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The Watkins Glen Corvette Festival Celebrates 70 Years of America’s Sports Car!

The Corvette is turning 70 this year.  As such, automotive clubs – many of them Corvette Clubs – across the country are planning celebratory events to commemorate the momentous occassion.  While the festivities really start to ramp up as the summer arrives in a few weeks, a major celebration occurred this past weekend in the city of Watkins Glen, New York.  The event – the first-ever “Watkins Glen Corvette Festival” – happened this past weekend with all the pomp-and-circumstance you’d expect from a Corvette-themed event.  

But why Watkins Glen you ask?  The answer just might surprise you.

For anyone not already in the know, the genesis of the Corvette – and indeed the first-generation model that followed – emerged from the mind of Harley Earl, General Motors first Vice President of Design.  What is less commonly known is that Earl first found his inspiration for the Corvette while attending a race event in Watkins Glen on his way back from the Paris Auto Show.

On-hand for this past weekend’s festivities was none other than Harley Earl’s grandson, Richard Earl.   Richard was the keynote speaker and one of the founders/developers for the event.  Moreover, he is one of the definitive historians and subject matter experts on his grandfather and the rich legacy of his grandfather’s decades-long career with GM.

Corvette owner Ed Gail prepares to drive the Watkins Glen Grand Prix course.
Corvette owner Ed Cordes and wife Gail prepare to drive the Watkins Glen Grand Prix course.  (Image courtesy of

According to the younger Earl, Harley was first inspired to develop his own take on a sports car after he visited Watkins Glen and discovered a city full of beautiful sports cars from all over the world….from everywhere, in fact, except North America.  Recognizing that no major American automobile manufacturer had embraced the idea of building a sports car, Harley Earl began his venture to build “America’s Sports Car.”

He was like – this isn’t right,” explains Richard Earl on his grandfather’s decision to design/develop the Corvette.  “We’ve got to create our own version. He wanted that grace, style, and beauty, and hence two years later, he sent back the Corvette.” 

Several Corvettes parked near Seneca Lake in Watkins Glen to celebrate Corvette's 70th Anniversary.
Several Corvettes parked near Seneca Lake in Watkins Glen to celebrate Corvette’s 70th Anniversary.

Since its introduction at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in January 1953, the Corvette has become one of the most iconic sports cars of all time.  There’s no denying that its heritage and its legacy are an integral part of the American landscape.  Even so, Richard Earl acknowledges that the 70th anniversary of the Corvette, and the events arising across the country to celebrate this milestone anniversary, are especially significant.  “There’s just this history and heritage,” he explains.  “You have to immortalize it, conserve this and hand it on to the next-gen(eration.)  It’s something to be really proud of.  Let’s face it, the Corvette brand is as famous as baseball and apple pie.”

Local business owner Tony Vickio (Vickio Signs) and Craig Bond, the Superintendent of Parks and Recreation in Watkins Glen, helped Earl organize this year’s Corvette festival.  Vickio showed up to the event in his 1965 Corvette Sting Ray.  His car, a fuel-injected model, was one of just 771 examples so produced by General Motors.  It still has its original, factory tinted glass, and is largely original, despite Vickio’s admission that he is the third owner of the car.

“It’s a miracle this car is still here. I was young when I bought this, and we were out at 2 a.m. drag racing people from all over,” Vickio chuckled.

More than 180 Corvettes showed up on Saturday for the event.  Owners from New York and Pennsylvania drove their Corvettes to Clue Park in Watkins Glen and showed off their rides.  On Sunday, a large assortment of Corvettes lined the streets of the original 6.6-mile tack once known as the Watkins Glen Grand Prix Course.  The track, which originally operated from 1948 to 1952, hosted a single-lap event that reenacted the old race track in its heyday.
Original Watkins Glen Grand Prix Circuit, circa 1948-1952.
Original Watkins Glen Grand Prix Circuit, circa 1948-1952.