This year, racers at Watkins Glen International won’t have to worry about burying their cars in sand if they screw up going into the chicane. They won’t have to take such a conservative line coming out of Turn 5 anymore. When they approach Turn 10, they can let it hang out a little bit more because half of the beach in that corner will be removed.

This year, racers at Watkins Glen International won’t have to worry about burying their cars in sand if they screw up going into the chicane. They won’t have to take such a conservative line coming out of Turn 5 anymore. When they approach Turn 10, they can let it hang out a little bit more because half of the beach in that corner will be removed.

This sounds like a recipe for better races, doesn’t it? The staff at WGI, and the decision makers for the major sanctioning bodies, believe so.

If racers aren’t so preoccupied with going offline entering the chicane at 180 mph, they’re more apt to attempt an outbraking maneuver. If they need to pick up time on the leader, there will be more room to exit the sweeper on the south end of the 3.4-mile road course. If they want to set up a pass for the front straightaway, they can keep pace or pick up a yard or two through 10.

That makes sense.

“I thought it will make the racing here that much better, which is hard to do,” WGI president Michael Printup told me over the phone last week. “It will make our fan plan better.”

The fan plan is to improve everything at The Glen with the paying public in mind. Aside from more showers, restrooms and RV dumps for the infield campers, one of the biggest gripes people had with The Glen last year was the racing. It sucked. None of the Big 3 race weekends in Schuyler County approached exciting, but I’m confident it wasn’t a problem with the race track.

The Six Hours of The Glen was a Scott Pruett runaway. If only for one day, Justin Wilson could do no wrong in the Camping World Grand Prix. Tony Stewart encountered some resistance early but spanked everyone in the last 10 laps of the Heluva Good Sour Cream Dips at The Glen (if there’s a God, they’ll shorten the name of that race).

Fans weren’t happy because the races were uncommonly boring, or that it took four laps to retrieve a car from the cat litter. Who else are they going to complain to?

To that end, WGI and the movers and shakers at NASCAR, the Indy Racing League and Grand-Am all agreed to take out the trap in the chicane and add a SAFER barrier, pave the exit of Turn 5, put a SAFER barrier in Turn 11 and lop off a significant portion of the pit in Turn 10. No one thought to examine how the spec cars are abominations sent from the underworld to bore us into madness.

But I digress.

The racers in the stock cars have improved exponentially on the road courses, and the last few years they starting getting cocky. They’re trying to race on parts of the track no one ever tried before in search of a little edge, and in the process have caused massive pileups. Michael McDowell, you can’t divebomb people in Turn 11 without someone going headlong into the barrels of sand protecting the pit wall. Kasey Kahne, passing in Turn 5 is akin to sticking a knife in the toaster. These are things, after racing on the same circuit for several years now, drivers should understand, but their bravado overrides common sense.

The knee-jerk reaction is to change the track so drivers have more room, even on a generously wide circuit like The Glen.

I’ve got no problem with putting energy-absorbing walls in high-impact areas or turning race cars into cocoons (it’s called progress), but when you start to pave everything you A) take away from the middle-of-the-freaking-woods feel that makes The Glen so unique and B) neuter the course a little bit.

(Is it possible to neuter something “a little bit?” Without getting too graphic, I would think that if you cut ... I’ll have to call Bob Barker).

What’s the penalty for overshooting the entrance to the chicane? Where’s the challenge of going almost flat-out exiting Turn 5? After the Sarlacc-like pit in the Ninety was replaced by a sea of more asphalt, the surgical precision of diving downhill into a right-hand 90-degree turn was reduced to all the care it takes to play Whack-A-Mole. Even though the chicane was installed after a series of violent accidents – one tragic – it’s addition reduced The Glen’s Bravery-meter.

We didn’t start watching auto races because they were all pass-happy spectacles, what drew us in was the danger. We didn’t watch because we wanted to see bad things happen, we watched because mere mortals prevailed in the face of Senor Peligro. Practically every high-speed oval in the country is lined with SAFER barriers, but it hasn’t dramatically changed the racing lines. However, when you start messing around with road courses by paving everything beyond the racing line, you alter how drivers approach each corner.

Printup said he has addressed this.

“We’ve got to hold the drivers to the course – don’t expand a runoff area and end up using it as a slingshot, as they did in the Cup race. We don’t want that,” he said. “When we talked to the sanctioning bodies at meetings, we just said, ‘Can we remind competitors at driver meetings there’s a defined course for a reason.’ We said we’d all work on that together.”

That’s nice to hear, but Printup and the series stewards aren’t driving the cars.

Over the years we’ve watched the grand old road courses in Europe get clipped like stray cats at the ASPCA, but the circuits on the this side of the pond have remained unmolested. I don’t want to see that trend start at The Glen.

Chris Gill, who covers auto racing for The Leader in Corning, N.Y., can be reached at cmgill@the-leader.com.