The loss of the Milwaukee Mile as a track in the NASCAR Nationwide Series is the gain of Road America, a road course in Wisconsin that will be substituted for the Mile on the 2010 schedule. NASCAR officials announced this week that Road America will host the Nationwide race on Jun. 19, 2010.
"We're excited to be staying in Wisconsin and racing in front of the passionate fans there at an historic venue that's new to our Nationwide Series," NASCAR Vice President of Racing Operations Steve O'Donnell said.
While NASCAR is passionate about this addition, many fans in the NASCAR Nationwide nation had never heard of this particular track. What exactly is Road America and what makes it unique?
Road America is indeed an historic track, rich in racing tradition from a variety of series. "In 2010, we will celebrate our 55th season of operation," President and General Manager of Road America George Bruggenthies said.
The course originated in the early 1950s, when drivers raced the streets of Elkhart Lake. What they found there was an audience for the sport and also determined that racing in the streets was not the safest venue, so they built the permanent race facility called Road America.
Road America is also a driver's favorite when it comes to racing venues. According to Bruggenthies, drivers not only enjoy the speed of the track, but also the 171 feet of elevation change, as well as the 14 turns.
One of NASCAR's drivers, Paul Menard, agrees with Bruggenthies about Road America. "It's really a great track," Menard said. "It has every kind of corner you can imagine."
"Braking will be the hardest part," Menard continued. "Strategy will play a big part in the race. I'm really excited about the Nationwide Series running there."
Another NASCAR road race favorite, Boris Said, concurred. "I'd give anything to race there," Said advised. Although he has raced and won at the course in the Trans-Am Series, he will be unable to participate in the 2010 Nationwide event as he is committed to the Cup race in Sonoma that weekend.
Road America has hosted all of the major disciplines of racing, including IndyCar, Champ Car, CART, and American Le Mans to name a few. The track does have a bit of a NASCAR history, with the premiere series visiting just once in 1956.
Tim Flock won in what is now known as the Sprint Cup Series at Road America. It was just the track's second full year in operation.
For the upcoming race weekend, Bruggenthies announced that the Nationwide Series, running on Saturday, will be coupled with an SCCA Pro Racing Trans-Am event that is scheduled to take the track on Sunday.
"This is a fantastic opportunity for the Trans-Am Series," SCCA Pro Racing President and CEO Robert Wildberger said. "NASCAR puts on a spectacular show and brings with it a strong and dedicated fanbase. The thunderous racing that is Trans-Am will fit in well with the Nationwide Series."
In addition to the road course, Road America also sports a smaller indoor track, the Briggs and Stratton Motorplex. This venue hosts various motorcycle racing events, as well as karting.
Road America is also a fan favorite for a variety of reasons. "Set on 640 acres in Sheboygan County, Wisconsin, fans love the rolling hills and woods that surround the track," Bruggenthies said. In addition to the racing, fans can enjoy the golf in the area, rated No. 3 in the United States and No. 8 in the world.
Fans will also appreciate the Germanic food, including the bratwurst, with the Johnsonville plant just down the road from the track. As Bruggenthies said, "I may not be able to see the plant, but I can smell it every day."
Another unique aspect of Road America is the fan accessibility. Contrary to oval tracks where fans have assigned seats in the grandstands, Road America encourages the fans to move around the track, experiencing the various viewing venues along the course.
Bruggenthies is most excited about Road America hosting the Nationwide Series as it will bring a new demographic to the track. "While we have had five generations of fans coming to our track, we are excited to have the NASCAR fan enjoy the unique Road America experience," Bruggenthies said.
Bruggenthies also was not beyond putting in a plug for Danica Patrick to make this one of her Nationwide racing venues. "You know, Danica's home town is not that far from here," Bruggenthies said. "I would think she would want to consider that."
"The IRL is racing in Iowa and we have a great regional airport. With a private jet or helicopter, I think that's a doable thing," Bruggenthies said with a smile in his voice.
Bruggenthies admitted that it was bittersweet for Road America to benefit from the Milwaukee Mile's demise. But he was pleased to be able to keep the racing in Wisconsin, especially in these tough economic times.
Road America understands that this relationship with NASCAR is just for this year. "While all Nationwide contracts are for one year only," Bruggenthies said, "I assume that if we do a good job, and the fans like it, they're not going to want to move. It's an assumption, but that's certainly our hope."
When asked about the criticism that this will be the third road course on the schedule, in addition to Watkins Glen and Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal in 2010, Bruggenthies had a simple response. "I think there's too many ovals on the schedule," he said with a chuckle.
"There are more passing opportunities on a road course," Bruggenthies added. "There is more of a variety of skill levels as well."
Another unique aspect of Road America is that the cars, just like in the Montreal Nationwide race this year, will be able to run in the rain. "NASCAR has confirmed that they are prepared to run in wet conditions," Bruggenthies said.
But what really makes Road America unique according to Bruggenthies is the speed. "Some people call it the 'National Park of Speed," Bruggenthies added proudly.
"There are places on this track, like the braking area coming into (turn) 5, where the fans can feel the speed," Bruggenthies said. "People will have the hair on the back of their head stand up."
"They're going to have goose bumps," Bruggenthies said passionately. "I guarantee it."
"You're going to have goose bumps with every ticket."
Bruggenthies is hoping to attract 50,000 to 60,000 fans in their first Nationwide experience at Road America. Tickets will go on sale the first of February for the Road America race weekend.
For more information on Road America, visit their website at www.roadamerica.com.
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