Racing on the county roads and streets of Elkhart Lake.
The history, preservation and memorable stories on how the Elkhart Lake road races began is the mission of this great group of members. Certainly this effort has provided great information to any fan of this charming little Wisconsin town. And what great contributions the village and the Historic Race Circuits of Elkhart Lake has made to the eventual building of the world class facility located on its south border.
If you have not been to
Road America, put it on your must do list.
The open road sports car races held in 1950 through 1952 were conceived and operated by the members of the Chicago Region of the Sports Car Club of America (SCCA). Jim Kimberly is acknowledged as the person who selected Elkhart Lake and was the driving force behind organizing the races along with Fred Wacker, Karl Brocken and C. Bayard Sheldon. At the time, Elkhart Lake was at a low point in its economic history and Jim Johnson, President of the Elkhart Lake Bank, felt that the races would bring a new energy to the area. Joined by Fire Chief Ray Kramer and Resort owner Ollie Siebken Moeller, a strong community effort was mounted that resulted in dozens of volunteers coming forward to help organize the races. Governor Walter Kohler, who had a summer home on Elkhart Lake, helped pave the way. The 1950 races, held on the 3.35-mile circuit north of the lake, had the flavor of a typical club event. All the drivers and cars came out of the Chicago Region and most cars were driven to the event, raced and then driven home. The event took place on Sunday, July 23rd and five races were held with cars divided into two classes: under 1500cc and over 1500cc. Two 30-mile races for novice drivers were held, one in each class. A novice driver was defined as one who had never finished higher than fifth in any open road race. The novice races were followed by a 15-mile ladies race that combined both classes. The day was concluded with two 60-mile races for experienced drivers, one in each class. The event was very successful with an estimated 5,000 spectators in attendance. The 1951 and 1952 races were held on a new 6.5-mile circuit that circumvented the lake and had a much different flavor. The Chicago Region of the SCCA planned, promoted and orchestrated the races and nationwide promotion attracted celebrities and professional race teams from across the country. The 1951 races were held on Sunday, August 26th and three races were scheduled with cars divided into four SCCA classes. The first event was a five-lap race (approximately 32 miles) for novice drivers mixing all classes in the same race. The second event was planned as a ladies race but was cancelled due to threatening weather. The third race was a 30-lap race (approximately 200 miles) for experienced drivers, again mixing all classes. John Fitch, driving a Cunningham CR2, won the race. Although no official attendance records were kept, spectator attendance was estimated to be in the area if 50,000. The 1952 races were held over the course of two days, Saturday and Sunday, September 6th and 7th. The first race was held on Saturday, a 15-lap (approximately 100 miles) event for cars between 1950ccs and 4000ccs. The race was for the Sheldon Cup, named for one of the race founders C. Bayard Sheldon. Future F1 World Champion Phil Hill won in a C-type Jaguar. There were two races held on Sunday. The first race for the Kimberly Cup was a 15-lap (approximately 100 miles) event for cars under 1950ccs. The winner was Bill Spears driving an OSCA. The main event for the Elkhart Lake Cup was a 30-lap (approximately 200 miles) race for cars over 1950ccs. The winner was John Fitch in a Cunningham CR4. There were a total of 238 cars entered in the three races, a far cry from the 33 cars raced in 1950. Attendance was estimated to exceed 100,000. Although open road racing ended in 1952, it was not the end of sports carï¿½related activities in the Village of Elkhart Lake. In 1955, Road America, one of the premier closed circuit road race courses in the world, was opened just a little southeast of the original open road circuits. The Village continued as a center for gatherings of sports car enthusiasts. Concours and car club events are often held on the streets where sports cars once raced. These events frequently include formal police-escorted reenactment tours of the historic circuits. Many clubs and individuals informally tour the circuits throughout the year and the rumble of sports car engines are still heard where now vintage racers once roared.
