ELKHART LAKE, Wis. — There’s nothing in the world of vintage sports car racing more charming than Road America’s midsummer event that took place on July 19-21. Track time is the central focus, of course, but what really makes the weekend special happens in downtown Elkhart Lake on Friday and Saturday nights.
By TOM STRONGMAN
In 1950, sports cars raced on the roads around and through this tiny lakeside village. Lake Street was part of the original course, and the turn in front of Siebken’s Resort is known as the Hard Left.
By 1952, racing on public roads around Elkhart Lake stopped. In 1955 a track called Road America was built on 525 acres of farmland outside of town, and it quickly became one of the nation’s most challenging and scenic tracks. The pavement that climbs up and down the hills of the Kettle Moraine region is more than four miles around and has 14 turns.
Vintage racing is a great equalizer. The cars are the stars. High-dollar multicar transporters park next to single-car trailers. Touring the paddock is like walking through a living history museum. Refurbished race cars, driven mostly by amateur drivers, hit the track in full flight. Exercising the cars at high speed is more important than who wins or loses, although competition is still present.
On Friday night, race cars drove in from the track, rumbled down Lake Street and parked in front of Siebken’s Resort, one of the most legendary bars in auto racing.
Watching the race cars drive into town is a celebration like no other, in large measure because it is an homage to the days when cars actually raced through town. Gathered under the leafy shade of early evening, the vintage racers on Friday, and the highly polished Concours d’Elegance cars on Saturday, are regarded as much like art objects as aging racers. Some wore the stone chips and bug splats that come from being driven at high speed on the track, while others glistened as new. All were a window to another time, when racing was gentlemanly and much less commercial.
Because most of the cars are at least 40 years old, getting up close is like shaking hands with an old friend at a class reunion. It feels like a time machine that has been turned back 50 years to a time when racing was a gentleman’s sport.
The Road America track has several events each year but three are races for vintage cars. The July event, called the The Hawk with Brian Redman, is sponsored by Hawk Performance Products. Redman is a retired professional racer who is active in historic racing. The next vintage event is Sept. 6-8.