It’s astounding that many people have attended racing events for years at Wisconsin’s famous Road America without ever setting foot inside the actual village, Elkhart Lake. While the track remains the focal point, the surrounding area’s unique celebration of motorsports culture can best be experienced in the quaint Victorian-era town and rural areas.
With the influx of GIs returning home from post-WWII Europe, the resort town in southeastern Wisconsin’s hilly Kettle Moraine region embraced sports-car racing as a way to stimulate tourism. The village of Elkhart Lake proactively abandoned racing on its public roads following a tragic racing accident involving spectators at Watkins Glen, New York. A few years later, in 1955, it opened the four-mile marvel known as Road America.
With its location only two miles north of the racetrack, the village remains the spiritual and historic home of road racing in the Midwest.
Each July, the Weathertech International Challenge with Brian Redman brings in more than 400 of the top vintage racers from around the country to salute that early road-racing history with a police-escorted parade of race cars from the track to the village, retracing some of the road-course route from the early 1950s.
The parade is the centerpiece in what has become a week-long celebration of parties, shows and events that hosts guests from all over the world, yet remarkably maintains an intimate and authentic small-town America feel.
After the parade, the race cars are parked outside of Siebken’s Resort until dusk, where crowds can get up close to the cars and their drivers. Siebken’s “Stop Inn Tavern” is completing its 101st year under the same family ownership, and it is considered one of the touchstone watering holes on the racing circuit.
The following night, the same street hosts a judged concours for street cars, typically bringing out some of the most interesting vehicles in the region.
As fans and racers flow into town after a day at the track, the streets become a moving car show. Beer gardens, lawn chairs and porches become front-row seats to the event. Rented houses host their own impromptu car shows in driveways and garages, a tradition that dates back to the village’s early road-racing days.
This weekend’s event, originally known as the “Chicago Historics,” was founded by restaurateur and Ferrari aficionado Joe Marchettti. After Marchetti’s passing, world-famous racer and raconteur Brian Redman lent his name to the gathering and continues as event chairman. Redman is an accessible ambassador who can be found chatting with enthusiasts at the track and at many of the driveway parties that take place throughout the weekend.
I witnessed an interesting encounter as a dressed-down, middle-age man in summer shorts and backpack stopped by to examine a 1959 Lancia Appia in a driveway. The man spent about an hour enthusiastically engaging the owner of the little Italian car about interesting details and features of the pillarless sedan, exclaiming “This is the highlight of my weekend!”
Upon leaving, he handed the Lancia owner a business card revealing that he was Jim Farley, newly promoted president of global markets for Ford Motor Company. An encounter that seemingly could only occur in Elkhart Lake.
This year, the village had two new additions to local car culture with the opening of ThrottleStop Car & Cycle Concierge, and the Motorsports Villas community of car condos.
ThrottleStop is housed in a contemporary-styled building that wonderfully displays an exotic-car inventory and entertainment area. An adjacent room displays a vintage motorcycle collection, and customer storage features classic cars stacked three high, kept ready for use. Light mechanical and detailing services are available in-house for this country-club style facility.
The 32-unit Motorsports Villa development sold out shortly after completion, and tenants are just now starting to take occupancy. The units offer loft-style living on top of man-cave garage space. When fully occupied, it will be home to approximately 100 spectacular sports and classic cars, further embellishing one of the most unique little towns in all of vintage motorsports.
Photos by William Hall