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Hood: Some Ramblings From Road America

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, June 19 2010

Matt DiBenedetto of Joe Gibbs Racing performs for the fans at Road America. (Photo courtesy of NASCAR)

By Jeff Hood | Senior Writer

Elkhart Lake, Wis. – If you’ve ever had an opportunity to meet me, you likely know my passions are (in no particular order) racing, racing and…racing.

So when duty called at 5:30 a.m. today, hitting the snooze button on the alarm clock following four hours of sleep at my home near Athens, Ga. was not an option.

Following a quick shower, I was off to the “world’s busiest airport” in Atlanta to catch a 95-minute flight to Milwaukee on my first trip to the 4-mile road course known as Road America.

I just knew it was going to be a grand day after arriving at my gate and hearing those magical words: “You’ve been upgraded to first class free of charge!”

After landing at the General Mitchell Airport and picking up my rental car, the rich history of the Milwaukee Mile raced through my mind as I drove through downtown Milwaukee and approached Interstate 43.

Financial issues cost the one-mile flat oval in West Allis its annual NASCAR Nationwide Series date, which was relocated this year to the mammoth road course located 60 miles to the north.

I knew I was getting close to Road America after spotting several “Welcome NASCAR” greetings on marquees in front of local businesses located on Hwy. 57 on the outskirts of Plymouth.

There were also numerous “BRAT FRY TODAY” signs posted on the roadside.

I must admit that the first thought in my head was Tony Stewart had ditched Sprint Cup practice at Sonoma, Calif. this morning to be roasted by the good folks in Elkhart Lake.

But wait, we’re in Wisconsin. Brat must be short for bratwurst.

Sorry about that Smoke.

The four-lane highway soon dwindled to a lonely two-lane road. But being a race track connoisseur, I have first-hand evidence that there’s one-way-in and one-way-out of many great motorsports facilities in this country.

Upon entering the property, I was immediately amazed at the endless sight of trees and fans.

The valley of trees makes Road America one of the most scenic race tracks in the country. It also hinder the sightlines.

But that was no problem for the 100,000 spectators who began filing into Road America early in the day to welcome NASCAR’s junior circuit to central Wisconsin.

Many of them brought along chairs and lined them up in the shade throughout the course. It was eerily reminiscent of how folks are situated underneath the pine trees in Augusta, Ga. during The Masters golf tournament each April.

Others fans went the sunscreen route and chose to soak up the brilliant sunshine.

For most in attendance, the 50-lap, Bucyrus 200 was a day-long festival.

Three hours prior to the start of the race, kids lined up in a roped-off area of the infield for their chance to climb aboard several inflatable rides.

Old and young alike navigated the property on bicycles.

Others hiked on the endless trails through the woods in the infield.

And the bargain-minded fans had an opportunity to pick up some bargains at the flea market located inside the track near the frontstretch.

Where else but Road America can you watch a race while finding deals on items such as a rain gauge, trailer hitch, tow bar, extension cord, fruit picker, rope and an assortment of nuts and bolts?

I considered picking up a couple of tires for my lawnmower, but decided against it since they likely wouldn’t clear security in my carry-on luggage tonight at the Milwaukee airport.

Legendary car owner Roger Penske was among the interested onlookers in the mandatory drivers/crew chief meeting at 12:30 p.m.

Everyone listened intently as Nationwide Series director Joe Balash explained the intricacies associated with road course racing, such as two pace cars being stationed on both ends of the track, just 12 scoring loops spread throughout the 4-mile layout and the one-to-go signal being displayed on the backside of the course.

In the garage, teams huddled with their spotters to go over the day’s game plan.

At a typical NASCAR oval, a driver relies on a single spotter. But many teams wound up utilizing up to six spotters at Road America to keep their driver aware of any danger on the track.

Less than an hour before the green flag waved, a group photo of the drivers was taken at the start-finish line to commemorate the Nationwide Series’ inaugural visit to Road America.

In cue as the flashbulbs began to pop, former CBS announcer David Hobbs’ voice boomed over the tracks public address system welcoming fans to today’s event.

Carl Edwards started on the pole after posting a fast lap of just over 2 minutes, 14 seconds.

An outstanding field of Cup drivers, Nationwide Series regulars, road course ringers and international competitors combined to make this the largest single day sporting event in Wisconsin.

Have at it, boys!

– Jeff Hood can be reached at jhood@racintoday.com

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, June 19 2010