On the way to Elkhart Lake, Wisc., you can pick up polka music on the car radio. You will see signs for Sheboygan and Johnsonville — of bratwurst fame — and you will see more barns and grain silos than actual people.
But when you get to Road America, you won’t mind polka music at all, and you’ll probably get a hankering for some cheese.
NASA Midwest and Great Lakes played host to the Central Region and even a few racers from the Rocky Mountain Region August 1-3 for some great racing at one of America’s premier racetracks.
Great Lakes and Midwest Regional Director Jay Andrew even welcomed guests from the Pirelli Porsche GT3 Cup series and some professional IMSA drivers warming up for the pro races the following weekend.
“This is a big event at a legacy track, and it took a lot to put this together,” Andrew said. “We had do to a lot of planning. We were doing promotion far in advance of what we do for other events to get word out about this weekend.”
It must have worked because the paddock was full, with about 250 HPDE, TT and racecars on hand to tackle Road America’s 4-mile-long, 14-turn road circuit.
Road America’s history is similar to that of Watkins Glen. In the early 1950s, the town of Elkhart Lake staged sports car races on the streets in and around the lake itself. Eventually, the state legislature banned racing on public roads, which prompted a group of local citizens to build a permanent racecourse in Elkhart Lake. The brainchild of a local highway engineer named Clif Tufte, Road America opened in April 1955.
The track itself is essentially the same as when it opened 59 years ago, but the grounds and facilities have seen numerous improvements over the years. Road America attracts some 800,000 visitors a year and generates more than $100 million annually.
NASA competitors were eager to take on this track, with its deadly fast “kink” and the brake-burning turns 5 and 12, also known as Canada Corner.
“We’ve been here in the past in the early spring and late in October when the weather was not very predictable with a lot fewer cars and drivers. The first weekend of August has a lot to do with the success here,” Andrew said. “We never had the opportunity to have dates at this time of year at this track. They never offered them to us, so we jumped on that, and we’ll try to make it a regular thing. The more times you have a successful event on the same date, the more people get used to it, especially at a legacy track like this.”
At the end of the day, when the sun began to set, barbecues filled the air with the smell of simmering sausage and bratwurst. The delicious local brews flowed — and if you set your car radio just right, you could tune in to some polka music.