Road America is one of my favorite places on the planet. It is a state-of-the-art 4 mile road racing circuit set in the beauty of Wisconsin's Kettle Moraine. My family has a history of visiting this track since the early 1960s when my Dad and his brother and friends would attend. He started to take me there as a little child in the late 1960s and early 1970s. I don't remember if we were there when Mark Donahue set the track record in 1973, but I know we were when Mario Andretti broke it in the early 1980s. It was one of the first places my buddies and I road-tripped to without parental supervision in high school, and now I take my kids there. Sometimes my Dad joins us too!
I recently scanned some old photographs from the 1980s, and I wanted to combine them with some recent ones. I think they highlight the huge changes the track has gone through over the past 20 years, but also show the consistency in the entertainment experience at RA. Even with all the development, there are still spots where you can be walking through a trail in the woods and stumble across a racetrack (that's what all of it was in the 60s!)
Turn 5 on the Course
This is turn 5 as viewed from the outside of the turn (which is really the inside of the track, you'll have to look at the course map to understand.) This is from the National Sports Car Races in June of 1965. There is quite a crowd watching the cars make the tight left and roar up the hill.
In this tighter view from 1983 we see a Corvette negotiating the same turn. Notice the gravel path up to the concession stand and the old cinder block restroom at the bottom of the hill. I'm standing behind a waist level chain link fence. That and the guardrail in the foreground is all that is between the spectators and the cars.
Another view from 2006 shows a spec Miata where the Corvette from 1983 had been while a couple more Miatas head up the hill. Jake is leaning on the old chain link fence, but you can see the concrete barriers and 10 foot high chain link that keep the cars and debris away from the crowd. The old gravel path up to the concession stand has been paved for vehicular traffic. They also built a nice set of stairs up the hill for pedestrians. The Skip Barber Racing School buildings sit at the bottom of the hill.
Turn 5 Viewing Area
One of the best spots to watch a race is the outside of turn 5 (which again is inside the track.) They've got nice grandstands there now, but in 1983 it was just a grassy hill with some benches behind it which was a great place to sit in the sun and soak up the race. It's within easy walking distance of the paddock to check out the cars behind the scenes, and even closer to the concession stand with awesome grilled corn on the cob. In this photo from 1983, Eliot Elfner and two of his sons enjoy the day at Road America (the third son is taking the photo.)
In this photo from 2006, Eliot and two of his sons sit on the same hill and watch the race.
Turn 5 from the Hill
From the June 1965 event, this is the viewing area looking back at Turn 5 from the hill. Look at the brush the folks are looking over and compare it to the next photo.
In 2008 the same hill is cleared and grass covered. My kids race one of the cars up the hill.
This page was last updated 7/21/2008.
Eric Elfner, the original photographer, retains the copyright to all photos on this site.