The race at Road America has been a fixture of the Trans Am Series presented by Pirelli since 1970. This weekend, August 6-8, the series will return for its 49th appearance, adding to its storied central-Wisconsin history.
The list of Road America Trans Am winners is a Who’s Who of American racing, from Mark Donohue and Peter Gregg to Tommy Kendall and Dorsey Schroeder; from Paul Gentilozzi and Scott Pruett all the way to Ernie Francis Jr. and Rafa Matos.
The Trans Am series, which debuted in 1966, first visited the four-mile Road America track during its classic 1970 campaign, Donohue notching the first of back-to-back triumphs in Roger Penske’s red, white and blue AMC Javelin.
John Greenwood was the 1973 winner in one of his famed Corvettes, while the following year, Gregg took his first of three Road America victories, in 1974, ’77 and ’79, all in different Brumos Racing Porsches.
In 1977, the series held two feature races, Ludwig Heimrath winning the Saturday event in a Porsche 934.
Another Road America winner from the 70’s, Greg Pickett, won at the Wisconsin circuit — the third of his four victories — on his way to the 1978 title driving a Corvette.
Pickett had made his Trans Am debut at Elkhart Lake three years earlier in 1975, finishing fifth. Last weekend, won the Trans Am West Coast season opener at Thunderhill, extending a remarkable streak: He has won races in six different decades. (Pickett’ last full season in the Trans Am national series was 2005, when he won the pole and finished third at Road America in his Cytomax Jaguar XKR.)
Moving on to the 1980s, David Hobbs won the ’83 event in a Camaro before Jack Roush took over, his team fielding five consecutive Road America winners beginning with Willy T. Ribbs in ’85; Pete Halsmer in ’86 and ’87; Scott Pruett in ’88; and Dorsey Schroeder in ’89.
Tommy Kendall ended Roush’s reign by winning with a Chevrolet Beretta in 1990, but the tall Californian put Roush back on top in ’96 and ’97, scoring back-to-back race wins in a Ford Mustang.
Schroeder returned to victory circle in a Tom Gloy Mustang in ’94, with Buz McCall Camaro driver Scott Sharp winning in ’91 and ’93. Also winning in Gloy Mustangs were Ron Fellows (’92) and Boris Said (’95).
“Road America was my favorite track, because it was the closest to where I grew up in St. Louis,” Schroeder said. “It was a four-mile track, and coming from a background in Formula Atlantic, H Production and Sports Renault, I’ll never forget the speed the Trans Am car carried down the straightaways, the kink and the carrousel. To be able to win against those guys my first time around was fantastic – one of my career highlights, for sure. My second win was memorable, too, because it was raining. I was following my teammate, Ronnie Fellows, in Canada Corner, and he had just taken the lead from me when he locked up his brakes and spun into the gravel! I had (just) enough distance to miss him and avoid spinning, and I went on to win the race.”
The end of the 1990s saw the emergence of Paul Gentilozzi’s Rocketsports as the dominant team at Road America, the team owner winning in ’99 in a Mustang and in 2000 in a Jaguar. Gentilozzi also fielded winning Jaguar XKRs for Pruett (’03), Kendall (’04) and Klaus Graf (’05). Another second-time winner was Said, who triumphed in ’02 in a Panoz Esperante.
Graf’s victory marked the Trans Am’s last appearance for four years, ending 36 consecutive years at Road America. But the relaunched series returned in 2009, with Cliff Ebben winning that year, 2011 and 2016, all in Mustangs. Tony Ave won in ’10 and ’12 and Doug Peterson in ’13 and ’14, both me driving Corvettes.
The Francis Jr. era began in 2014, with the young Floridan winning his first of back-to-back TA3 Am victories. Francis took the Breathless Mustang to victory in TA4 in ’16, and then to the TA class the following year, winning overall in ’17 and ’19. Said won his third race over three decades in ’18 in a Dodge Challenger.
TA2 debuted in 2011 as a separate class on the four-mile circuit, with Scott Tucker winning in a Porsche 997. Cameron Lawrence won the class in ’13 and ’14, with Ave adding another victory in ’15. For ’16, Tony Buffomante won the first stand-along TA2, with other winners Sheldon Creed (’17), Ty Majeski (’18) and Matos (’19).
Schroeder remains active with the series, serving now as Race Director, and shed some light on what it takes to win at Elkhart Lake:
“Probably the biggest secret to racing at Road America is (setting up) the car good enough so that you will still have something to race at the finish,” Schroeder said. “You run the car really hard there; you lean on the tires and brakes really hard. You have to leave enough for the end to do combat.
“Trans Am races often get down to a caution with a few laps to go,” Schroeder added, “and you better have a lot left, because you’re going to work hard during those final laps.”
Trans Am will make a huge return in 2020, with 51 cars entered among the five classes — TA, TA2, Xtreme GT, SuperGT and GT. On the schedule: Thursday, August 6, is a test day. Friday, Aug. 7, kicks off with a pair of practice sessions in the morning, followed by split back-to-back qualifying sessions in the afternoon.
The weekend ends on Saturday, Aug. 8, with the TA/XGT/SGT/GT 100-mile feature starting at 8:00 a.m. CDT, followed by the TA2 powered by AEM Muscle Car Challenge starting at 2:15 p.m.
For live timing and scoring, event photos and post-race recap videos visit GoTransAm.com. For live race updates follow @GoTransAm on Twitter.