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The Road America Experience

The Track

[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 11 When in Road America...

The Pacific Coast Motorsports team invited the media and press to their hospitality area for lunch on Friday. They served bratwurst. Amazingly, I don't think I have ever had a brat. Of course, being in Road America, it was the perfect time to finally have one of their famous Johnsonville Brats. I did. Then, I had another one. I don't know if being at Road America made them any tastier than if I was somewhere else, but they were good.

So far, everything about Road America is good.

Unlike street circuits, road circuits have character. They also allow thoroughbred race cars to really open up. No matter how well designed a street circuit is, like Las Vegas, there is nothing like a track with long straights, sweeping turns, runoff area, and hills.

Though some street circuits can actually provide a better sensation of speed from a spectators' vantage point, they are claustrophobic, and not just for the drivers. The fans have to deal with rows of catch fencing, walls that block most of the cars from ground level, buildings, and grandstands. Let's not forget the always present Gestapo-like security crew at all street circuits.

A road course is just the opposite. It provides an openness, a freedom of movement for both the fans and the cars. Sure, it may not be as sexy as the booth babes that tend to populate a street festival, but that's okay. Road circuits have their own sexiness watching sleek race cars do their thing.

Some road courses have more character than others. The best for me are the ones that combine fast and slow turns with a fair amount of elevation changes. It may cut down on the viewable area from spectator areas, but it's worth it. Hills of course provide excellent natural viewing areas, so much so, that at most tracks, the grandstands are the worst option to watch a race from. I certainly have my favorite spots.

Sitting on top of the hill overlooking the esses at Lime Rock or Madness at Mid-Ohio. Watching from the infield of Watkins Glen where the cars pour down the hill for the left-hander into The Boot section. Standing high on top the hill looking over one of the most famous and difficult turns in North America, Turn 2 at Mosport, or on the sand dune to watch the just as famous and difficult Turn 1 at Bridgehampton.

Though Nelson Ledges will always have a special place in my heart -- it's where I won my first race -- and is a very fast and challenging track to drive and is the only flat track I enjoy racing at, it doesn't have much character. It's flat and featureless. There is no section of the track that makes you go "Wow!" when you watch the cars go by.

I've never been to Miller Motorsports Park, but I have no desire to. I cannot imagine a worst designed track. It may be the longest track on this continent at 4.5-miles, but they packed a billion turns into those 4.5-miles. Okay, the number of turns is actually 24, but compare that to 14 turns, some of which are more slight bends than turns, for Road America's 4.048-miles and eleven plus a bus stop chicane for 3.77-miles at Watkins Glen. Plus, Miller is flat and featureless in the middle of a desert. Every race I have seen on TV has been boring and the fans don't seem to be allowed to watch from any area other then the front straight. It's as bad as an infield road course at an oval. To say Miller has no character is a gross understatement.

Give me a Mosport, a Lime Rock, a VIR, a Watkins Glen. Give me a track naturally cut through the countryside. Give me character. Give me Road America.

There are so many great viewing areas at Road America, I don't know where to start. One fact becomes quickly obvious -- if you don't have a golf cart, scooter, or bicycle, you are going to be doing a lot of walking. A lot. But, that's good. At least that is what I'm trying to convince my tired feet right now...

During the American Le Mans Series four-hour race, I did what I typically do when I watch an endurance sports car race. I wonder around the track checking out as many different viewing locations. Unfortunately, the long rain "delay" prevented me from getting to all the places I wanted to go. It is a long track!

I am amazed how well the spectator area is designed for the fans. Sometimes I would see a hill or some benches or a small grandstand and think, that's a stupid place to watch the race from. Then, I would go to that location and realize, this is a pretty neat spot to watch the race.

The last spot I watched from on Saturday was such a spot. When I looked up at the hill outside of Turn 7, I didn't think much of it. When I climbed it, I discovered the spot was probably the one area you could see the longest portion of the track. The visible section started with Turn 6, through the right hand sweeping Turn 7, downhill through Hurry Downs, through the tight Turn 8, and into the Carousel. You can even see most of the Carousel, though some trees block portions of the view.

Even watching the cars on a straightaway is enjoyable because of how fast they can go on this track. Pick any straight -- Road America Straight, Moraine Sweep, the shot between Turns 1 and 3 -- it doesn't matter. And, if you position yourself just right, you can see the cars pop up over a crest of a hill as if they were alien missiles.

Even watching from afar provides an enjoyable moment as you take in the lovely countryside and park setting of the track with speeding race cars off in the distance. The grassy hill inside of Turns 2 and 3 is one spot. Another one is the viewing berms and benches inside of Turn 14 which is quite far away, but still a good spot. You can also see the cars climb the hill of the front straight, and if you look to your left, catch the cars going though Turn 5.

But, you have to keep on the move to view from other prime spots such as outside Turn 1, outside the Carousel, high up a cliff on the inside looking down on the cars coming out of the Carousel, and outside the track way up the gradual incline to see the cars go into the famed Kink.

I didn't have time to completely explore the Turn 6 area, Canada Corner, and Thunder Valley. I sure hope to do that on Sunday. Speaking of Sunday, I will write about the racing action at Road America and how this track brings out the best in motorsports excitement.

Photos by

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

 
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