Jean Argetsinger, the matriarch of early American road racing and a leader in the creation of the International Motor Racing Research Center, died Monday, Jan. 16.
Argetsinger was a true partner to her late husband, Cameron R. Argetsinger, who is credited with the re-birth of road racing in the United States after World War II. In establishing Watkins Glen as one of the most important racing venues in the world, Jean Argetsinger was at the forefront in hospitality, publicity and community involvement.
Jean was predeceased by Cameron in 2008. She died at her home in Burdett, N.Y. She was 97.
Calling hours will be Friday, Jan. 20, from 3-6 p.m. at Vedder & Scott Funeral Home, Montour Falls, N.Y. A funeral Mass will be celebrated at St. Mary’s of the Lake Catholic Church in Watkins Glen at 11 a.m. on Saturday, Jan. 21.
Argetsinger was a founder of the IMRRC, an archival and research library, dedicated to the preservation and sharing of the history of motorsports, all venues and all series worldwide. She served on the IMRRC Governing Council from its inception.
“Jean Argetsinger and I collaborated on so many motorsports and other community projects through the years,” John Saunders, president of the International Speedway Corp., said Wednesday.
“Perhaps our most rewarding was the creation and development of a lasting legacy to recognize the 50th anniversary of racing at the Glen in 1998, the International Motor Racing Research Center. Nearly 20 years later, IMRRC excels as a global repository of motorsports history for generations to experience,” Saunders said.
“It was Jean’s vision, quiet determination and relentless pursuit that made it all a reality. While her spirit lives on, I truly will miss the First Lady of American road racing,” he said.
Saunders is vice chairman of the IMRRC Governing Council.
In the first decade-plus of racing in Watkins Glen, Argetsinger was at the side of her husband, welcoming drivers from around the world to parties at her house and putting together race event programs. In 1958 she established the Paddock Club, now known as the Glen Club, as a “civilized retreat for drivers’ wives and visiting celebrities.”
“I never thought racing would be my life. I don’t know much about cars, but I do know about the people who drive them,” Argetsinger said in 1999 when introducing a film documentary about the history of Watkins Glen racing, screened as an IMRRC fundraiser.
“When Cameron presented the idea of a road race to SCCA (Sports Car Club of America) at a cocktail party in Indianapolis, a distinguished member of the group put a fatherly arm around my shoulder and said, ‘Don’t do it. You’ll work hard, and nobody will come.’ This film proves that 50 percent of what he said was true,” she said.
The Argetsingers were honored in 2009 with a Watkins Glen International Legend of the Glen Award.
“Jean will be missed by the entire racing industry, as the matriarch of racing at Watkins Glen and for her support of the racing community as a whole,” Michael Printup, WGI president, said Wednesday. “What Jean and Cameron accomplished in our small town will always be relished.”
“The Argetsinger family played a central role in the rebirth of road racing in general and making Watkins Glen one of the ‘spiritual homes’ of sports car racing in the U.S.,” said IMSA President Scott Atherton. “On behalf of IMSA, I extend heartfelt condolences to the family and friends of Jean Argetsinger.”
While raising nine children, Argetsinger also was building the foundation of a strong Schuyler County community as a member and leader of numerous organizations.
In 1996, Argetsinger joined Saunders, then president of Watkins Glen International, and other community leaders to discuss the best way to commemorate the 50th anniversary of racing two years later. She was president of the Watkins Glen Public Library board at that time.
The work of the committee led to the creation of the IMRRC, which opened in June 1999.
Argetsinger was a founder of the League of Women Voters of Schuyler County and the Burdett Players theatrical group. She was an 11-year member of the Watkins Glen Central School District board and led the Watkins Glen Public Library board for 24 years.
She was a columnist for the local weekly newspaper, The Watkins Review, and wrote a history of St. Mary’s of the Lake Catholic Church as well as several books on county history.
The New York State Legislature named Argetsinger a Woman of Distinction in 1999, the first class of honorees. She was inducted into the Schuyler County Hall of Fame in 2007.