Fifteen Year Old at 1970 Watkins Glen Six Hours and Can-Am

Story and photos by Rich Martin

Any race weekend at Watkins Glen is a great event but for me, the July 1970 Six Hours and Can-Am at Watkins Glen holds special meaning. At the ripe old age of 15, armed with a Minolta SRT-101 camera and a pair of lenses I was already a “veteran” race fan, having been to Lime Rock for two events, an SCCA regional and the 1970 Trans-Am. This was my first trip to the Glen and it was quite an exciting time for me.

Arriving at the track early Friday morning after driving up with my brother and his buddy in a 1968 Ford Cortina from Northern New Jersey, I was ready! We drove to the loop where the view was excellent. This was the last year of the original configuration of the Watkins Glen track; you could stand within 25 feet of the race cars at this location.

The cars for the Six Hour race were the first out and you could hear them howling down the straight. A Salzburg Porsche 917 was the first one by and I just about wet my pants! My brother still reminds me to this day how far I jumped when that car went through! Here were the cars that just ran in the 24 Hours of Le Mans right in front of me; I was impressed to say the least!

One thing about this weekend that really stood out in my mind was how accessible the track and drivers were. After practice you could walk across the track right into the pits, or right into victory lane.

There were 27 cars in the various classes entered for the race, and it was going to be a battle between the Porsche 917s and the Ferrari 512S factory cars for the overall win. The weather was always a factor at the Glen and this weekend was no exception with Friday’s practice and qualifying and Saturday’s race held under cloudy and damp conditions with an occasional shower. After qualifying the #1 Porsche 917 of Siffert/Redman was on pole next to the Ferrari 512S of Andretti/Guinti.

The race moved ahead at a fast pace and at the end of the day the two season dominating cars of John Wyer ended up 1-2 with Rodriguez/Kinnunen leading Siffert/Redman home. We were lucky enough to get a good spot in victory circle really topping off a great day.

The following day the Can-Am was held under nice sunny skies, Denny Hulme was on pole position in his McLaren M8D, alongside teammate Dan Gurney in another M8D. This was to be Gurney’s last appearance for the McLaren team, a conflict of oil company sponsorship was to prevent him from finishing the season with them.

In 3rd position was the outrageous Chapparal 2J debuting with Jackie Stewart at the wheel alongside Peter Revson in a new Lola T220. The McLaren team was dominant at the time but the new challenge from the Chapparal made things interesting. The Chapparal was a radical design with its rear bodywork enclosed by Lexan skirts right down to track level. Under the hood was a second engine, a small snowmobile power plant that drove two fans which blew the air out from under the car creating a vacuum effect. Handling and braking was improved dramatically and Stewart got into second place quickly in the race before fading with mechanical problems.

There were many cars from the previous day’s Six Hour race entered in the Can-Am, eventually won by Hulme but surprisingly followed home in second place by Jo Siffert in his Porsche 917. The 3rd through 7th place finishers were also cars from the 6 hour race, quite a showing for cars not really designed for such racing as the unlimited Can-Am series. This was a very memorable weekend for me, thinking of all the great cars and drivers in one place certainly makes me feel privileged to have witnessed it first hand.

1970 Watkins Glen Six Hours and Can-Am Photo Gallery (photo credit: Rich Martin)

Red Corvette leads the field on pace lap prior to start of Six Hours race.
Pedro Rodriguez and Leo Kinnunen won the Six Hours driving the John Wyer Gulf Oil Porsche 917.
Pedro Rodriguez and Leo Kinnunen in the wInner\’s circle for the Six Hours.
Porsche 917K of Richard Atwood and Kurt Ahrens finished 6th overall in the Six Hours.

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Show Comments (35)

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  1. Fantastic story and photos! Just the kind of experience that sticks with you for a life-time. So many famous cars and drivers…thanks for sharing.

  2. The Sportscar Digest is in my mailbox every Thursday morning and absolutely is the highlight of the morning. This story and pictures are just perfect. Look at that line up of drivers and machinery!! I was only 10 that summer and too young for racing but I know these names and cars well. Thank you so much for sharing your memories with us Rich.

  3. I was here as an 18year old, celebrating my “summer of freedom” before I left for college. I still remember this as the most fantastic combination of awe and wonder of racing that I have ever encountered. It was great to share similar feelings expressed by Rich Martin’s article. Although younger than I was at the time, we shared the same experience as a 1st time visitor to this fantastic event. This event instilled a love of racing that still burns strongly 40 years later.

