Watkins Glen: Chris Gleason race report

Gleason achieves a life-long dream and finishes on the podium in Sunday' Six Hours of The Glen at Watkins Glen International. WATKINS GLEN, N.Y., June 22 - When Chris Gleason was a little boy, he'd travel from his hometown of Johnstown, Pa. to...

Gleason achieves a life-long dream and finishes on the podium in Sunday' Six Hours of The Glen at Watkins Glen International.

WATKINS GLEN, N.Y., June 22 - When Chris Gleason was a little boy, he'd travel from his hometown of Johnstown, Pa. to Watkins Glen International for the Six Hours of the Glen and dream of someday being on the podium. Sunday afternoon he achieved that goal when he and teammates Emil Assentato of Locust Valley, N.Y. and Nick Longhi of Nyack, N.Y. finished third in the GT class in this classic circuit's most important sports car endurance race.

Gleason was the effort's lead driver. He qualified the car on Saturday and drove the two longest stints.

Sports car fans love to argue the merits of their favorite marques and in true sports car fashion, three different types of cars took the top three spots in the GT class. A Ferrari won the class followed by a Porsche and then Gleason's car, the Alegra Motorsports/901 Shop BMW M3 #10.

Cheering on the 58-year-old Gleason, who is president and ceo of Gleason Financial Ltd., a leading, independently-owned property and casualty insurance broker, were his wife, Janet, and two sons.

"When you make a plan in racing, very rarely does the plan work. But today it did," said Gleason with a smile during the post-race ceremonies.

"We had Joe Stimola calling the race strategy for us. He says that every full-course caution is a free pit stop. We used that strategy and it worked. We took advantage of all the full-course cautions, ran consistent laps in the 1:58s and 1:59s all day and stayed out of trouble. We nursed the car and paid attention to our tires, and it paid off."

Gleason, whose racing nickname is "The Ironman," almost took that nickname to too much of an extreme during his second stint, which ended up being almost two hours long.

His water bottle wasn't working, so every time he wanted to get a drink, all he got through the tube was hot air. To make matters worse, the race was held under hot and humid conditions, with air temperatures in the high 80s.

"That got rugged; I cramped up when I got out of the car," Gleason said later.

Just getting him out of the car at that point proved to be a challenge too.

His radio wasn't working either, so his crew couldn't radio him when to come in to the pits for the final driver change. They tried signalling with hand signals and they used the pit board, but Gleason didn't see them and stayed out.

Finally, fearing he was about to run out of fuel, they resorted to having the officials black-flag their car. Gleason saw that and was in on the very next lap.

"That was pretty funny!" he admitted.

There were still a few more bullets to dodge too. Assentato was driving the car at the checkered, and he said in the last 45 minutes of the race the car lost third gear and was on its way to losing fourth.

Gleason had a run-in with one of the Marcos cars once. "He bumped me off the course at the toe of the boot; turn seven," he said. "But we were OK."

Gleason's race got off to a fabulous start when he zoomed from 26th overall to 18th overall by the end of the second lap on the 3.4-mile, 15-turn long road course.

He was seventh in class before the end of the first hour, in which he had a "good dice with the #9 Porsche. I finally got by him going down the left hander into the boot," Gleason said after he was relieved by Assentato.

"I had some trouble getting around a Camaro that wasn't even in our class, too," he added after that first stint.

By the half-way point of the race Gleason's #10 was 13th overall and fifth in the GT class. Gleason was behind the wheel when the team jumped into third place in class and tenth overall by the end of hour four. The team was as high as ninth overall by the end of hour five, and when the checkered flag waved it ended up tenth overall in the 37-car field and third in class.

Fans can catch coverage on the race on Speed Channel on Saturday, June 29 from 7:30 p.m . to 11 p.m.

Residents of Johnstown, Pa., can just ask Gleason how it went.

"The crew and my co-drivers were just terrific," he said with a broad smile. "This is one I'll always remember."

-lm-

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About this article
Series Grand-Am
Drivers Emil Assentato , Nick Longhi , Chris Gleason