In the early 1950's, 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 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 September 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.
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, Elkhart Lake's Road America, Inc. 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.
TODAY – Road America is 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 Blain’s Farm & Fleet Motorplex and the beautiful grounds surrounding the facility.
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 September 10 and 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.
THE 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. Well under 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 hay bale bashing. The day’s winner was Tim Flock in a Mercury at a speed of 71.4 mph.
The Carousel is a sweeping, high-speed half-circle curve that is over 180 degrees. The drivers hang on, and hang on as the g-forces are constant and because it seems to go around forever, it’s just like a carousel.
Perhaps the most challenging corner in American road racing is Road America’s turn 11, a very quick snap turn to the right shortly after exiting the Carousel. Many braver souls take this flat out, which is a test of courage but if you lose control here, it is a big one. Many top drivers have gone wide and hit the wall. A new trail has been opened from turn 11 to 12 for easy access and viewing.
Located in Turn 1, adjacent to the concession stand, the Family Fun Zone is the ultimate playtime experience for ages 12 and under! You will find games and kid friendly demonstrations at the Family Fun Zone. All children must be accompanied by a parent or guardian.
You can find all things race related in the competitor’s paddock; cars, fans, teams, and drivers! Transporters transform into garages as crews prepare their cars for the race. The paddock is your access to the thrilling, fast paced world of IMSA. You never know who you might see!
See the cars that will be racing in the Continental Tire Road Race Showcase up close on Saturday and Sunday during the pre-race Fan Grid Walk on pit lane. Teams will be making final preparations in their pit stalls and many of the drivers will be standing by waiting for the race to begin. You can't get any closer to the action than this!