A piece of American racing history died on April 22 when Cameron Argetsinger passed away on April 22, 2008. Sixty years earlier, Argetsinger had brought road racing back to the shores of America with the 1948 Grand Prix at Watkins Glen, N.Y.
The idea for the race course on the southern end of Seneca Lake was said to have come to Argetsinger one day early that year, while he was driving his Packard Darrin. In conjunction with the Sports Car Club of America, Argetsinger got friends like engineer Bill Milliken and “Addams Family” cartoonist Charles Addams to enter 15 cars in the contest. The spot where Milliken rolled his Bugatti during the race became “Milliken’s Corner.”
Argetsinger, a lawyer, had to work with the village, the state and the New York Central Railroad to clear the 6.6-mile course for racing. The NYCRR had to hold up rail traffic, as the cars were required to pass over its tracks. Frank Griswold won the 1948 race in an Alfa Romeo.
Argetsinger managed the racecourse for 20 years. Sam Collier, driving a Ferrari, was the first fatality at Watkins Glen in 950. By that year, the races were bringing in 100,000 spectators. After a spectator fatality in 1952, Cornell University engineers were brought in to design “the world’s safest racecourse.”
In 1969, Argetsinger made an offer to the Village of Watkins Glen to take the track to private ownership. He was turned down and left to work with a Texas-based automotive concern. He also became SCCA executive director. Eight years later, he returned to the village to practice law.
Without Argetsinger’s leadership, the track encountered problems and went bankrupt. Dorning Glass Co. helped revive it. Several venues take place there annually, including a NASCAR road-course event. Argetsinger served an advosry board that the new owners established. In 2002, he became president of the Motor Racing Research Center in Watkins Glen.