Recollections from the 1952 Watkins Glen Grand Prix

By Ed Reed

Reading about the plans underway for an Allard Gathering at Watkins Glen this September, in the Allard Register, brought back memories of the first time I attended the Grand Prix back in 1952, as a spectator. Little did I realize it would be the last year of the original road course. 

Driving my 1951 Cad-Allard K2 (#1844) and accompanied by a good friend Arny Carlson, we left from Massachusetts for Watkins Glen late at night for the roughly 340 mile trip.  This was before the Interstate Highway System so; the road west for the most part was Rt. 20, a two, three and four-lane undivided roadway winding through town centers and rural countryside. Looking back, it was a route ideally suited for an Allard. We arrived early in the morning. In the village we saw Fred Wacker's pit along Franklin Street. Farther down the street was the Start/Finish line and beyond that the sharp right turn which climbs the hill out of town that would play prominently later in the day.  We drove the race course before the race.

Among the cars there for the race was Fred Wacker's famous red 8-Ball Cad-Allard J2, Briggs Cunningham's white Chrysler Hemi powered Cunningham, MG's, Jag XK 120's and many special (homemade) cars, etc. At the start, Wacker's Allard J2 accelerated away from the other cars followed closely by Briggs Cunningham. Both of those cars pulled way ahead of the other cars. I was standing at the end of the Franklin Street straightaway on the inside of the climbing right turn out of town watching the race. For a couple of laps the Allard J2 led the Cunningham. At some point the Cunningham got ahead of the Allard J2. The cars were in that position as they roared down Franklin Street approaching the right turn. The Cunningham sped around followed closely by the Allard J2 which slid sideways and brushed into a crowd of people standing on the edge of the outside of the turn along the sidewalk. Many people were knocked down and tragically a young boy killed. I remember noticing the Allard J2's left passenger door was open as the car roared up the hill. 

The race was halted and people began walking on the race course. I walked past Briggs Cunningham, who had parked his Cunningham at the side of the road. He asked me what had happened. I told him the Allard J2 slid into some spectators at the turn out of the town. This marked the end of the race run over the original road circuit at Watkins Glen.

Sports cars have changed a lot since that infamous day, but I still enjoy the thrill of driving the same Allard K2 taken to Watkins Glen, fifty-eight years ago!

[Ed: Click here if you're interested in joining us for the Allard Reunion at this year's Watkins Glen Vintage Grand Prix - we'd love to see you there!]