COVID-19 has essentially cancelled car culture this year. However, one major traditional event at Road America, the WeatherTech International Challenge with Brian Redman not only went on, but wowed thousands of spectators.
The famed car weekend in the small resort town of Elkhart Lake played it safe, while essentially thumbing its nose at the limits placed on the world, proving that car culture is alive and well, if not champing at the bit to get going again.
When you have 600-plus acres and a 4-mile circuit, it certainly allows for elbow room – and social distancing. The historic Road America grounds have all that. The cars and the fans came out in droves. The spectacular back drop of a mid-summer weekend in Southeastern Wisconsin made the flashes of color as the great cars from history rolled by a photographer’s dream scenario.
For the first time in many years, the event was without its namesake, Brian Redman, who was adhering to travel restrictions. Redman’s pal and fellow Brit race driver David Hobbs, a long-time local Wisconsin resident, took the reigns as a surrogate for the weekend. As always, he kept everyone in stitches.
The featured marque for the famed event was the 50th Anniversary of Shadow. While many cars from overseas could not make the trip during the current restrictions, many collectors from North America brought the cars and honored the late Don Nichols. The “Shadowman” was the mysterious character who constructed and competed at the top levels of motorsport including Formula 1, Can-Am and Formula 5000.
Of course, the weekend was not without a scary moment as Jim Pace, driving a Shadow DN4, had a blowover as his car crested the hump on the main straightaway. Always a cool customer and showing his vast experience, as the car flipped and skidded upside-down along the straight for more than 150 yards, the 24 Hours of Daytona winner managed to switch off the car’s power to avoid potential spillage from the fuel pump and cutting the motor. Pace walked away from the scary crash and commented “I LOVE Road America.”
Beyond that moment, the weekend was full of exciting wheel to wheel competition – in a sport that pays homage to its racing past – where the cars are the stars. Miraculously the deluge of rain, that has been common for this particular race weekend managed to hold off until the final race on Sunday, allowing for great racing accompanied by delicious Sheboygan bratwurst and butter-dipped corn, a staple of the 65-year-old track.
The town of Elkhart Lake did not host the traditional Concours de’ Elegance as it has since 1983, but was still open for business as revelers made their way to Siebken’s famed racing bar with live bands and much court holding. The concours, on both Friday for race cars and Saturday for sports cars each night were held on the long main straightaway of the track.
Needless to say, it’s clear that car culture hasn’t lost even a little bit of enthusiasm – and had a much-needed outing in otherwise strange times in the world.