Arc de Triomphe
Watkins Glen International is known as the Mecca of North American road racing. In six-plus decades, it has hosted everything from Formula One to IndyCar to the wildly popular NASCAR Winston Cup series races. Champions at The Glen have included some of the biggest names in racing—Jeff Gordon, Rusty Wallace, Kyle Petty, Bobby Unser, Emerson Fittipaldi, and Jackie Stewart, to name just a handful.
But once a year, for going on half a decade now, the venerable track has hosted a different kind of “grand prix.” Instead of shiny, multimillion-dollar race cars, the competition is much more...well, pedestrian.
That’s because they are pedestrians. And the only four-wheeled vehicles, generally, are strollers filled with toddlers, powered by parents who bring the whole family to take part in The Arc of Schuyler’s Grand Prix. Participants run or walk–-or push those strollers—over the scenic, high-banked track’s famed 3.4-mile distance. It’s a unique day of family fun and fundraising for The Arc of Schuyler. Some take it seriously (medallions are awarded to winners) while others just stroll (there is a one-mile loop for those who prefer a casual walk).
This year’s event, which will be the fifth annual, is Saturday, April 14, and, as always, it coincides with the opening of the track for the racing season. “We are so pleased to partner with the Arc of Schuyler County,” says Watkins Glen International President Michael Printup. “Their marquee fundraising event, the Grand Prix during our Opening Weekend at The Glen, is something that so many people in our community look forward to each year. How many other major league sports venues give you the opportunity to touch, let alone walk and run, on their surface? We are able to do that here at WGI, and it’s a pleasure to be a part of their mission.”
The Arc of Schuyler is a family-based non-profit organization dedicated to meeting the needs of people, and the families of people, with intellectual and developmental disabilities, including autism, by providing quality services and advocacy. rough community partnerships, they create innovative opportunities for learning and participation that encourage independence and inclusion. This annual charity race benefitting The Arc has attracted more than 2,000 participants and raised nearly $40,000 since 2014. Runners and walkers get the green flag at 8 a.m., and the event includes sponsors and vendors, T-shirts, an awards ceremony, live music, food, and a raffle and post-race party at Grist Iron Brewing Co. in Burdett.
Holly Baker, the director of community relations for The Arc of Schuyler, says the number of participants has grown steadily and at a pace that organizers did not expect. “The first year, we didn’t have extremely high expectations, we thought maybe 250 people,” she reflects. “But we had about 500, and that was really exciting so we knew we had a home run with the event. We’ve probably added about 100 more each year and last year had about 800.”
“The Grand Prix Run has grown tremendously since its debut in 2014,” adds Arc Executive Director Jeannette Frank. “Its success is a result of community partnerships between The Arc of Schuyler, Watkins Glen International, generous local sponsors, volunteers, and people who want to support a great organization in Schuyler County.”
Tom McGarry, of nearby Montour Falls, is a runner himself and has been on the event’s planning committee from the start. After brainstorming some fun and fund-raising ideas, he suggested a race. Everybody liked that, so the question became where.
“We approached Watkins Glen, and they were very open to it,” Tom says. “Being a runner myself, I thought it was quite a unique location. It’s not a normal distance because there are 5Ks (3.1 miles) and 10Ks (6.2), but ours is 3.4 miles because it’s based on the length of the track.” He adds that the track’s high banks and hills also add to the race’s special appeal.
As part of the track’s opening weekend, participants also can purchase tickets after The Arc Grand Prix to drive their own personal vehicles around the circuit. “It’s a win-win for the track because it’s their opening day,” says Tom, “and so there are people already there, and it fits together with what they’re doing and what we’re doing to raise awareness and raise some funds.”
Dena Carrigan also volunteers at the event, and she says it has become not just a race but a destination, with many out-of-state participants planning vacations and long weekends around it.
“Visitors come to Schuyler County to participate in this event and the Watkins Glen International Opening Weekend activities that follow,” she says. “We integrate the event into our community by partnering with local businesses and sponsors to create an experience beyond the race. As examples, there’s a packet pickup event at Colonial Pottery & Creamery in Watkins Glen and a very well attended after-party at Grist Iron. It’s not uncommon to see people wearing race shirts eating at local restaurants or visiting shops and wineries following the race. We’re also thrilled to have local radio show host Ally Payne as our event emcee. I’m proud to be involved with the Arc, this event, and excited about its impact on our community.”
You can pre-register at www.arcgrandprixrun.org. Early registration for adults is twenty-five dollars, which increases to thirty dollars come race day; registration for children thirteen and under is fifteen dollars.
Then, dust off the running shoes, and if you’re bringing the toddlers, oil up the wheels on the strollers—just like Mario Andretti or Mark Martin might do.