MICHAEL R. ARGETSINGER SYMPOSIUM
ON INTERNATIONAL MOTOR RACING HISTORY
Thursday, November 9th was the kickoff of a three-day automotive history conference co-sponsored and organized by the International Motor Racing Research Center (IMRRC) and the Society of Automotive Historians (SAH) International Motor Sports History Section held in Watkins Glen, New York. This year was the third annual Argetsinger Symposium on International Motor Racing History named in honor of the late, Michael Reynolds Argetsinger, son of Watkins Glen International motor sports racing circuit founder, Cameron Argetsinger.
Attendees were met by a somewhat unseasonably cold series of days; however, attendance numbers were up and robust.
The purpose of each year’s Symposium is to gather together expert automotive historians from around the world to share their Symposium theme-related information and discuss and present papers on various subjects pertaining to the diverse nature of motorsports racing. This year’s Symposium theme: “The Cultural Turn Meets the First Turn” was based around diversity.
Michael Argetsinger was a respected automotive historian, author and sports car racing driver in his own right. Unfortunately for all of us, Michael passed away on July 7th, 2015. Michael wholeheartedly and unselfishly supported all forms of racing; events at “The Glen” (as the racing facility is internationally known); the IMRRC; the Village of Watkins Glen; and the encompassing Schuyler County. His family continues to carry on his legacy of support.
Many fascinating subjects and papers were presented. Dr. Elsa Nystrom, Professor Emeritus of History, American Studies Department, Kennesaw State University, Kennesaw, Georgia was the keynote speaker. Dr. Nystrom presented a paper on early American female racer, Joan Newton Cuneo, based upon her book: “Mad for Speed: The Racing Life of Joan Newton Cuneo.”
Thomas Adamich, President, Visiting Librarian Service, New Philadelphia, Ohio presentation theme was: “Primer Plano Cubano de la Carrera de la Calle – Cuban Street Racing Closeup: A Critical Analysis of the Documentary Movie ‘Havana Motor Club.’ ” Tom’s study makes clear the ravenous passions held by Cuba’s automobile and racing fans despite threats of arrest and other sanctions. Mr. Luis Martinez, who lived in Cuba, validated and supplemented Tom’s research and findings during Tom’s presentation.
Dr. Mark D. Howell, Professor of Communications, Northwestern Michigan College in Traverse City, Michigan, and Author of “From Moonshine To Madison Avenue: Cultural History Of The NASCAR Winston Cup Series” and also a former NASCAR team crew member, delivered a stirring insider’s perspective on NASCAR’s current sponsorship, attendance and revenue concerns. His presentation, titled: “It is Alive! Monster Energy’s Attempt to Revitalize NASCAR’s Top Touring Series” prompted a lot of audience questions and discussion during as well as after the presentation’s conclusion.
Following Dr. Howell was last year’s keynote speaker, Dr. Daniel J. Simone, Curator of the NASCAR Hall of Fame, Charlotte, North Carolina. Dan’s presentation focused on the racing history that took place in California during the early 1960s. His topic: “Invaders and Invasions: The Motor Trend 500” examined the East Coast – West Coast driver rivalries and area racer dominance on certain tracks.
On Saturday, Dr. Elton G. “Skip” McGoun, William H. Dunkak Professor of Finance, College of Management, Bucknell University, Lewisburg, Pennsylvania opened the final day’s sessions at 10:00 am to discuss: “Win on Sunday & Sell Fifty Years Later: The Strange Competitive and Commercial Saga of Bentley.”
Bentley cars competed in the 24 Hours of Le Mans races throughout the 1920s with a fair amount of outright success: 1st Place Finishes in 1924, 1927, 1928, 1929 and 1930, and with other cars having top 15 place finishes in 1923 (4th), 1927 (15th), 1928 (5th), and 1930 (2nd).
Dr. Paul Baxa, Associate Professor, Chair of the History Department, Ave Maria University, Ave Maria, Florida spoke on the topic: “A Moving Museum: Tourism, Pilgrimage, and the Iconic Route of the Mille Miglia.” The Mille Miglia or 1,000 mile touring car endurance race got its start in 1927 in Italy and ran on road courses through the country side from Brescia to Rome and back.
All the way from Ross, New Zealand came Trevor A. Lister, Editor of Classic Motor Racing Club Newsletter, who miraculously figured out the correct way to specifically identify early Maserati racecars, particularly for authentication purposes. Trevor’s research and findings presentation began with a photo of him as a very young lad in the late 1950s/early 1960s watching a race trackside and nearly on the track!
