ELKHART LAKE, Wis. – In 2010, shortly after finishing second in the then NASCAR Nationwide Series (now Xfinity Series) race at Road America, Canadian road-racing ace Ron Fellows held a microphone and said two words: “Sprint Cup.”
He was answering a question asking whether NASCAR’s top-tier series – now known as the NASCAR Cup Series – should race at Road America.
Fellows’ sentiments have been repeated several times since then by other NASCAR drivers who’ve competed at the track. Fans have been adamant about it too.
On Wednesday, Road America and NASCAR announced the top stock car racing series in the country will come to the 4.048-mile, 14-turn road course that Mario Andretti once called “the most complete track in North America” in 2021.
The race will be July 4.
Almost immediately, social media went a buzz for the local race fans about the news of the Cup Series coming to Road America next summer.
Devin Smrekar – a NASCAR fan from Racine, about 30 miles south of Milwaukee – has been to every NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Road America, which started in 2010.
Smrekar said he had mixed emotions, but is excited NASCAR is staying close to home.
“On one hand I’m thrilled that the premier racing series in the United States is finally coming to what I think is the premier road course in the United States,” he noted. “On the other hand, I’ve also been to every race at Chicagoland Speedway since 2010 and I’m very sad to see it go. I’m glad a Cup event is staying in the area.”
NASCAR returned to Road America after a 54-year hiatus in 2010.
In 1956, Tim Flock won the Grand National Division (today’s Cup Series) race at Road America, which opened in 1955. There were 26 drivers in that race, including future NASCAR Hall of Famers Lee Petty, Junior Johnson, Buck Baker and Fireball Roberts.
In NASCAR’s return with the Xfinity Series in 2010, Carl Edwards took the checkered flag with Fellows finishing second and Brendan Gaughan finishing third.
Since then, Road America has hosted some of the most exciting and unpredictable stock car road races in memory.
There has yet to be a repeat winner in the 11 runnings at Road America. Of those 11 races, four needed overtime to determine a winner. In addition, five of the winners were first-time winners – Nelson Piquet Jr. (2012), AJ Allmendinger (2013), Gaughan (2014), Michael McDowell (2016) and Jeremy Clements (2017).
Austin Cindric won this year’s race in August. The other former winners are Reed Sorenson (2011), Paul Menard (2015), Justin Allgaier (2018) and Christopher Bell (2019).
“Road America and Wisconsin race fans have deserved a NASCAR Cup Series race for several years, so this is super exciting to me,” said Josh Bilicki, who competes part-time across NASCAR’s top-three series and is a Wisconsin native. “Wisconsin has a large amount of asphalt short track fans, dirt fans, and road racing fans, so this is really a win-win for everyone involved I feel.”
Over the years, Road America has had a surge in attracting the world’s top racing series. In 2016, the NTT IndyCar Series returned to the track after a nine-year absence.
The Road America schedule now showcases motorcycle racing, the Stadium Super Trucks, sports cars such as IMSA and SCCA, and vintage cars.
Road America opened five years after the village of Elkhart Lake, about an hour north of Milwaukee, started hosting races on the streets in and around the village.
In 1951, the SCCA sanctioned the race in Elkhart Lake and dubbed it a national points race, calling it the International Elkhart Lake Road Race. The event drew entries from all across the U.S.
To handle the demand, the course was extended from 3.5 miles to 6.5 miles, winding through parts of the village’s downtown.
In 1952, Frank Fazzari, a seven-year-old spectator, was killed when a car got too close to the spectators lining the roads in Watkins Glen, N.Y., and clipped several of them. An additional 12 fans were injured in the incident.
Quickly, lawmakers in New York, Wisconsin and throughout the U.S. banned road racing through legislation.
Racing enthusiasts decided to look for an alternative: permanent and enclosed race tracks.
In 1955, Road America, envisioned by Clif Tufte, was opened on a sprawling 14-turn, four-mile course on more than 600 acres of property. It opened with Phil Hill winning the inaugural race.
Drivers to win at Road America in the 60-plus years since include Mario Andretti, Michael Andretti, Jacques Villeneuve, Emerson Fittipaldi, Danny Sullivan, Scott Pruett and Helio Castroneves.
“The track itself is one of the most elite tracks in the world, and I can tell you that almost every single driver in the Cup Series has been pushing for this since the first Xfinity Series race over 10 years ago,” Bilicki said.
Over the last few years, a greater push has been by NASCAR for road course, as evidenced by racing on the road courses at Daytona, Indianapolis and Charlotte.
But bringing the organization’s top series to one of the most popular tracks in the world will take stock car racing on a road course to a new level.
“It’s NASCAR’s most unpredictable road course,” Smrekar said. “A track that big and challenging can lead to many different events unfolding.”