History was made at Road America last year when the American Le Mans Series presented by Tequila Patrón and the GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series competed for the only time on the same weekend at the same venue.
This weekend, another chapter will be written in the circuit’s annals, with the first visit for the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship, adding to the racing tradition that has been made in Wisconsin’s scenic Kettle Moraine region since 1950.
Road America’s history mirrors that of another historic circuit on the TUDOR Championship schedule, Watkins Glen International.
Cameron Argetsinger revived sports car racing in the United States when he staged the inaugural Watkins Glen Grand Prix on the streets of the upstate New York village in 1948.
Encouraged by the success of the Watkins Glen event, gentlemen racers Jim Kimberley and Fred Wacker urged fellow members of the Chicago Region of the Sports Car Club of America to stage their own event. They selected the scenic village of Elkhart Lake, which was struggling through an economic downturn.
The first race was held on July 23, 1950, on a 3.35-mile circuit, drawing its competitors from the Chicago Region of the SCCA. The event’s popularity grew with races in 1951 and 1952 on a 6.5-mile course that circumvented Elkhart Lake on County Roads J, A and P, drawing competitors from around the nation. The 1952 weekend attracted an estimated 100,000 fans. John Fitch won the feature race in a Cunningham CR2, with one of the support races won by young Californian Phil Hill, a future Formula One World Champion.
A spectator fatality in downtown Watkins Glen in 1952 ended the feasibility of competition on public roads. That led to the building of purpose-built road racing circuits, and Road America was one of the leaders.
Clif Tufte, a highway engineer from Elkhart Lake, had a vision similar to Argetsinger. He organized a group of influential citizens and leaders of the Chicago Region to build a permanent circuit on 525 acres of Wisconsin farmland not far from Elkhart Lake’s original layout. Tufte’s track incorporated the natural topography of the Kettle Moraine, with rolling hills and plunging ravines. Remarkably, Tufte’s 4.048-mile layout has been basically unchanged since the circuit’s opening.
The new circuit opened with an SCCA National event on Sept. 10, 1955. Sherwood Johnson was the winner, driving a D-Type Jaguar fielded by famed sportsman Briggs Cunningham. Johnson edged out Hill, who was driving a Ferrari Monza.
Over the years, Road America has hosted major sports car races in addition to NASCAR stock cars, CART Champ Cars and AMA motorcycles.
The current NASCAR Sprint Cup Series raced there in 1956, with Tim Flock winning Road America’s first professional race in a Mercury. The next NASCAR race at the circuit was the 2010 NASCAR Nationwide Series Bucyrus 200, won by Roush Racing’s Carl Edwards.
The circuit held 25 Champ Car races from 1982 through 2007, with Mario and Michael Andretti, Emerson Fittipaldi and Jacques Villeneuve leading the list of winners with three victories apiece. Road America also held Formula Atlantic competition, with current GT driver Jonathan Bomarito winning in 2006 and 2008, and DP driver Ryan Dalziel winning in 2004.
The venue also hosted the Sports Car Club of America National Championship Run-Offs and major AMA Pro Racing motorcycle races.
The ALMS competed at Road America from 2002 through 2013, while GRAND-AM raced there from 2000-01 and 2012-13. This year, the unified TUDOR Championship proudly joins the list of major events at the renowned facility.