Trevor’s paper and presentation titled: “Cultural Confusions: Maserati Serial Numbers” demonstrated his diligent efforts to make sense of the Maserati racing program’s misleading racecar identification method. As Trevor so aptly pointed out, vehicles intended for racing purposes are rarely kept intact as when they leave the factory - experiencing a myriad of component changes and alterations often immediately and throughout the vehicles’ successive operational lifecycles.
Dr. Elsa Nystrom, Professor Emeritus of History, American Studies Department, Kennesaw State University, Kennesaw, Georgia was the Symposium’s keynote speaker. Dr. Nystrom’s book: “Mad for Speed: The Racing Life of Joan Newton Cuneo” and the research undertaken to write it formed the basis of her address and presentation.
Joan was the first woman and American female to race motorcars and actively participate in American races as a driver. Joan asserted her right to enter the 1905 Glidden Tour test of an automobile manufacturer’s vehicle durability and endurance, despite attempts to exclude her made by the Tour’s organizing and sanctioning body. And, although the diminutive 5’ 2” “tomboy’s” White Brand automobile did not finish that tour race, her racing prowess, courage and tenacity caught the attention of the press and public.
Joan used that opportunity to race her self-maintained cars and those loaned to her by supportive male competitors, and she competed on a variety of surfaces and tracks.
In 1908, Joan, having made a bit of a name for herself as a competent racecar driver, entered that year’s Glidden Tour event. Joan and her car finished the tour with a perfect score.
Disliking all the attention paid to this audacious female upstart, and not wanting women to compete in this “man’s sport” the American Automobile Association (AAA) instituted a ban against women racing in their sanctioned events. Although she could no longer race in AAA sanctioned events, she channeled her energies and efforts into being a prominent advocate for the Good Roads movement; aided charities to help orphans in New York State; and championed the cause of permitting women to race.
Joan Newton Cuneo’s (later Joan Newton Cuneo Sickman after remarrying) story is a fascinating one and Dr. Nystrom’s book is well worth the effort to acquire and read.
MotometerCentral’s™ founder, Francis G. Clax took the stage next to speak about the racing career of French female auto racer, Anne Cecile Rose-Itier. He presented the biography on her that he independently researched and wrote, titled: “Anne Cecile Rose-Itier: Overcoming Gender Barriers and Earning Legitimacy by Competing and Winning.”
Though not the earliest female auto racer in history, Anne was one of the best during the mid 1920s through the 1930s. She endured unfounded disparaging statements about her as a driver (and possibly as a woman) and attempts to exclude women from the burgeoning sport of automobile racing, to nevertheless frequently place high in the final race result standings whether in hillclimb or Grand Prix events.
Anne effectively drove “light” class or smaller engine displacement Bugatti racecars in Grand Prix races. The Voiturette Class was generally for engines displacing up to 1100cc.
Anne wound down her active racecar driving career by competing in five (a record at the time) 24 Hours of Le Mans races from 1935 to 1939. Anne went on to work during WWII for the French Resistance to the NAZI invasion in an effort to help save French children. She also later founded organizations to make racing easier for women.
Dr. Jeremy R. Kinney, Smithsonian Museum Curator of the Aeronautics Department, Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, Washington, District of Columbia covered a lot of ground discussing his topic: “Speed through a Man’s World: Women Sports Car racers in the 1950s and 1960s.”
Afterwards Jeremy, Francis and Dr. Nystrom joined Symposium Co-organizer and Moderator, Dr. Patricia “Pat” Yongue, Professor Emeritus of English, English Department, University of Houston, Houston, Texas as the panel for a group and audience discussion on “Women in Racing.”
The panel discussion persevered despite a major geographic power outage in the vicinity of the IMRRC, Watkins Glen, and the Arc of Schuyler school facility, where that day’s Symposium events were held. The school’s backup power generators proved their worth and saved the remaining moments of the Michael R. Argetsinger Symposium on International Motor Racing History.
The event formally concluded with a dinner at the local Upper Deck Grill in Watkins Glen. All of the speakers and their guests really enjoy this final opportunity to socialize among colleagues and close friends. Speakers usually take their own initiative to remain in touch with each other after the event and throughout the year.
The Symposium was live streamed on the IMRRC’s www.racingarchives.org website and the IMRRC will post individual presentations on their YouTube web channel.