Before finishing fourth in the GT Daytona (GTD) class in the Sahlen’s Six Hours of The Glen race on Sunday, June 29, representatives from the Dempsey Racing team made themselves available to the media to answer questions.
At a press conference earlier in the weekend, Rochester Motor Sports asked the trio — team owner and driver Patrick Dempsey; advisor and veteran racer Hurley Haywood; and driver Andrew Davis — how they would compare Watkins Glen to other tracks they race on.
Each driver gave an extensive answer to the question that showed not only what they each thought of the Glen but also what they value in racing overall.
Patrick Dempsey said, “I think each one [track] is so special. Certainly the tracks, for me — any coming out of this era – they have a lot of character. They’re made with so much craftsmanship to it. In a sense it’s raw; it’s passion; it’s flowing; you feel like you’re going somewhere. It’s very challenging.”
“We were just talking about this when we were looking at the data,” Dempsey continued. “The one thing that Hurley said to me that goes back to the question that was asked earlier… The best times will come when you relax and you’re having fun and you’re enjoying it. Sometimes we analyze things to a point where we’re too uptight.”
“We’re not taking chances and we’re not enjoying it. That’s something I have to constantly remember. We as a team, we need to be professional, but at the same time enjoy what we’re doing and have fun while we’re out there, and that takes a little bit of work now and then.”
He added, “When you come to a track like this, to answer your question, it makes you have fun again because there’s a lot going on all the time. From the first corner to the last corner, you are challenged to get a little bit more out of it. You see the drivers who are very quick, how they navigate that. I’m always out there running around with them. Either a GT car, the Pros, the LP cars. I have tremendous respect and love for those guys. Great to watch.”
Dempsey also admitted to having a bit of fun off the track in the Glen area as well. When asked by Rick Hughey, regional radio show host, if he ever gets a chance to explore the area during a busy race weekend, he said that he does not get to do that as much as he’d like but that he had taken a “run through the vineyards” that morning and had a “very private” dinner at a local bed and breakfast the evening before.
Taking the microphone, Hurley Haywood, who had said earlier in the press conference that his first professional race was at the Glen, commented, “Obviously, I love Watkins Glen. I like the traditional tracks. The tracks that have been around for a long time. They all have their signatures to them. Over the years, the safety requirements for tracks have dictated that they change themselves somewhat, but Watkins Glen is one of the only tracks left that really has not modified itself greatly.”
Hurley Haywood has extensive experience in endurance racing. Multiple wins at key events around the world like the 24 Hours of Le Mans, Rolex 24 at Daytona, and the 12 Hours of Sebring rank among his many accomplishments.
“I was here in 1969,” Haywood further explained, “and the [Glen] track was completely different. The pits were between Turn 1 and 2. So, it was interesting when the track was redone, they took none of the ambiance of the track away. It was still Watkins Glen. You still had the baby blue guardrails as you streaked up the high-speed esses. It’s a roller coaster when you go up there.”
He further commented, “I like the tracks that are traditional, and unfortunately a lot of those traditional tracks are going by the wayside. Like Riverside. I loved Riverside. It was a hell-hole. It was in the middle of nowhere, but it was a terrific track to drive on. Luckily, we still have some of the classic ones still left. I don’t get to enjoy them as much as I did in the past, but…”
Andrew Davis, who qualified the Dempsey car, started it in the race, and brought it home on Sunday after stints by co-drivers Dempsey and Joe Foster, had this to say about the track, “I always say Watkins Glen falls in my top 5. Always. It may move around a little bit, but it’s always in there solidly. And it’s for the same reason that both these guys mentioned. It’s a driver’s track, and you’ll hear drivers echo that over and over again. We like the flowing tracks, the tracks that use the elevation, that have the character.”
Davis had another aspect of the track that he wanted to point out. He said, “But one of the things about this circuit that’s makes it so important to me is the history. The Formula 1 history. The SCCA history. Seeing, going downtown to the library archives down there and seeing the video footage of ’52, when they drove through the streets.”
Davis was speaking about the International Motor Racing Research Center (IMRRC), annexed to the public library downtown. Perhaps it was not an accident that he knew about it and had visited — Hurley Haywood serves on the Drivers Council of the IMRRC.
“I always try to make a point to go drive the original circuit around here, too,” Davis added. “That history is tremendous. It means a lot to drivers as well because you feel like you’re part of it when you drive it, for sure. A great circuit.”
Taking the microphone back again, Haywood said, “I’ll tell you one story. I remember in the 70s when the Six Hours of Watkins Glen was a world championship race. That brought a lot of the European racers over, and they all used to stay at the Glen Motor Court. Can’t remember the lady’s name – one of the original owners of the Franzese family [Helen] and she decided she was going to treat one of the drivers to a chocolate milkshake.”
“The Europeans had never had milkshakes in their lives, and he had that milkshake. He thought that was the greatest thing in the world. He went back up to the paddock and told all of his friends about these ice cream concoctions that were being made downtown. So, suddenly, there were 50 drivers down there for the chocolate milkshakes.”
“That was a tradition here that lasted for many, many years until she finally got so old and feeble that she couldn’t do it anymore, but that was really something special.”
With the mood in the press conference perhaps changing from questions about tactics and chances for the weekend and the level of competition to one of appreciation for a bigger and more lasting picture, the press conference ended with Haywood’s story.
The next major racing event on the Watkins Glen International calendar is the SCCA Majors Super Tour, July 4-6. The Cheez-It 355 at The Glen NASCAR Sprint Cup weekend happens August 7-10; and the Glenora Wine Cellars Vintage Grand Prix takes place September 5-7.