Twenty-five years ago NASCAR racing was on a strong growth curve. Small but steady steps were being taken to place the Cup Series into the mainstream sports world.
In 1986 the circuit added a new market area. A track well known on the worldwide auto racing stage hosted a new event and one of the sport’s young superstars won it. The race was a major media boost for NASCAR.
Enter Watkins Glen and Tim Richmond.
The Glen is a facility that people outside of the motorsports fan base recognized. The Finger Lakes region of New York hosted races through the small town’s streets prior to the permanent road course being completed in 1956. From 1961 to 1980 the track was the home of the Formula One United States Grand Prix. Racing there is prestigious.
NASCAR sanctioned the speedway’s first professional race in 1957 with Buck Baker winning.
But The Glen fell into bankruptcy after decades of hosting world class road racing. Closed in 1981 and reopened in 1984 to sports cars, NASCAR was welcomed in August of 1986. The New York road course became the first brand new market area added to the Cup schedule since College Station, TX in 1979. It was an exciting step forward for the series.
Tim Richmond’s career shined like a supernova in the latter two-third’s of 1986. If his season were charted as a rocket, the new Watkins Glen weekend would be equivalent to him lighting the afterburners. Richmond was the hottest driver in the series and ready to show more.
His first two career Cup wins came at Riverside, California in 1982. Richmond’s prior Indycar experience honed his road racing skills. Combined with his summertime hot streak and the new-to-everyone road course, the flamboyant driver was a favorite for victory.
Richmond did not disappoint, winning both the pole and the race. Always the showman, he waved his left arm out of the window to the fans rounding the final corner, bobbled the car a bit, put both hands back on the wheel, straightened the car out, and resumed waving as he powered under the checkered flag.
It was a classic Richmond winning moment as he displaying his fun-loving character.
Watkins Glen and Tim Richmond were two names that added a spark to NASCAR. The historic racing venue and the popular star gave stock car racing quite a boost in one memorable weekend. Twenty-five years later, we head to The Glen with respect for the track’s history while sharing some stories and memories that Richmond left us with.
Patrick Reynolds is a former NASCAR team mechanic who hosts "Motorweek Live" Mondays at 7pm ET/4pm PT. Listen at www.racersreunionradio.com.)