels back on the ground. 

    The photograph was used in a national add for a whiskey company.  Every time I see Berdie, he reminds me I still owe him a case of whiskey. 

    Berdie went on to be the head of ACCUS in the United States and served many years in that capacity.

Walter Payton at Road America in a Sports Racer

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    Here is a shot of Walter Payton coming out of the paddock area and moving out to the grid.

    Everyone knows what Walter did on the football field.  But he also really enjoyed getting behind the wheel and could be seen at Champ Car events and around the sport when time permitted.

    To see more classic motorsport photos, please visit my website.  Also, be sure to check out my classic football shots at Wrigley Field here and here.