History - Road America

Open road sports car races held in 1950 through 1952 were conceived and operated by the members of the Chicago Region of the Sports Car Club of America (SCCA).

 

At the time, Elkhart Lake was at a low point in its economic history and Jim Johnson, President of the Elkhart Lake Bank, felt that the races would bring a new energy to the area. Joined by Fire Chief Ray Kramer and Resort owner Ollie Siebken Moeller, a strong community effort was mounted that resulted in dozens of volunteers coming forward to help organize the races. Governor Walter Kohler, who had a summer home on Elkhart Lake, helped pave the way.

 

The 1950, race was held on the 3.35-mile circuit north of the lake. The event was very successful with an estimated 5,000 spectators in attendance.

 

The 1951 and 1952, races were held on a new 6.5-mile circuit that circumvented the lake and had a much different flavor. The Chicago Region of the SCCA planned, promoted and orchestrated the races and nationwide promotion attracted celebrities and professional race teams from across the country.

 

In 1951, the races were held on Sunday. Although official attendance records were kept, spectator attendance was estimated to be in the area of 50,000.

 

The 1952 races were held over the course of two days, Saturday and Sunday. There were a total of 238 cars entered in the three races, a far cry from the 33 cars raced in 1950. Attendance was estimated to exceed 100,000.

 

Although open road racing ended in 1952, it was not the end of sports car-related activities in the Village of Elkhart Lake. In 1955, Road America, one of the premier closed circuit road race courses in the world, was opened just a little southeast of the original open road circuits.

 

When the state legislature banned racing on public roads, Clif Tufte saw an opportunity. He gathered many influential citizens of the Sheboygan County and leaders of the Chicago Region of the SCCA. Plans were made, stock was sold, and it was time to build a race track. He was a highway engineer and already had a plan in mind. He found an area in farm land (640-acres) just south of Little Elkhart Lake, adjacent to what now is Highway 67 and County Road J. He drove the roads, selected turns and corners. He measured the roads and reproduced the bends. Road work began in April 1955 and his dream became a reality when the track opened for the inaugural event in September.

 

The natural topography of the glacial Kettle Moraine area was utilized. The track is four miles in length; a distance which today makes it one of the longest road racing tracks in the country.

 

Today, Road America is big business, attracting 700,000 visitors a year from every corner of the world. Economic impact studies show that $70 million dollars are generated annually by Road America. Its offerings have diversified with events and programs available year-round.

 

The Village of Elkhart Lake continues as a center for gatherings of sports car enthusiasts.  It is well equipped to handle overnight guests at its three lakeside resorts and over 350 rooms and condominium suites. Concours and car club events are often held on the streets where sports cars once raced. These events frequently include formal police-escorted reenactment tours of the historic circuits. Many clubs and individuals informally tour the circuits throughout the year and the rumble of sports car engines are still heard where  vintage racers once roared.

 

Road Racing History and Elkhart Lake’s Road America (Information taken from Looking Back . . . Recollections and Remembrances by The Centennial Book Committee April, 1994 and A Photographic History of Elkhart Lake (2002) by Peter Laun.