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A celebration of a long life

Friends, fans wish Bill Milliken a happy 99th

WATKINS GLEN, April 18 -- They turned out in force at the International Motor Racing Research Center Saturday: fans and friends of racing legend William "Bill" Milliken on the weekend of his 99th birthday.

Milliken was on hand, as sharp as ever, holding court from a comfortable chair against the front wall of the Center. Fans came by one and two at a time to say hello, or chat, or get him to sign a copy of his autobiography, Equations of Motion: Adventure, Risk and Innovation.

He was the subject of interviews, too, during which he said Watkins Glen "is like a second home to me" and a place he likes to revisit whenever possible.

Among the party-goers was the late Don Brubaker's daughter Nancy, warmly greeted by Milliken. Don Brubaker was an instrumental figure along with Milliken and a few others in helping Cameron Argetsinger launch auto racing on the streets of Watkins Glen in 1948.

Argetsinger's widow Jean was on hand, too, as were their sons J.C. (president of the Racing Research Center) and Michael, a Chicago-based writer who said he "wouldn't have missed this for the world. The Millikens are old and dear friends." Michael was heading back to Chicago late that afternoon.

And then there was Paul Cozad, who sat next to Milliken and talked to him at length. Afterward, he was asked if he was a previous acquaintance.

"We worked together back in the late '70s and early '80s," said Cozad, of North Tonawanda. "I thought he'd died some time ago, then I heard two days ago that this was going on, and that he would be here. I got so excited, I said 'Holy Cow, I have to be there.'"

The gathering featured such one-on-one discussions for an hour and a half, and than a cake-cutting ceremony, followed by a program. Included in the program were a proclamation of "Bill Milliken Day" read by county legislator Stewart Field, a talk by racing historian Bill Green concerning Milliken's career highlights, personal reflections about Milliken by J.C. Argetsinger, a reading by Michael Argetsinger of greetings from friends unable to attend, comments from the audience, and the introduction of Milliken.

"There a lot of history walking around here today," said one visitor.

A little of that history:

Milliken was born on April 18, 1911, in Old Town, Maine, and today lives in the Buffalo, NY, area. He still drives, but was driven to Saturday's party by Donna Lewis, self-described as "the significant other" of Milliken's son Douglas, who was also present.

Milliken was one of the earliest members of the Sports Car Club of America and competed in more than 100 post-World War II races. In Watkins Glen, he served as head of the Rules Committee, including for the first race on Oct. 2, 1948.

It was in that first race through the streets that Milliken sealed his fame in Watkins Glen, rolling his Type 35A Bugatti in a section of the original circuit known today as “Milliken’s Corner.” He crawled out from under the wreckage, uninjured, to the cheers of the gathered crowd.

In his racing career he drove a variety of cars, including Bugattis and the Four Wheel Drive Miller, at Watkins Glen, Pike’s Peak, Sebring and other tracks for 15 years. He served a term as chief steward for the Formula One U.S. Grand Prix races at Watkins Glen.

With Cameron Argetsinger, Milliken was in the first group inducted into the SCCA Hall of Fame in 2005. He served as vice president and as a member of the SCCA Contest Board and was elected to the first SCCA Board of Directors. He also wrote the first set of SCCA General Competition Rules.

A 1934 graduate of MIT, Milliken worked in the aircraft industry for 20 years in analysis, wind tunnel and flight testing. From 1944, he was managing director at Cornell Aeronautical Laboratory, retiring as the head of the Transportation Research Division, which he founded.

Milliken Research Associates was created in 1976 as a foundational research asset to the automotive and auto racing industries. He remains active in MRA, which is now run by his son.

Milliken's automotive innovations have earned him the highest engineering honors, and his technical books are required reading for automotive engineers and students.

Photos in text:

Top: William F. Milliken greets longtime friend Jean Argetsinger, the widow of Cameron Argetsinger.

Second: Milliken stuck a knife in his cake and then admired the photo atop it. When informed the photo too was edible, he said "cool."

Third: Milliken sat in a comfortable chair near the Center's front entrance, visiting with friends and well-wishers.

Fourth: Michael Argetsinger

Bottom: Milliken makes a point during a conversation at the party.

Milliken signed a copy of his book for Watkins Glen photographer Bill Bauman.

Left: Racing historian Bill Green. Right: Jean Argetsinger visits with Milliken's son Douglas.

Bill Milliken in his racing days. (Photo provided)

This was among a selection of Milliken photos on display at the party.

Dr. James Norton and J.C. Argetsinger, president of the Racing Research Center.


© The Odessa File 2010
Charles Haeffner
P.O. Box 365
Odessa, New York 14869