A Conversation with Mark Steigerwald, Executive Director, International Motor Racing Research Center
By Terry Johnsen
Victory Lane Magazine, November 2022, Volume 37, No.11
Located just a few blocks from the first corner of the original grand prix course in Watkins Glen (New York) is the International Motor Racing Research Center (IMRRC). You’ll find it tucked away on a quiet street, amongst large shady trees, adjacent to the local public library. Having attended many races at Watkins Glen International (WGI) as a spectator and while reporting on vintage events, I was surprised that a large portion of people I spoke with, both competitors and spectators, had either not known about IMRRC or had not taken the time to stop by and find out more about it.
So, with that in mind, I sought out the research center’s Executive Director, Mark Steigerwald, to have a conversation and learn more about it. He summed it up best by describing IMRRC as “a hidden gem”. I couldn’t agree more. The research center offers so much for anyone who walks through their doors. Whether it be historians, writers, racing enthusiasts, families looking for information on their racing heritage, or tourists to the Watkins Glen area, IMRRC has something for everyone. In other words, you name it they’ve got it! Our discussion touched on various aspects of the research center, how people can become involved, upcoming events, and even a teaser of exciting news for 2023.
Mark said The International Motor Racing Research Center came about through the collective efforts of Jean Argetsinger (wife of Cameron Argetsinger, the visionary who brought road racing to life in the post-war years of World War II), John Saunders (then President of Watkins Glen International), along with civic and community leadership, in their effort to mark the 50th anniversary of racing at Watkins Glen. The local public library was chosen to house the original holdings, and in 1998 ground-breaking took place to expand the collection to its current footprint of 5,500 square feet of space adjacent to the library.
Mark said his was a roundabout path in becoming Executive Director. He graduated from Syracuse University in 2000 with a master’s degree in Library Science. While at the track in 1998 for an event Mark heard about the creation of the research center and learned that it was part of the Watkins Glen Public Library. He saw this as a great opportunity and was able to fulfill his internship at the library. It was such a great fit that he stayed for eight years working at IMRRC. Mark described this period of his career as his most fulfilling. Later he saw the opportunity to return and was selected to his current position as Executive Director in 2021. Mark described his duties as being responsible for the general oversight of day-to-day operations. That puts in mildly, for the scope and depth of IMRRC’s holdings cover literally every aspect of motor racing both locally and internationally. Mark explained the research center is a library and archive, open to the public, providing research services to a wide audience. Along with its large collection of books, publications, and photographs there are exhibits of racing memorabilia, exciting historical films to view, all capturing the heritage of racing at Watkins Glen. There is also a racing car on display, ‘On The Grid’, in the center foyer. Throughout the year many historic cars have the honor of being placed center stage. The current car is a 1985 Mustang GTO, formerly driven by Canadian John Jones and Lyn St. James in IMSA competition.
The IMRRC website’s About Us section is entitled ‘Collecting, Preserving and Sharing History’. Mark noted they have a lofty mission, which in turn has driven a varied collection. The research center presents the story of racing history at a local level, along with each series that have participated at The Glen, such as Formula One, NASCAR, IMSA, IndyCar, and amateur sports cars. Mark noted they also oversee the management of the SCCA’s vast archive. He described the research center as a public-facing proven research service, adding “a service that is free”. For anyone interested in how they can go about using their services he suggested contacting Head Archivist, Jenny Ambrose, via email (email@example.com).
Mark noted IMRRC relies upon the charitable contributions of motor racing enthusiasts. There are many options to donate financially through various levels of membership, along with the donation of books and publications, and other racing memorabilia and materials. Mark says their staff is always looking to fill the gaps of the collection. The yearly car sweepstakes is an annual tradition and a great fundraising tool, which brings about recognition to the center, along with opening the door for further discussion of their cause. This year’s sweepstakes involves a 2022 IMSA GTLM C8.R Limited Edition Corvette! It’s a gorgeous car, silver with yellow racing highlights. It looks fast just sitting still! Mark noted there’s plenty of time to buy a ticket, via the website (www.racingarchives.org). The drawing is in December. Another featured fundraising event is the presentation of the Cameron R. Argetsinger Award for Outstanding Contributions to Motorsports, presented each year at the IMRRC Award Dinner. This year’s honoree was Mike Helton, Vice Chairman of NASCAR. Past recipients of this distinguished award have been Richard Petty (2015), Mario Andretti (2017), and Lyn St. James (2021), just to name a few.
Mark described the solid foundational structure of the research center, led by the Governing Council that consists of notable professionals in motorsport, business visionaries, along with passionate leadership from the local community. Together they present a broad skill set of experience. The Drivers Council provides support through their experience and knowledge of the sport, and they also help lead the annual appeal for membership. The current driver’s council consists of Mario Andretti, David Donohue, Chris Dyson, Hurley Haywood, Scott Pruett, Brian Redman, Lyn St. James, and Rusty Wallace. That’s a Who’s Who list if there ever was one! The Historians Council provide advice and guidance on the collection, and includes motorsports historians, journalists, and authors. Mark noted one of the council members is the respected IMRRC and Watkins Glen racing historian Bill Green.
This year on November 4th and 5th, the Michael R. Argetsinger Symposium on International Motor Racing History will be held at the WGI Media Center. This will be the sixth collaboration between IMRRC and the Society of Automotive Historians (SAH). The event honors the memory of Michael Argetsinger, son of Cameron Argetsinger. Michael was a prolific author and passionate historian of motorsport who sadly passed away in 2015. The symposium is open to the public and is a must-see event for any motor racing enthusiast. This wonderful two-day program will consist of in-depth scholarly presentations from leading motorsport historians from around the world. 2022 will also be the first year the symposium will be live-streamed, via the support and technical expertise of Gran Touring Motorsports. The link will be available on the IMRRC website (www.racingarchives.org). Mark noted that Buz McKim, NASCAR historian, will give the keynote presentation, entitled “Moonshine and Its Connection to the American Auto Industry”. Having attended the symposium myself in the past, I can attest that it is a wonderful and enlightening experience. With the added feature of being live-streamed, it will hopefully reach an even wider audience. And for those who cannot attend or tune in live, recordings will be available on their website in the IMRRC live-stream archive for your viewing pleasure.
As we brought our conversation to a close, Mark stated “the future looks bright in a big way”. He noted there is an exciting announcement in the offing regarding expansion, adding “watch this space!” 2023 will be a big year for celebration, for it will mark the 25th anniversary of the research center and the 50th anniversary of racing in Watkins Glen. Along with these celebrations, the yearly Watkins Glen Grand Prix Festival in September will also highlight the 75th anniversary of Porsche and the 70th anniversary of Corvette. Mark hinted at the theory that Corvette’s creator, Harley Earl, may have drawn inspiration for the Corvette after attending a Watkins Glen Grand Prix, circa 1951. Having seen the foreign sports cars in action, Earl was believed to have said something to the effect of, “GM can do this!” The rest is history.
Finally, Mark stated the research center is open to the public, 9-5 Monday through Friday (with federal holiday exceptions of course). He invites everyone to visit the website, send an email, or just “Stop In!” IMRRC may very well be a hidden gem, but it’s also right before us all in plain sight. In addition, I encourage everyone to visit their Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube sites for all the entertaining, historical, and educational posts and videos that are available. IMRRC is an unbelievable and amazing resource that is there for everyone to enjoy.