In a morning ceremony on Friday, August 8 over NASCAR race weekend, Watkins Glen International dedicated its medical center to Ernie Thurston. Thurston was an area native who "devoted his life to the care and safety of others," according to his younger brother, Ken Thurston, who was on hand with other family members for the unveiling of the sign naming the facility.
Watkins Glen International President Michael Printup said that he met Ernie Thurston when he first came to Watkins Glen. "If you mess this track up," he said Thurston told him, "you're dead." Printup added, "He came here and loved it."
Family, friends, firefighters, and others were on hand for the dedication.
Thurston was an Airman First Class in the U.S. Air Force during the Vietnam War era and later served as a deputy sheriff and fire coordinator for Schuyler County, and then as a county legislator.
Eventually, Thurston worked as Corporate Coordinator of Track Safety and Emergency Services for International Speedway Corporation, headquartered in Daytona Beach, Florida. NASCAR named him the Jim Bockoven Lifetime Achievement Award posthumously in 2014. The award recognizes individuals who contribute to improvement of track services over the course of a career lasting at least 10 years. Since the award is not presented annually, it is considered a special achievement.
"Ernie's spirit and dedication were beyond compare and his name will forever be synonymous with American motorsports," said Printup in a press release issued Friday. "Although often working behind the scenes, Ernie's efforts were never taken for granted and will continue to ensure a safe experience at our facilities. No award or dedication can ever express our appreciation for his passion which was a genuine gift to motorsports, his community, and this great country."
The Ernie Thurston Medical Center is the infield care center of the track and provides medical care for the facility as needed. Thurston passed away last November.