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Virginia D. Close, 95, prominent in sports car racing

May 31, 1922 – Sept. 4, 2017

Ginny Close was present at the birth of sports car racing at Watkins Glen.

Working at Cornell Aeronautical Laboratory, where she was a close friend of William F. Milliken Jr., the renowned aeronautical engineer, pilot and road racer, she watched him compete in that inaugural race in 1948.

The following year, she began timing and scoring at Watkins Glen.

As timers and scorekeepers, she and her husband, William, were instrumental in building the reputation of the track at Watkins Glen. Their immaculate record-keeping at Grand Prix races in the 1960s was a major factor behind the FIA, the governing body of motor sports, declaring Watkins Glen the best Formula 1 event in the world.

“Her forte, among other things, was being meticulous,” said Milliken’s son, Doug, who has known Mrs. Close all his life. “They mostly used stopwatches for the lap times.

“She handwrote all those records for 20 years for every car on every lap on mimeograph paper and copied them. When they got to England, where most of the racing teams were, they were flabbergasted,” he continued. “They had never seen anything so complete. It was all in boxes. It was beautifully laid out.”

Mrs. Close died on Labor Day in Brompton Heights, Amherst, where she had been a resident for three years. She was 95.

Born in Buffalo on May 31, 1922, the former Virginia Dorothy Grist was a 1939 graduate of Kenmore High School and earned a bachelor’s degree in biology and classics from the University at Buffalo. She later took night classes in mathematics and physics at UB.

She worked in the windshield wiper testing lab at Trico under Julian Oishei, son of the company’s founder. In 1947, she joined Cornell Lab, later Calspan. She was a mathematician, performing research calculations by hand, then was a computer specialist in the Flight Research Department.

She retired in 1980.

Active in the Sports Car Club of America for more than 60 years, Mrs. Close met her husband in 1952, when both were officiating at the Grand Island Grand Prix. They were married the following year.

A Scottish-born aeronautical research engineer, he had been working in Canada when Milliken -- founder of the SCCA chapter in Western New York -- recruited him for Cornell Lab after they met at a sports car event.

Mrs. Close was a director and membership chairman of the regional SCCA and later was SCCA administrator for the northeastern United States. She helped stage the Lake Erie Invitational sports car races at Dunkirk Airport and later at Nelson Ledges in Ohio. She also helped edit the local SCCA newsletter and was the club’s unofficial photographer.

“She worked all the Formula 1 races at the Glen,” her longtime friend Roy Bergman said. “The whole bunch of them were like the royalty of Formula 1.”

A longtime Amherst resident, she volunteered weekly from 1986 to 2014 at the Clarence Public Library, helped computerize the book inventory and assisted in the move to the new library building in 2001.

“She was just a remarkable woman,” said Clarence's library director, Monica L. Mooney. “She would come every week in her little red car, every Wednesday, and check out books for people. She always had a positive attitude.”

She also was an avid golfer and league bowler.

“She was quiet and reserved, very, very soft spoken,” said Mark Gress, owner of Helen’s Kitchen in Transitown Plaza, who befriended her in recent years. “Every day she was out for breakfast and lunch. Sometimes she’d come back a third time for coffee. She said I reminded her very much of her husband.”

Mr. Close died in 1985.

No immediate family members survive.

Services were private.

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