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Pedley: A Big Yes For Road America

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Tuesday, December 22 2009
Tim Flock led the NASCAR field to the green flag at Road American in 1956. (Photo courtesy of NASCAR)

Tim Flock led the NASCAR field to the green flag at Road America in 1956. (Photo courtesy of NASCAR)

One of my most vivid memories of going to races at Road America is the smell of feet. Specifically, the smell of my college roommate’s feet. And I’m sure the owner of those feet – Frank is his name – probably has a vivid memory of mine. See, we hadn’t discovered Odor Eaters back in the early ‘70s.

I started thinking about feet and their affect on the olfactory senses on Monday morning when I was told that, yes, Road America would be hosting a NASCAR Nationwide Series race this season.

It would take the place of the race which had been scheduled for the Milwaukee Mile. That race had to be canceled and moved because of financial problems that have been plaguing the venerable old Mile.

Suddenly, mourning for the loss of the Mile was blunted. In its place was a smile and affirming nods because my favorite race track was being put on the 2010 NASCAR schedule and memories of socks that had gone a day or two too long between washings filled the head.

I truly understand why many NASCAR fans do not like road racing. They consider it boring at best and anathema to their sport at worst. To them, stock-car racing is about going counter-clockwise around tracks which are vaguely shaped like ovals.

The stock-car purists love banking and drafting and concrete walls and big speed. They love their tradition and they stand on it (though they can tend to forget the roles which places like Riverside played in their sport’s past).

But some of us like a good road race or two thrown into the NASCAR gumbo now and then. For the sake of variety, at least. To see the drivers’ complete skill sets put to the test and the constant action (most of the good stuff in racing happens in turns and there are 14 of them Road America) at best.

Many of us who feel that way grew up around road courses. Mine happened to be Road America.

Great track. Classic track. It’s just over 4 miles around. It features long (and fast) straights, sharp turns (left- and right-handers), a sweeping curve and elevation changes.

In European fashion, the corners and straights have names. Like the Carousel, Thunder Valley, the Speed Trap and the Hurry Downs. Classic.

I remember a couple years back when Scotsman Dario Franchitti moved from CART to the IndyCar series, we talked road racing and the subject of Road America came up. Best track in America, Franchitti said. One of the very best in all the world, he said.

Franchitti is not alone in that assessment. Ask a road racer which track is their favorite and RA will top most lists.

It’s a test for drivers, and because of its location – it runs through scenic glacier-carved valleys (moraines) and woods – it is a treat for its fans. As an added bonus, it features smoking, locally-run bratwurst stands at about every corner.

It’s different watching a race at a place like Road America, which is located about 60 miles north of Milwaukee in a small town called Elkhart Lake. You can sit in grandstands and watch as the racing comes to you, or you can go to the racing – moving from corner to corner on paths trampled through the woods.

After events at the track end for the day, fans head to the town of Elkhart Lake, which turns into a sort of a chaotic, ‘50s biker-movie-like scene. Back in the day, fans and drivers rubbed shoulders and bent arms together at the local pubs.

And smelled feet.

It was 1972. About a dozen college friends at the University of Wisconsin in Madison and I decided to throw in and rent the biggest RV we could find and head up for the Can Am race at Road America. We found somebody foolish enough to rent to us and off we went on the 100-mile trip through the heart of dairy and smoked-meats country.

With all the money spent on the RV and the beer which was stacked to the ceiling of that Winnebago, there was a need to trim at-track expenses.

So all on board were crammed into closets and storage spaces and the bathroom as we rolled up to the gate to the infield. Frank and I were folded up in a bed – foot to face, of course.

From the smelly darkness I could hear the ticket-taker ask the driver of the 28-foot behemoth RV through the door, “how many?”

“Um, just one.”

A couple minutes later in the parking lot, the RV disgorged its stowaways.

The clean, clear fresh air of the central Wisconsin woods never smelled so sweet.

– Jim Pedley can be reached at jpedley@racintoday.com

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Tuesday, December 22 2009
4 Comments

4 Comments »

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  • Jim Pedley says:

    Russ:
    It was Fireman’s Hill for me. Especially for the first lap. You would hear the sound get louder but could not see the cars as they were in the woods. Suddenly, it was like cannon fire as the emerged and then hit brakes for Turn Five. And then hard on gas up the hill and under the bridge. Man. I liked Turn Two, also. You could see the front wheels come off the track as they took hard rights.
    Lots of good options to watching places and that is the beauty of Road America.

  • RussT says:

    I saw my first race at this track, the 1989 cart race I was 10 at the time. We had great seats in corner 14 beside the 90 degree corner you could also see who going to the pits, the cars between corners 5 and 6. As an added bonus this is right where they parked all the Ferrari, Porches, and Lamborghini (this was the first time I saw most of these cars also). While they were lining up the indycars we troded up the hill and I was blown away on how small the indycars where they always looked so long on tv but they looked not much bigger then go-karts.

    While I still miss open wheel cars here and will miss the Milwaukee Mile. I am excited about this race. I’m trying to decide where I want to watch this race from. I narrowed it down to corner 14, Canada corner, or in hurry downs.

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