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Buffalo holds place in Glen's history

The cover of the brochure of the International Motor Racing Research Center at Watkins Glen is adorned with a color painting of Williamsville's Bill Milliken competing in the first ever street race held through the village of Watkins Glen in 1948.

Once inside the research center, one can gaze upon the Friends of Auto Racing Fan Club's (FOAR Score) Hall of Fame trophy. Each year the Western New York based fan club honors outstanding lifetime achievers from area racing circles by induction into its hall. Inductees' names are placed on the perpetual Hall of Fame trophy.

Therefore it does not take long to realize that among all the history that is alive in the research center chronicling racing worldwide, there is a connection to the Buffalo area. Here, Buffalo area legends take their place among racing's elite.

Opened in 1999, the research center is dedicated to the preservation of motorsports history, of all genres and venues. Contained within its 5,000 square foot facility is a collection of motorsports books, films, fine art, photographs, personal and corporate documents, magazines, race programs, posters and memorabilia.

Racing from around the world is represented, not just the exploits at Watkins Glen. Featured is a collection of materials representing the heritage of amateur and professional motor racing.

"We are proud of what we have here," said Bill Green, the center's chief historian. "It's truly the only research enter of its kind anywhere in the world. It's only a little over two hours away from Buffalo."

Green attended that first street race at Watkins Glen, Oct. 2, 1948 and has been involved in a variety of ways at Watkins Glen ever since save for the two years, 1966-67, he was in the military.

Milliken turned 100 in April, celebrating his birthday at the research center. In the first race in Watkins Glen's village in 1948 he rolled his car, a Bugatti 35A as he rounded a turn in the village. He was unhurt and ever since this part of the village has been known as Milliken's Corner.

"I got into that corner going too fast, obviously," laughed Milliken. "I was trying to get around the corner. I was trying to win. That Bugatti was one of the few that was available in the world at that time. The research center is a very special place that is needed."

Milliken raced for 15 years in exotic cars specially built for racing.

Milliken's wife of 57 years, Barbara, is proud of her husband's connection to Watkins Glen and the research center.

"That same artist image that is on the front of the research center brochure is also a large mural on the side of a building in the village of Watkins Glen and people can go and see it," said Barbara. "The original painting was done by Robert Gillespie, a well-known motorsports artist in this part of the country.

"The mural draws attention to the research center and to try to get people to go there. Due to the famous accident in 1948, many people in the Watkins Glen area either have come to know Bill or about Bill.

"When he rolled his car over and it was upside down and on fire, and Bill climbed out of the wreck without a scratch, I guess it was something special to many people and Bill has become sort of a folk hero in Watkins Glen."

Bill Milliken is a world renowned aviation and automotive engineer who served as the Chief Steward for the Formula 1 U.S Grand Prix at Watkins Glen for 10 of the 20 years it ran there. He will be inducted into the Legends of The Glen next month.

This year, in honor of the 20 years that the Formula One United States Grand Prix ran at Watkins Glen (1961-80), the inside walls of the research center are adorned with every one of the race posters from that era.

The center contains a room where visitors can view historic racing films and videos. Elsewhere in the center, there is a display of media credentials from past events. The original start/finish line race course sign installed on the old street course in 1949 is on display.

One of the bricks from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is on display honoring this year's 100th running of the Indianapolis 500.

There is a conference room named in honor of the late racing brothers Sam and Miles Collier. At the heart of the center are volumes of papers, programs and videos. Included are 3,000 rare reference books, periodicals and photographs. the center has a collection of 3,500 racing films as well as fine art and racing poster displays.

The staff assists and educates visitors. Several talks are held throughout the year. A major part of the center is the Walk of Fame, which exists in town where names are placed on a section of the concrete sidewalk similar to the Hollywood Walk of Fame. It honors great drivers who have competed at Watkins Glen since 1948. An extension of the walk runs in front of the center.

One of the names on the extension is retired driver/broadcaster Sam Posey. In an arrangement where drivers are placed on the walk in adjoining sections, the section of concrete next to Posey's name has not yet been filled.

"Sam made us promise to keep that section blank and to reserve it for when David Hobbs is inducted on to the walk," laughed Green. "Sam said once David's name is on the walk it will be like David finished behind Sam for once."

There is another Buffalo connection: Watkins Glen International president Michael Printup, a Hamburg native. While he is busy running events at the track as well as planning next year's racing schedule, he does his part to keep the history alive.

"I am both a board member of the research center and serve on its finance committee," said Printup. "This center is very much needed and very valuable. We need to make people aware of it. For example, my brother Scott had been coming to the races at Watkins Glen for years and never realized that the center was here. The center is a fascinating place where anyone can come and live motorsports history. It's also free to get in."

The center is located at 610 South Decatur Street in Watkins Glen. Call 607-535-9044 or visit www.racingarchieves.org.

e-mail: lawrence_o_14075@yahoo.com

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