Trackside at Road America: The WeatherTech International Challenge

The Mecca for those with gasoline in their blood, who crave loud and fast cars, is Road America. Four miles of long straights, sharp corners, elongated curves surrounded by Wisconsin’s best foliage. It’s a road course rich in history with checkered flags flapping since 1955. From vintage motorcycles, Le Mans type LMPs, striped-down muscle cars, amateur SCCA warriors, and classic European exotics, it’s a 14-turn maze for all-things with an engine and wheels.
I can walk right outside of my apartment door in Milwaukee’s north shore area, hop on the highway, and then be walking through the pits in just under an hour. It’s an opportunity I’m tremendously grateful for, having a world-class track right in my backyard. On a recent Saturday morning, I headed north to Elkhart Lake to catch a day of  vintage cars buzzing around for the WeatherTech International Challenge.

For an entire weekend, it’s one of the biggest gatherings of vintage racers in the country. Friday and Saturday (the day I arrived) are set aside for qualifying and practice; a chance for air-cooled Porsches and classic Trans-Am or Can-Am competitors to crack their knuckles around the vicious Canada Corner or practice that precise downshift coming into the Moraine Sweep. When the sun rises on the following Sunday morning, the engines roar to life and the races begin.

The joy of Road America is the freedom to wander around the grounds and see the race from nearly every single part of the track. I’ll spend an hour around the brink of The Carousel, grab lunch and watch cars thunder up the main straight into Turn 1, then catch the late afternoon heat along the Hurry Downs. You can get very close to the action and it’s wonderful. I remember the very first time I ever went to Road America nine years ago, the noise of some 1960s Corvettes roaring out of Turn 3, had my ears and head vibrating that night as I attempted to fall asleep. The sights, the sounds, the smells; all heavenly.
Anywhere at Road America, you’re bound to see some kind of special set of wheels that excites you. Maybe there’s a Porsche 918 Spyder parked atop a hill, or a man in lawn chair perched alongside his red Alfa Romeo GTV, or a 1971 Challenger parked next to a new Viper. It’s a never-ending car show. You can even campout and pitch a tent, or rent a tiny house overnight and sleep right next to the track. How wonderful is that? Again, the Mecca for gearheads.

Typical of Wisconsin, weather wasn’t the most favorable for flat-out qualifying. When the sky wasn’t glooming in gray doom, it rained, turning the track into a giant slip-n’-slide. Dull lighting made for some interesting photos that I was able to snap from the top of a bridge straddling the Moraine Sweeps. Yellow Ferrari 360s skirting through the rain, wipers dancing as it trails ahead of a red, soaked Cobra.

When the rain finally let up, I strolled through the pits which at Road America, are completely wide-open for exploration. Paraded in front of semis, a row of iconic American muscle, cast in classic Penske-Hilton Racing, Sunoco, and Duracell liveries. A row of 911s of all colors, a Land Rover Series IIA (or III) guarding nearby. The pits themselves are almost more exciting than what competes around the track at times.
Beyond the coral of classic Porsches, Bimmers, and Detroit big-blocks, I spotted various Lolas hiding from dooming clouds above, a rad- era Nissan 300ZX, and the jaw-dropping No. 551 Level 5 Motorsports Siemens/Alpina Watches HPD ARX-03b Le Mans racer(say that again, take a drink from your beer, repeat). Seeing any kind of LMP racer up-close and personal, is a treat.

Next I gravitated towards The Carousel, my favorite spot at Road America to watch the racing action. A big, long curve that cars hug the apex as tightly as possible around. You’re at an elevated vantage point here, gazing down onto the track. More rain delays endured until a mumble of voices over the loud speakers and finally a distant grumbling could be heard as I looked over my left shoulder to see the V12-powered TWR Jaguar XJS beaming in that iconic dark green and white livery, power its way into The Carousel. A herd of red, white, and blue Porsches and BMWs followed, their headlamps reflecting off the wet pavement.

To wrap up the day as more rain continued to fall and the gray skies never faded to blue, I stationed up at the infamous Canada Corner to watch the last race of Saturday’s qualifying. Not an officially sanctioned qualifying round, but more of a fun run, almost 30 classics took to the track, following a new Chevy Corvette pace car. Lap after lap sounded like someone stomped on a a hive of angry bees, as Alfa Romeos sped side-by-side against Austin-Healey Sprites and the like.

Soaked to the gills? Yes. Filled with fine motorsports lust? Absolutely. Hour after hour of shoddy weather can’t and won’t turn you away from the glory that comes with a visit to Road America. Please, if you’ve got gasoline running through you like I do, put this almighty track on your bucket list. The following slideshow serves as weight for that decision floating aloft in your petrol-filled mind.
For more information on upcoming races at America’s national park of speed, click here.
Want to see more sights and sounds from this race? Hop on over to the Hooniverse Instagram.
All images copyright Robby DeGraff/Hooniverse 2018.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

The maximum upload file size: 64 MB. You can upload: image, audio, video. Links to YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and other services inserted in the comment text will be automatically embedded. Drop files here

6 responses to “Trackside at Road America: The WeatherTech International Challenge”

  1. outback_ute Avatar

    Great variety there, eg the Daimler SP250! Are those Corvette wheels on the Jag XJS? We had TWR Jags with that livery racing in Group A touring cars, mostly Bathurst and one of them at least is still ‘around’.

    1. P161911 Avatar

      Look to be the same “saw blade” 17″ wheels as were on my 1994 Corvette.

      1. outback_ute Avatar

        Which is wierd, because Jaguars have the same stud pattern as Fords.
        On a (vaguely) related note, I saw a Jag XJS drive past me yesterday afternoon with a very healthy V8 throbbing away under the bonnet.

  2. Vairship Avatar

    The Corvette looks HUGE compared to what’s following it. And I’ll never get used to Corvettes having Camaro taillights nowadays.

    1. mseoul Avatar

      Me too. This is where they came from. The telecom industry guy who was installed as GM CEO back in the day.

  3. SlowJoeCrow Avatar

    The Land Rover is a Series III, externally identifiable from a later Series IIa by the heater intake in the fender and the plastic grille. Also this one is a US spec model, because of the large amber turn signals and side reflectors.