NASCAR rolls into The Glen

Derek Ek
A crowd approaching 100,000 is expected for Sunday’s Finger Lakes 355.

Half frantic, half excited.

That’s how Michael Printup, president of Watkins Glen International, describes his state of mind heading into the historic Schuyler County race track’s biggest event of the year – NASCAR weekend.

But as campers started rolling into The Glen’s maze of campgrounds on Wednesday, Printup said his staff was just about ready to rock and roll.

“The weather looks great, that’s always a stress for this weekend ... besides the normal ‘setting up a city for 100,000 people stress,’” Printup said of the forecast, which is calling for 75 degrees and sunny on Saturday and Sunday.

Beginning Thursday, it’s party time. As the campgrounds fill up, there will be a “hauler parade” for fans at 6 p.m., with the Sprint Cup teams’ haulers coming through the gates and circling the track. Also, Race Fever -- the NASCAR fan event on Corning’s Bridge Street -- is tonight from 5-9 p.m.

Friday, WGI will host a concert for the fans at 7:30 p.m., headlined by country singer Marlee Scott, who will also be singing the national anthem before Sunday’s Sprint Cup race, the Finger Lakes 355.

“I’ve got her CD in my laptop on my desk, and I just turned it on, and ... oh boy,” Printup said. “One, she’s just an outstanding person. Two, she’s beautiful. And three, she can really, really sing. We’re excited that we were able to get someone of her caliber up here to belt out the national anthem.”

Saturday’s action includes the NASCAR Nationwide Series Zippo 200 and the Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series Continental Tire 200, set for about 2 p.m. and 6 p.m., respectively.

Then, at 1 p.m. Sunday, the curtain will rise on the Finger Lakes 355, a 90-lap, 220.5-mile (that’s 355 kilometers) thrill ride on one of only two road courses on the Cup circuit.

The grand marshal is Ithaca native Dustin Brown, who led the Los Angeles Kings to the Stanley Cup this season. Printup -- who grew up in Buffalo as a Sabres fan and rooted for the Kings when he lived in L.A. -- can’t wait to meet him.

“It’s going to be really neat for me, being a huge hockey fan,” he said.

Even the track president still gets butterflies before the Cup race. Printup calls the moments before the flag drops a mix of “raw excitement and adrenaline.”

All three races this weekend will be televised nationally. The Speed Channel will carry the Rolex Series race, while ABC will show the Nationwide Series race, and ESPN will show the Cup race.

Potential storylines abound heading into Sunday’s race.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. has a narrow lead in the Sprint Cup point standings over Matt Kenseth, Greg Biffle and Jimmie Johnson. There are five races left before the 10-race Chase for the Championship begins.

Marcos Ambrose is back to defend his title. Tony Stewart and Jeff Gordon, who’ve won a total of nine Cup races at The Glen, are also in the mix. As of Wednesday, Stewart had a slight lead over Gordon in The Leader’s “predict the winner” online poll.

Off the track, NASCAR weekend brings a tremendous shot in the arm for the local economy.

Todd Mertens, owner of Wright’s Beverage on Franklin Street in downtown Watkins Glen, says he’s been stockpiling for weeks.

“I have a heavy inventory. My walk-in coolers are full, my back rooms are full, and its the same thing on the liquor and wine side,” Mertens said. “Sales literally double for this week.”

NASCAR weekend is a “madhouse,” he says, and is “capitalism at its greatest.” It’s busier than the Fourth of July and Christmas-New Year’s Eve, he says.

Among race fans, Bud Light is the biggest seller on the beer side, and Hazlitt 1852’s Red Cat is the top-selling wine. As far as liquor, they prefer vodka, he added.

Hotels are booked solid within a 100-mile radius, said Schuyler County Administrator Tim O’Hearn.

A study done in 2008 estimated that WGI is worth $290 million annually to the Southern Tier/Finger Lakes economy, with the lion’s share of that figure due to Cup weekend, O’Hearn said.

“Suffice it to say, it’s a huge economic impact, not only to Schuyler County, but to the entire region,” he said. “It’s the largest outdoor sporting event in the state, and it’s greatly appreciated, certainly.”

Schuyler County Sheriff Bill Yessman will be bringing in police officers from across upstate New York to make sure things go smoothly. The county actually declares a state of emergency for this weekend, which allows them to recruit officers from about 20 other law enforcement agencies, O’Hearn said.

NASCAR weekend highlights

Today | Race Fever, Corning’s Bridge Street, 5-9 p.m.

Friday | Marlee Scott headlines concert at WGI, 7:30 p.m.

Saturday | NASCAR Nationwide Series, Zippo 200, 2 p.m.

Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series, Continental Tire 200, 6:15 p.m.

Sunday | NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, Finger Lakes 355, 1 p.m.

 Potential storylines abound heading into Sunday’s race.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. has a narrow lead in the Sprint Cup point standings over Matt Kenseth, Greg Biffle and Jimmie Johnson. There are five races left before the 10-race Chase for the Championship begins.

Marcos Ambrose is back to defend his title. Tony Stewart and Jeff Gordon, who’ve won a total of nine Cup races at The Glen, are also in the mix. As of Wednesday, Stewart had a slight lead over Gordon in The Leader’s “predict the winner” online poll.

Off the track, NASCAR weekend brings a tremendous shot in the arm for the local economy.

Todd Mertens, owner of Wright’s Beverage on Franklin Street in downtown Watkins Glen, says he’s been stockpiling for weeks.

“I have a heavy inventory. My walk-in coolers are full, my back rooms are full, and its the same thing on the liquor and wine side,” Mertens said. “Sales literally double for this week.”

NASCAR weekend is a “madhouse,” he says, and is “capitalism at its greatest.” It’s busier than the Fourth of July and Christmas-New Year’s Eve, he says.

Among race fans, Bud Light is the biggest seller on the beer side, and Hazlitt 1852’s Red Cat is the top-selling wine. As far as liquor, they prefer vodka, he added.

Hotels are booked solid within a 100-mile radius, said Schuyler County Administrator Tim O’Hearn.

A study done in 2008 estimated that WGI is worth $290 million annually to the Southern Tier/Finger Lakes economy, with the lion’s share of that figure due to Cup weekend, O’Hearn said.

“Suffice it to say, it’s a huge economic impact, not only to Schuyler County, but to the entire region,” he said. “It’s the largest outdoor sporting event in the state, and it’s greatly appreciated, certainly.”

Schuyler County Sheriff Bill Yessman will be bringing in police officers from across upstate New York to make sure things go smoothly. The county actually declares a state of emergency for this weekend, which allows them to recruit officers from about 20 other law enforcement agencies, O’Hearn said.