  4. My older brother and Dad took me for my first trip to the Glen in 1966. Unfortunately no camera, but security was almost non-existent so seeing Clark, Gurney, Hill, Surtees, et al, up close at the old Kendall tech center was a huge thrill for a 13 year-old. ’65 to ’75 is still my favorite era despite losing so many heroes.

  5. Motorsports has lost a lot when the accessibility went away. I remember being in the garage at the Glen, late at night and having an F1 team have a couple of spectators help bet a car up on the stands. You can’t even see the cars today, used to be able to see them being taken completely apart.

  6. Fantastic stuff Rich! Reminds me so much of the first time I went to Laguna Seca for the Can Am in 1968 and many events to follow (Can Am, F5000, Trans Am, etc.). I was 10 at the time and didn’t start shooting (at Laguna) ’till the early 1970s. The access back then was unbelievable (both in a good way and in a very scary way by today’s safety standards).

    Exceptional photography for a kid just starting out!

    1. Great Photography and GREAT racing. Those were great days for the growth of road course racing ! Best there ever was !!!

      George Reid

  7. Awesome article and photos to match!! Hope to “see” more of your memories put to paper for all of us to ‘live through”!

  8. Rich,
    I too was at the ’70 Glen and Can Am, and was also 15 at the time, my birthday being in August 1954! I certainly did not have the photographic talent that you possess, but did take a few pics of the Gulf 917s and the McLarens. Both races were spectacular. Rodriguez was my “hero” so I was very happy with the outcome of the 6 hour race. I had seen him win the 24 Hours of Daytona earlier that year and then again in ’71 (I still live in Florida). It was a spectacular time for many reasons. The night before the 6 hours my parents took me for a ride through the city of Watkins Glen, and in a public car wash they were washing a couple of the bright red Ferrari 512s. Next we went to dinner at a quaint little restaurant, and as we sat down at a table we realized that at the table next us all the drivers for the Salzburg team were sitting and talking. My eyes were wide open the entire night. The Can Am race was quite exciting because if I remember correctly, Hulme’s McLaren was beginning to slow a bit for unknown reasons, and Siffert was actually threatening to catch him in the 917. The race ended too soon, however (I’m a Porsche nut). At least that is how I remember it. It was definitely one of the most exciting weekends I have ever had!

    1. I was 17 at the time and clearly remember the Can Am race. Siffert was driving the 917K like a World of Outlaws car and managed to get nose to tail on the last lap with Hulme’s Mclaren! I think he tried a pass at the exit of the Ess’s but couldn’t make it stick and came home 2nd. Very excited race!

  9. I was there also. It was also my first trip to Watkins Glen. I’m a little younger DOB 12/20/56.
    The Chaparral “Goer Blower” is one keen memory. My father took my brother’s and I to Saint
    Jovit Mt Tremblanc for the Can Am the week before. The McLarens were also a favorite. I had seen the endurance sports cars at Sebring that March. Where else could you see so many cool cars from different manufacturers at one venue. I seem to remember that some of the Porsche and Ferrari endurance sports cars entered the Can Am race and made a nice
    showing even though they were way down on power. Yeah, those were the days my friend.

    Steve

  10. Rich,
    Thank you for the article and pictures, what memories they bring, I am from a little town outside of Ithaca, N.Y. I grew up at Watkins Glen and still go back each year for the SVRA Vintage races and the festival downtown. Thanks again
    Damon Crumb
    Pentwater, Mich.

  11. fantastic. I went to the Glen for an F1 race in ’74 or ’75, I was 14. Cold, wet, rainy. I’ve been hooked ever since. I think James Hunt won, in the rain

  12. Rich, I too was 15 when I attended this weekend with my family. From the dominant McLarens, to the evolving 917s, to the radical Chaparral with the wee Scott, this was a great time in racing. My father, Bill Spear, raced in the early years at Watkins Glen when racing through the streets, up the winding hill, downhill across the stone bridge, sometimes a little crossed up, and the downhill across the railroad tracks on the high speed sweeper was not for the faint of heart. I heard stories that the crowd would jump back as some of the more aggressive drivers would hang it out on the way back into town. Thanks for the article.

