Road racing recalls roots at WeatherTech International Challenge

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The racecar parade is a fan favorite of the WeatherTech International Challenge. | William Hall photo
Race cars on parade, though through downtown Elkahrt Lake | William Hall photo

When American troops returned home from the World War II European campaign, they brought with them a passion for the sportscar competitions staged on that continent’s winding public roads. Similar events were subsequently organized in small towns — such as Watkins Glen, New York, and Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin — giving the sport a foothold in this country that led to the birth of designated racing circuits, such as Road America.

Safety concerns following a tragic bystander death at the Watkins Glen races ended the use of public roads in the 1950s and spurred the development of purpose-built racecourses. Today, vintage events in these early race towns offer special allure to fans looking for a historically immersive experience.

Road America’s WeatherTech International Challenge with Brian Redman is one of North America’s largest vintage races, fielding an impressive array of more than 400 historic competition machines at the 4-mile racecourse in Elkhart Lake.

A favorite feature of the event for both fans and drivers is the Friday night Race Car Parade. A police escort gives temporary exemption to race cars — which aren’t street legal — as they thunder through the village and park on the same streets that once hosted these early road races.

A highlight was the attendance of three UOP Shadow team cars. The menacing mid-70s Can-Am racers were among the fastest cars of that era in the hands of drivers Jackie Oliver and George Follmer.

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A trio of black UOP Shadows made for an impressive sight. | Doug Schellinger photo
A trio of black UOP Shadows made for an impressive sight. | Doug Schellinger photo

Saturday night, a street car show took over the same road in front of the lakeside Siebken’s Resort.

The parade allowed for close-up viewing of some of the world’s most famous racecars and interaction with drivers and car owners, while the weekend-long race schedule afforded further opportunity to see these machines driven with purpose at the wooded, rolling facility nicknamed “America’s National Park of Speed.”

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William Hall is a writer, classic car broker and collector based in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin. He has spent the whole of his professional career in the automotive industry, starting as an auto-parts delivery driver at the age of 16 to working for some of the nation's premier restoration shops. He is a concours judge and a consultant to LeMay-America's Car Museum in Tacoma, Washington.

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