CIRCUITS: ROAD AMERICA

Name: Road America

The area around Elkhart Lake, near Sheboygan to the north of Milwaukee in Wisconsin, was a dairy farming community with a large German population when the railroads arrived and the area became a popular summer resort for the well-to-do from Milwaukee and Chicago. The spring-fed lake was claimed to have healing properties and the village soon had seven lakeside resorts. In the 1920s these became favorite stopping off spots for the Chicago mobsters, notably John Dillinger.

Illegal drinking and gambling flourished. After World War II things settled down and in 1950 the Elkhart Lake Businessmans' Association decided to organize a series of road races. These attracted 100 entries, mainly from Chicago. An accident at Watkins Glen in 1953 led to many states banning road racing. Wisconsin was one of them. The Chicago branch of the Sports Car Club of America was keen to have a racing facility and so financed the construction of a permanent racing close to Elkhart Lake. The 4-mile track was constructed in time for the first races in the autumn of 1955. The circuit was a huge success and despite the lack of a big city nearby, Road America attracted big crowds to the major events throughout the 1950s and 1960s and was hugely popular among club racers. It was a major CanAm and Formula 5000 track in the 1960s and 1970s with TransAm also becoming a regular event. In the late 1970s IMSA sportscars also arrived and in 1982 the CART Championship made its first visit with a remarkable rain-disrupted race being won by Hector Rebaque after Al Unser's Longhorn ran out of fuel a couple of miles from the finish.

The weather in Wisconsin had always been something of a question mark and in 1985 a wet/dry race resulted in victory for Jacques Villeneuve (Gilles's brother), though Al Unser Jr. damaged his legs in a hefty accident, a performance repeated the following year (in the rain again) when his accident ended the race after a handful of laps. The second time he did not hurt himself. The race was postponed until October but it rained again and Emerson Fittipaldi won, chased across the line by Michael Andretti - just 0.3sec behind.

Reckoned to be the best road course in the United States, Road America is a track where the driver can make the difference and this perhaps explains why Mario Andretti, Emerson Fittipaldi, Michael Andretti and Jacques Villeneuve were all serial winners at the circuit.

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