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The Road America Experience

The Drive

[Russell visits Road America for the first time. All weekend he will relay his experiences of this venerable track in the Wisconsin countryside.]

Elkhart Lake, Wisc., August 10 There is something about going to a road racing track that cannot be matched by a street circuit. I'm talking about the actual trip to the track itself.

Going to a street circuit is like going to any other downtown event or landmark. But traveling to a road course seems to heighten your senses. It's like smelling a fresh pie and instantly getting transported back to your grandmother's kitchen. Or looking at a pond and finding yourself fishing with your dad. Or hearing the shouts of kids from the schoolyard and suddenly playing sandlot baseball with your childhood pals.

When driving to a street race, you are consumed with traffic lights, commotion, noise, and finding a parking spot that is close but not too close that the prices send you into shock. It is not a pleasant time. However, driving to a road course nestled away from civilization is a more tranquil experience. It's an opportunity to enjoy the moment, allowing your senses to take it all in. Then, when you repeat the experience, you get that sense of excitement, like the night before Christmas, when familiar landmarks start to appear and trigger those pleasant memories.

Each track has its unique approach depending on the direction and route you take. The twisting, winding New England roads, almost more interesting and harrowing than the track itself, that lead to Lime Rock Park. The sand dunes lining the side roads away from Route 27 and the never ending Long Island traffic that got you to the Bridgehampton Race Circuit. I always remember passing the mailbox that read Yastrzemski (Carl Yastrzemski grew up in Southampton, but I never did find out who actually lived in that particular house).

Heading down the hill on Route 14 with gorgeous Seneca Lake to your left and the town that refuses to change with the times, Watkins Glen, below you and then back up a steep hill to get to the track. Driving through the town of Lexington, Ohio, taking a left through a development, and then slowly leaving the houses behind until you get to Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. Driving on what appeared to be former cow paths simply paved over as you approach Summit Point Raceway in West Virginia. Avoiding the deer driving through the mountains to Pocono International Raceway.

The funniest approach for me is Nelson Ledges Race Course in Ohio. I always stay in Newton Falls, a town that proudly displays the one thing they are known for -- having the zip code 44444. Trust me, that's the highlight of the town. Taking the last turn onto the road that leads to the track, there is a house with a green Chevette in the driveway. That Chevette was there the first time I went to the track in 1990. It is still there, and has never moved an inch. Occasionally, the owner cuts the weeds that grow around it. If they ever get rid of the Chevette, there will be many lost racers.

It should be mandatory that you drive to a road course. No bicycles. No buses. No helicopters (not like any of us worry about that). Just drive.

I took that to the extreme, foregoing any air travel, making my way through six states to Road America. It just so happen to be that I had to be in Fort Wayne, Indiana for business. Funny, how it also coincided with the week before the Road America Champ Car/ALMS doubleheader. It's not like I would actually plan such a thing...

Being fed up with dealing with the airline industry and their disregard for common law -- stealing your luggage, illegal imprisonment on the runways in conditions that violate the Geneva Convention, and canceling contracts with impunity -- I decided to submit the company's "alternate travel form" allowing me to drive the whole way.

I picked up the rental car (a Mercury Marquis -- it was either that or a choice between two SUVs) on Monday evening and hit the road Tuesday morning. I drove the 479 miles from Rochester, N.Y. to Fort Wayne in 8 hours and 10 minutes, slowed down through Ohio by extremely strong thunderstorms. I got really bogged down going through Cleveland which had some major highways closed due to the flash flooding. I recalled 2006 when I saw the flooded area used for parking at the Burke Lakefront Airport.

After two days in the Fort Wayne office, I was off to Wisconsin. I left early (encouraged by everyone at work insisting I do so to avoid most of the traffic through Chicago). Nonetheless, it still took me five hours to go 241 miles for my overnight destination in Racine, Wisc.

Got up early Friday to finish my trip to the track which took just under 1-1/2 hours. The landmarks I'll remember? Simple. You know you are in Wisconsin when you pass a large complex with a bunch of silos that is named Cheese Valley. The route is flat and the track is indeed in the middle of nowhere. However, it doesn't pop up in an in your face manner, but rather appears like it belongs in this countryside.

Tomorrow, I will take a different approach, since I am staying in Appleton which is north of the track. My approach will be heading south to Road America instead of coming up from the south like this morning.

Next, I will write about the track itself and the experiences one gets attending a road course that can't be topped by a street circuit.

Copyright © 2007 by Russell Jaslow and Deep Throttle. All Rights Reserved.

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