I really enjoyed visiting Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin, recently; a town midway between Milwaukee and Green Bay with fewer than 1,000 people. While it may be small, Elkhart Lake is filled with so many great restaurants, lovely scenery and nice people that I wanted to stay another month.
While this wasn’t possible, I do plan to return soon to spend some time at the unique racing facility known as Road America. Some of the most famous names on the racing circuit compete in the scenic 4- mile, 14-turn road circuit established in 1955 as the first permanent road racing course in the U.S.
Starting back in 1951, cars raced through the streets in and around Elkhart Lake. After three years of racing drew steadily increasing crowds to pack the village streets and watch the cars zoom by, the state legislature became alarmed at the potential for liability and banned racing on public roads.
Members of the Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) from the Chicago region came to the rescue, creating a plan for the racetrack now known as Road America. Chief organizer Clif Tufte, a highway engineer, chose 525 acres of farmland just outside Elkhart Lake for the picturesque track.
Taking advantage of the glacial Kettle Moraine area, Road America opened a challenging track 4.048-miles long in the spring of 1955. Surrounded by old growth trees, Road America drivers encountered rolling hills, twisty turns and deep ravines, while throngs of onlookers were able to watch their progress from the safety of bleachers set at the most promising turns.
The first SCCA national race weekend was held that September, and the first NASCAR Grand National race was held in August, 1956. Celebrities such as David Letterman, Tom Cruise, and the late Paul Newman have all been fans of the legendary Road America track, which is renowned for its pastoral setting as much as the great racing events.
Road America is now Big Business, bringing 800,000 visitors to the tiny community of Elkhart Lake each year and generating over $100 million with 425 annual events.
September 18-20, 2015 will bring nearly 250 vintage and historic race cars, including a field of pre-war models, for a Road America event that includes a historic road course re-enactment tour.
The vintage cars will leave the Road America track on Saturday, following a route almost identical to the street course from the early 1950’s. The historic circuit through Elkhart Lake is still marked with such signs as Wacker’s Wend, Kimberly’s Korner and Dicken’s Ditch.
A similar event is held in May each year, when racing vehicles from around the world compete in the Sportscar Vintage Racing Association (SVRA) Spring Vintage weekend.
For information about Road America events, which also include winter snow and ice driving lessons, Go-Kart and motorcycle races, and many other family-friendly events, visit www.roadamerica.com.
Jo Ann Holt is a journalist and car columnist based in Dallas and a member of Texas Automobile Writers Association (TAWA).