  13. Rich, you should be very proud of your photographic skills at age 15. I didn’t get to my first race until I was 20, at Road America. In 1976 I also remember how much more accessible everyone was, and how much smaller the race teams were. My great memory was Bobby Rahal a few years later in the second generation Can-Am showing his Ampex Cassettes sponsor execs around on Friday morning and explaining that at Road America, before anything got unpacked from the trucks, they all had to go for a Bratwurst and a beverage from the paddock food stand. A different time.

  14. Thank you for all your kind comments and your own memories of the Glen. I am looking forward to sharing more of my archive material with all of you, it’s better looking on this website then it is collecting dust in my closet!

  15. I agree with the other comments. What great memories! Many thanks to Rich for sharing them. I’d forgetten about the BRM P154…Does anyone know its whereabouts?

  16. Staggering how valuable these photo memories become over time. Went to Mid-Ohio to see the Chaparrals – when I was 15. A golden age for US in intl racing…

  17. Rich Great photos!! I also was at the race and it was a highlight that I will never forget. I still have the original race program signed by Mario Andretti. I just got back from Amelia Island and the winning Gulf 917 was there. What a great opportunity to see the car again, in somewhat original condition. Rich I hope you are still taking racing pictures you have a good eye

  18. If these comments are sincere, which it sure sounds like they are, then get off your butts and start attending vintage racing events. Do it not as a spectator, but as a participant. If the cost is an issue, volunteer your time to the event sponsoring club, or become an SCCA corner worker, or get a press pass for your local rag. If you can afford it, get a vintage car and go racing. Whether its a Sprite or a Lola, the rush you will get is second only to sex, and I don’t remember sex. I started racing in a Mini some 35 years ago, worked up to a Lola T70 and now drive a formula junior. Each one is a thrilling experience and takes you back to the days when you stood at the fence and felt the ground shake as Bruce and Denny went by. Make it happen.

  19. Hello

    I am professional photographer of Belgium and with a car-expert we write a book to the history of the Porsche 917-021 and the history of the restoration for the new owner (the belgian driver Vincent Gaye)

    This car make many race in 1970 ;. We search pictures in race and suroundings with great resolution for publishing of the Porsche 917
    And we research pictures in 6h Watkins Glen 1970 of the Porsche car n°35
    Rich martin has pictures of this car.
    I will contact with Rich martin. It is possible ?
    Thank you and best regards
    Jacques Breuer

    1. Jacques, send an email to editor Jamie Doyle and give him your contact info, I’ll get back to you. Rich

  20. Wow! Great article and fantastic pictures! My first (of many) trips to the Glen was in 1975 for the F1 race. What a time and what memories. We still go back to the Glen for several races every year. And of course we’re always at Watkins Glen for vintage weekend in September. It’s like christmas for me. And no weekend at the Glen is complete without a stop at the Seneca Lodge. It’s great to hang out on their patio on the Saturday of vintage weekend and see all of the classic sports cars coming up the hill for a stop at the Seneca Lodge. We see and meet with Oscar Koveleski whenever we’re at the Glen for a vintage event. He’s such a great, interesting and friendly guy. They don’t make guys like him any more!

    Thanks for sharing the article and pictures!

    Gary

  21. A great memory,like my own, eight years earlier at the USGP in 1962. I became infected just like you and went to the Glen for 14 years(including the 1970 Six Hours/CanAM) until moving to California. Once a week I regret not having more and better photos of that magic time. There are so many ways it was a more interesting sport before the eventual commercialization took hold. Now one must buy the air to breathe at a track. The first time is memorable. Thanks for sharing the moment.

  22. Absolutely incredibly — I was a 15-year-old at that race! Went to a summer camp in the Finger Lakes in 1969 and 1970, and we went to the races at Watkins Glen both years. The pics are awesome, and bring back my many memories of those days. Thanks for posting this!

  23. The only experience that comes close today is the Vintage Grand Prix type event. Good access, friendly atmosphere, some spectacular equipment. The thing perhaps it lacks is the simple electricity that a fourty year memory can bring. Love the vintage, great “fotos”. thanks.ch

  24. I was there for this race weekend, too, Rich! Just out of high school and my second weekend at the Glen. The USGP the previous October (’69) was my first. Yes, too bad the accessibility is gone. It was great being among the cars and driver in the paddock and tech shed. Thanks for the story and photos!