Video: Ride along at pastoral Road America in 1958

  Lede_2 Over the last couple years, I’ve developed an obvious affinity for the club racing of yore, the grassroots Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) days of the 1950s when ingenuity ruled the day and when the United States was just figuring out this whole road racing beast. Purpose-built circuits started showing up early in the decade and by the last 1950s, the SCCA were regular visitors to places like Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin. Road America earned its nickname “The National Park of Speed” from its locale in the glacier-cut contours of the Kettle Moraine region and from the circuit nestled comfortably among the trees. Today, the sights are impressive even with concrete barriers separating the racecars, but in its early days, a small grass runoff was all that separated the track from the wilderness. It would be hard to imagine, but an incredible film document remains to show exactly how the circuit looked more than 50 years ago. Tom_Countryman Minnesotan Tom Countrymanno, not the Assistant Secretary of Stateraced Porsches in SCCA for at least two decades. Like so many other GIs returning from World War 2 in Europe, Countryman bought an MG. Like a much smaller number of GIs, he sold the Cord Phaeton that he’d also bought after the war to finance the purchase of a 1.3-liter Porsche 356, later driving a series of drool-worthy Porsche thoroughbreds. He was never a national champion or really even very successful in SCCA races, but Countryman’s real accomplishment, whether he ever knew it or not, was documenting the whole of Road America in its early years as no one else did. He was a regular in Elkhart Lake, having raced in the track’s first-ever event in 1955. Not long after he decided to film the 1958 June Sprints at Road America from inside his Porsche using a homebuilt 16mm rig in his 356. Capture_2 The result is absolutely stunning: A document of vintage sportscars on a beautiful, untamed vintage circuit. While the elevation changes are apparent in person and in some modern footage, Countryman’s filmdespite the poor film quality and the 240p resolution of the YouTube videoabsolutely captures the essence not only of one of America’s most storied race circuits but also of his entire era of racing. He combined a few laps with the in-car rig that he got in practice (where he was black flagged and told that the camera rig could only be used in practice lest it fall off and destroy some chap in an open-top Lotus during a race when it mattered) with some fantastic B-roll and technical shots, a not-so-subtle Onan Generators product placement, some overdubbed engine noise, and stereotypical newsreel-style narration to create a 28-minute documentary that is well worth your time. Here it is: [youtube][/youtube] Contrast that with modern Road America footage shot from a vintage Formula Vee: [youtube][/youtube] Tom Countryman would go on to create his own film production company that produced mostly advertisements and industrial films, although his IMDB credits list him as a camera or crane operator on a number of well-known films. Sadly, this pioneer of onboard footage died in 2012. It’s worth noting that he produced several racing films, though, and that he actually first tested his in-car rig in 1954 at an ice race, which became the aptly named short film “Ice Race.” As a bonus, here’s that first film: [youtube][/youtube] You can read more about Tom Countryman in Carl Goodwin’s book They Started in MGs: Profiles of Sports Car Racers of the 1950s.   [Source/Photos: Porsche 356 Registry on YouTube; photo of Tom Countryman from Countryman Collection via Nord Stern’s 50th Anniversary Blog.]

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