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NASCAR: Daytona 500 viewing party warms up Watkins Glen Int'l fans

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It may have been another cold day in February in upstate New York, but fans of Watkins Glen International and the Daytona 500 shared the warmth they feel at racing's return for the season at a viewing party hosted by the track on Sunday, February 23.

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Missing the race in Daytona for the first time in 17 years to greet the fans in person, Watkins Glen International President Michael Printup welcomed a crowd of over 200 to the track's state-of-the-art Media Center on Sunday.

A minimal charge at the door of $10 per person brought fans an open buffet including Sahlen's hot dogs (sponsor of the annual Sahlen's 6 Hours at The Glen race); hamburgers, salad, Cheez-It crackers (sponsor of the Sprint Cup Cheez-It 355 at The Glen); and cookies; several free giveaways at their tables; viewing of the race live on several large screen TVs; and a chance to win door prizes, play trivia games, or to bid in a silent auction on one-of-a-kind memorabilia from the track's illustrious history.

Proceeds from the silent auction go to Autism Speaks, according to track officials. Autism Speaks will also be the beneficiary of monies raised on the track's Opening Weekend, April 12-13.

Items auctioned off on Sunday included a large Victory Lane sign that hung at the track from 1986 to 1999. Interestingly, that sign last served as the backdrop for victory on June 27, 1999 at the NASCAR Busch Grand National Lysol 200 -- a race, coincidentally won that day by Dale Earnhardt, Jr. (who would win Sunday's 500 later that evening). A donor gave an appropriate $500 to take the sign home.

Other items auctioned off on Sunday included a Bud at The Glen sign used in Victory Lane in 1997 and 1998, the last two Bud at The Glen races and races that were won by Jeff Gordon. The winning bid for that item was $255. A Kendall oil package, including a barrel garbage can used through the 1990s in the garage area and a round, red-and-white Kendall sign sold for $175. A Ford Mustang fender discarded in the paddock from a car driven by Tom Nastasi and Ian James in the 2005 Chemung Trust 200 Grand Am Cup series was picked up for a winning bid of $95.

Giveaways throughout the party included die cast cars, hats, and other items autographed by today's NASCAR Cup series drivers; a flag signed by several Grand Am series drivers; and many other items donated for the party by sponsors.

Sponsors for this year's event for the benefit of Autism Speaks included: Hilliard, the Harbor Hotel, Holiday Inn Express, Seneca Beverage, Toyota, Corning Chamber of Commerce, Coca Cola, Caterpillar, New Holland, Roush Fenway Racing, Continental Tire, Daytona International Speedway, Sysco, A-Verdi, Kellogg's, ST Motorsports, Joe Gibbs Racing, Hendrick Motorsports, CCTC MINI, Harley Davidson, McDonald's and NA Breweries.

While the Daytona 500 race was rain-delayed after 38 laps for over six hours and did not finish until the late hours Sunday evening with a win by Dale Earnhardt, Jr., fans at WGI were warmed by the sight of the track they have been missing over the winter and the promise that racing will soon return to the Glen in the coming weeks.

Opening Weekend at Watkins Glen International is April 12-13, and this year's race events include the Sahlen's Six Hours at The Glen (June 26-29); the NASCAR Sprint Cup Cheez-It 355 at The Glen (August 7-10); and a historic/vintage weekend in the fall, the Glenora Wine Cellars U.S. Vintage Grand Prix (September 5-7).

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Connie Ann Kirk, Ph.D. has been credentialed by NASCAR, the FIA for Formula 1, and for various historic/vintage race events. With a historic racer from upstate New York, Connie is working on a book about racers and racing.

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