Andy Jankowiak, ARCA Menards Series race car driver, takes a lap around the Watkins Glen International track. Credit: Andy Jankowiak

While some drivers seem to think the Long Island Expressway is a racetrack, you can try the real thing at the famed Watkins Glen International — just a few hours away in the Finger Lakes region.

“This is an iconic track that has featured IndyCar, Formula 1, NASCAR and IMSA series races,” said the track’s president, Dawn Burlew. “Dale Earnhardt, Richard Petty and Mario Andretti have all raced here. NASCAR stock driver Chase Elliott II got his first win here.”

Road racing in the area started with the first Watkins Glen Grand Prix in 1948, with the course running through the village itself, according to the track’s official history. But after a series of accidents, including one fatality, the course was moved outside of town. Drivers expressed concern about poor runoff and visibility, leading to the construction of the permanent track. Races have been held there, with a view of Seneca Lake in the distance, since 1956.

And every year, thousands of nonprofessional drivers can take a spin on the track during its Drive The Glen events.

Participants, led by an official Watkins Glen International pace car, lap the 3.45-mile Grand Prix circuit three times. Drivers use their personal vehicles, which can range from small and sporty cars to large pickup trucks, Burlew said.

The pack typically moves at 55 to 60 mph, but Joe Savino, 35, of Hauppauge, said he was able to go faster when he drove the track in his 2019 Chevy Blazer earlier this month.

“You weren’t allowed to pass other vehicles, but I still hit 90 mph on a straightaway,” Savino said.

A self-described “big NASCAR fan,” Savino noted, “It really was a thrill. The cars in each group were spaced so that nobody was actually close to you. The turns were tight, and each had a different angle.”

He added, “There’s so much history here, too, and the village is great for spending a weekend. I’d certainly recommend this experience. It’s a lot of fun.”


The events are scheduled from noon until 1 p.m. most Thursdays through Oct. 27 — but other dates, including occasional weekends, are also available. Visit for schedule updates and to purchase tickets.

Cars may carry as many passengers as their official capacity allows. Motorcycles, RVs and motorcoaches are not allowed on the course.


The cost is $30 per vehicle and drivers must be 18 or older. Vehicles must be  registered, have up-to-date inspection and insurance and be drivable on state roads. Participants must sign a liability waiver and drivers must show a valid driver's license. 


Extend your trip by visiting the Village of Watkins Glen and other local attractions in the area, track president Dawn Burlew suggested. In addition to wineries, options include:

  • Corning Museum of Glass,
  • International Motor Racing Research Center,
  • Watkins Glen State Park, The park features a gorge and several waterfalls and is one of the top-rated state parks in the nation. 


Can't make the drive but still want the thrill of watching some races? Riverhead Raceway,, offers stock car, modified, and figure-eight races through November on its quarter-mile asphalt oval track. Opening Day is May 4. Also check out Scout Night on May 11, when kids in uniform from any youth organization get in free.

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