Elkhart Lake fights to save original street circuit

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Historic Elkhart Lake Circuit Threatened Road America Shareholders Vote to Support Preserving Original Race Course Elkhart Lake, Wisc., March 26, 2004--Shareholders attending Road America's 49th annual meeting yesterday, March 25,...

Historic Elkhart Lake Circuit Threatened
Road America Shareholders Vote to Support Preserving Original Race Course

Elkhart Lake, Wisc., March 26, 2004--Shareholders attending Road America's 49th annual meeting yesterday, March 25, voted unanimously to support activities directed at preserving and protecting the original configuration of the roads used as race circuits around the Village of Elkhart Lake in the early '50s. According to Sheboygan County highway plans, a segment of the original circuit is slated for road construction that would widen, flatten and realign the roads, destroying the character of the original course.

"The Sheboygan County Highway Commission's entire decision-making process on this project is flawed because they didn't have accurate or complete information. The consultants hired for the historic and economic aspects of the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) left out the Village of Elkhart Lake and left out Road America," said George Bruggenthies, Road America's president and general manager. "Because of the historic significance and the roads' characteristics we believe the original circuits qualify for both a State designation as a Rustic Road and belong on the National Historic Register.

"The consultant that provided the historical research found a farm from the 1800s, but not the fact that County Roads A and P were used in the original street races in the early '50s," he continued. "It was at best incomplete research.

"The Village of Elkhart Lake celebrated 50 years of racing in the year 2000 and the Chamber published a book showing the original circuit. The Chamber's 50th Anniversary committee put up racing flags all along the route so race fans and visitors could drive the route themselves, a long-time attraction and part of the vintage races each year.

"Road America draws some 500,000 to 750,000 race fans, teams and tourists during the season," Bruggenthies said. "At a minimum Road America has an annual direct economic impact of $50,000,000 to $75,000,000 on Sheboygan County.

"We think the consultants missed the boat entirely on both the historical and economic impact," he said. "Road America now is gearing up for its 50th Anniversary in 2005. I can't imagine that the County would want to negatively impact one of the major attractions that supports so many businesses and year after year generates so much income and awareness for the County and State."

The original street races were organized by members of the Chicago Region of SCCA and the Village of Elkhart Lake. The road courses were generally triangular. The 1950 circuit start-finish line was on County Road P and competitors went north to County Road J, then South into the Village of Elkhart Lake and West on what is now County JP, then called County Hwy. X, and reconnected with County Hwy. P, a distance of 3.3 miles.

The 1951 and 1952 courses were 5.3 miles, starting in the Village of Elkhart Lake and taking Lake Street South to County Road A, West on County A to County P, North to County Road J and South back into Elkhart Lake and the start-finish line.

The proposed construction on County Hwy. A would alter the part of the 1951 and 1952 circuit called Schoolhouse Straightaway west out of Elkhart Lake and Kimberly Korner. The turn was named for Jim Kimberly, one of the race founders and organizers. Kimberly, whose family was part of the Kimberly-Clark tissue company, was an avid and successful sports car racer.

Road America and an ad hoc group of local citizens, including Town of Rhine and Village of Elkhart Lake officials have retained an attorney and are investigating options that will halt construction on the historic County roads. Although the decision to re-grade the roads was based on designating the rural roads a "major feeder," traffic count records show that the number of cars on the roads has declined.

"We think there are probably other sections of other roads in the County that may need changing for safety or other valid reasons," said Bruggenthies. "We think it's important to preserve one of Sheboygan County's real historic treasures and that the race circuit should remain in its original state."

Road America will host the largest vintage race in the U.S. July 15-18, the Brian Redman International Challenge Presented by Jaguar, with some 400 cars competing on the historic race track, including Historic Grand Prix Formula One cars. Organized tours of the original course are planned for participants. The Road & Track concours d'elegance (car show) for race cars will fill the Village of Elkhart Lake on Friday evening and the Road & Track sports car concourse d'elegance will be the attraction Saturday evening. Jaguar will host a VIP invitation-only new car introduction for customers during the course of the weekend. Mecum Auction will hold its annual vintage and classic car auction at Road America on Saturday, beginning at 11:00 a.m.

State Department of Transportation officials said construction cannot begin until July and that the Sheboygan County Highway Commission must re-visit the historic aspects of the EIS.

Road America hosted its first race in 1955 and will celebrate its 50th anniversary in 2005.

-ra-

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Series AUTOMOTIVE , ROADRACING , SCCA