Road America a racing center for more than 60 years

 

A visit to the famous Road America facility in Elkhart Lake is a highlight of this year’s International Mercury Owners’ Association show, set for Thursday-Saturday, Sept. 7-9, in Sheboygan, Wis.

The host hotel is the Blue Harbor Resort and Convention Center in Sheboygan, located on the shore of Lake Michigan.

The Road America visit will be held on Thursday, while the judged car show and awards presentation are on Saturday.

The Road America visit includes a shuttle tour of the interior of its Motorplex and the grounds surrounding the facility. It will end with members being able to take paced laps on its 4-mile, 14-turn racetrack.

Here is a link to the online registration forms: imoa-2017-show-registration-forms

ROAD AMERICA HISTORY

In the early 1950s, sports car races were being run on the streets in and around Elkhart Lake. When the state legislature banned racing on public roads, a man named Clif Tufte organized a group of influential local citizens and leaders of the Chicago Region of the Sports Car Club of America (SCCA). This group developed plans and sold stock to build a permanent racecourse.

The overall vision of Road America grew out of the dreams of Tufte, a highway engineer, who chose 525 acres of Wisconsin farmland outside the Village of Elkhart Lake for the track.

Tufte’s dream became a reality in April 1955. The natural topography of the glacial Kettle Moraine area was utilized for the track, sweeping around rolling hills and plunging through ravines.

By Sept. 10, 1955, the track’s first SCCA national race weekend was held. At 4.048 miles in length, with 14 turns, the track is virtually the same today as it was when it was first laid out and is revered the world over as one of the world’s finest and most challenging road courses.

THE FIRST RACE

In 1955, the SCCA granted a sanction for an SCCA National, the highest form of road racing in the country at the time, held Sept. 10-11.

The feature, a 148-mile race for the era’s large sports racing cars, became a duel between two men and their cars. Sherwood Johnson of Rye, N.Y., was one of the country’s best drivers. He was driving semi-works D Jaguar for the Briggs Cunningham team. Phil Hill, of Santa Monica, Calif., a rising racing star on the west coast, took to the track in a Ferrari Monza.

For 37 laps, Johnston and Hill were inseparable, but then began to fight for the lead during the last six laps. As they approached the finish line on the last lap, Hill inched ahead and barely won the race. Phil Hill’s average speed was 80.2 mph.

FIRST PROFESSIONAL RACE WEEKEND

The first professional race weekend was the August 1956 NASCAR Grand National race. At the time, NASCAR was just a regional southern series and not widely popular.

Less than 10,000 spectators attended the two-day event. On Saturday, Paul Goldsmith won in a Jaguar Mk., VII sedan with a winning speed of 59.2 mph.

The Sunday race was run in the rain and was a display of spinouts and haybale bashing. The day’s winner was Tim Flock in a Mercury at a speed of 71.4 mph.

ROAD AMERICA TODAY

Road America is now big business, attracting 800,000 visitors a year from every corner of the world. Economic impact studies show that Road America, its events and visitors generate more than $100 million dollars annually each year. Over 425 events are held annually at Road America, often running multiple activities on the same day incorporating the four-mile track, the interior Motorplex and the beautiful grounds surrounding the facility.

Millions of dollars in improvements have been made throughout the years, but the original 4.048-mile, 14-turn configuration has never been altered.

In 2005, Road America celebrated its 50th anniversary. Its history was documented in a book, “Road America: Celebrating 50 Years of Road Racing” by Tom Schultz.

Celebrities such as David Letterman, Tom Cruise, Patrick Dempsey, Tim Allen, Ashley Judd and the late Paul Newman have visited this venue, not only for the great racing, but also the scenic surroundings of this resort community.