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Famous People of the Finger Lakes

Cameron R. Argetsinger (1921 - )

Cameron Argetsinger inherited his love of fast cars from his father J.C. J.C. had been raised in Burdett (Schuyler County), where the family had property overlooking Seneca Lake. Here he spent time with his young son Cameron, roaring through the countryside.


After being awarded a law degree from Cornell University, J.C. moved to Ohio, where he worked as vice president and general counsel for a steel company. In his spare time, he collected classic Packards.


In the early 1940s, Cameron, who wasn’t yet 21, became co-owner of an Ohio Packard dealership. Following World War II, he enrolled in this father’s alma mater--Cornell University--following in his father’s footsteps in the study of law. Much of his free time was spent driving (at high speed) the back roads of Schuyler County, sometimes accompanied by his father. It was here that Cameron came up with the idea of having a European-style road race through the streets of Watkins Glen.


With the approval of numerous local officials, the Watkins Glen Grand Prix became reality and a 6.6 mi./10.6 km. course laid out. The first race was held on 2 October 1948. Each succeeding year the race became more and more popular, attracting thousands of spectators who lined the sidewalks and roadsides to experience the event.


Now on the National Register of Historic Places, the original race course is an interesting one, winding over hill and dale. At one point, it crosses over the tracks for the New York Central Railroad. Race officials had arranged with the railroad to stop the trains during the race. For that reason, the race is often referred to as "The Day They Stopped the Trains."


On another section of the course, racers pass over a picturesque stone bridge. To this day, racing afficionados, attending the annual Watkins Glen Grand Prix Festival, are invited to qualify for the elite designation of "Stone Bridge Driver."


Race car driver Cameron Argetsinger with Lester Smalley at Smalley's garage in Watkins Glen, NY in 1951.

Argetsinger (right) with Lester Smalley at Smalley's garage in 1951. The car is Argetsinger's Allard J2, which he never raced. (Photo provided by the International Motor Racing Research Center)


In 1952, after one person was killed and a number injured, the not-for-profit Grand Prix Corporation was formed and the route moved to the Town of Dix outside of Watkins Glen. The corporation purchased 550 acres and Cornell University engineers began designing an off-road winding course in the European road race style.


Argetsinger was executive director of the Grand Prix in 1961 when its bid to host the world’s most prestigious racing series--the U.S. Formula One Grand Prix--was accepted. By then Argetsinger understood that the Grand Prix had to be run as a serious business. He offered $1.3 million for the raceway, but the Village of Watkins Glen turned him down.


Argetsinger bided his time, practicing law in Montour Falls and acting as executive director of the Sports Car Club of America. In 1981 the Grand Prix Corporation filed for bankruptcy. Corning Enterprises, a subsidiary of Corning Glass, formed the Watkins Glen International and purchased the track for $1.45 million. The purchase contract was signed in 1983 in Argetsinger’s law office.


The International Speedway Corporation now owns The Glen as it’s called, having purchased it in 1997, and hosts numerous races, including an annual NASCAR event.


For more information on Cameron Argetsinger and The Glen, see:




Grand Prix Festival of Watkins Glen


For a copy of the video Watkins Glen: The Street Years, 1948-1952, see: www.wskg.com/watkins_glen.htm


To download a copy of the 1948-1952 Grand Prix Course that you can drive yourself, see: Grand Prix Course.








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