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From the January 1974 Issue of SportsCar magazine:
Eighteen years after he paced off the first layout, Tufte’s Road America – his “four miles that go nowhere” – is among the most esteemed circuits in the world
Words By Dwight Pelkin
He’s what you might call Old School. He retained a personal dignity and a skepticism about how important he really is in the world. He knows he’s a big man in racing but he’s been around enough to wonder how big a man that makes him in the overall scope of things. Personally, he considers himself a good fisherman and a pretty fair shot who knows something about racing. But one virtue – one single quality – stands out in him: his insatiable curiosity. Walk into Clif Tufte’s office, mention or show him something, and beware if you don’t know what you’re talking about, all about it. You might wind up knowing more about it after talking with Clif. Sheboygan advertising exec Frank Ross, who has been selling Tufte promotional items for years, relates: “He’s an engineer and he thinks like an engineer. He takes nothing for granted. I showed him a pocket penlight, once; pointed out everything about it that was obvious to me. I handed it to him and he showed me half a dozen other things that he saw in it.” Tufte is an old-fashioned perfectionist and reason-whyer who has become something of an elder statesman of motorsports. Today he lives in the village of Elkhart Lake, two miles and six hundred neighbors removed from Road America. On August 18, 1896, he was born in Chenequa, Wis. That’s a long time ago to most people who deal regularly with Tufte and come to think of this white-thatched six-foot energetic 170-poinder as a guy who can’t be more than in his late sixties at the most. Nobody thinks of Tufte as old. Which, indeed, he is not. His inquisitive on-the-go bent got him from his rural beginnings to a civil engineering degree at the Platteville School of Mines where he acquired the know-how to launch a career in roadwork and bridge-building which highway commissions in Wisconsin and later in North Carolina and Colorado. In those days he dabbled in many things but probably was at his best as a sandlot pitcher with the advantage of a lanky frame and arms that could fire a ball at the plate with power. He still has marvelous coordination. While he was involved in baseball he saw his first car races. He took time off to watch them go round and round the only places they could run in those days, on oval horse tracks. One late April day in 1929 he married Wylie, a sprightly woman of the same mold as Clif. Both are wiry, active, thinking. Their marriage has been a good one. Their daughter, Ann, has given them three boys and a girl and the whole family shares a prodigious love for the outdoors. Ann, a proficient fly-fisherwoman, now teaches in western Wisconsin. In the attic of the Tuftes’ rambling 1890ish house the grandchildren, when not reveling in the outdoors, play with an utterly fantastic model train layout Clif built himself. Tufte’s train set includes a working model of his own gravel company. Tufte got into racing when it was a game, not a business. Sport was the thing in those dauys. Money you somehow got; sport is what you enjoyed. IT was the era when SCCA Club Racing was born and nurtured. In 1950, ’51 and ’52 there was a good deal of this “purist” racing along the country roads of Elkhart Lake. Gentleman drivers from Chicago set up round-the-lake circuits on public highways and for three glorious years raced as sportsmen had in the old days. All the prominent drivers came: John Fitch, Jim Kimberly, Fred Wacker, Phil Walters, Bill Spear, Briggs Cunningham and Phil Hill. It was a thrilling scene with exotic cars, fine drivers and enthusiastic crowds. But by 1953 public-road racing was banned by enforcement of a statute that had long been in the books. Enter Clif Tufte. Clif parlayed his engineering experience and enthusiasm into the superb facility that is now Road America. He had part of the land to begin with, but acquired the balance, for a total of 523 acres, wasn’t an easy thing. Wyle recalls “It was a terrible, just a terrible job to get the three farms. They’d say ‘yes’ one day and then they’d turn around and say ‘no.’ Clif just worked and worked at it, and he was the only one.” What he wanted was to involve the gentleman drivers from Chicago, most of whom were members of the Chicago Region, but at first all he had to show them was a line of wooden stakes. Clif simply trudged over and over and over the hills and valleys of his glacial countryside, seeing amidst the trees what a track might look like. He had nothing to go on – nothing like it had been done in the U.S. – and he couldn’t get help from Europe. So he did it himself. Designing a serpentine road course is simple on a drawing board, but not so easy on foot over hills, through clinging brush, under low-hanging branches or around enormous glacial boulder – all sprawled on land with grade variations of as much as 175 feet. Over a period of months he paced off many routes changing and polishing his circuit. When he made his decision, he asked a handful of veteran Chicago Region people to come up to Elkhart Lake and look the place over. They looked and were impressed. Among them were RE Chuck West, Ernie Erickson, Jim Kimberly, Ted Boynton, Leroy Kramer, Sid Dickens, George Rand, Ed Walsh, Fred Wacker, Bud Seaverns and many more. They scheduled a National race for September, 1955, before a shovel had turned. Tufte unhesitatingly hails State Senator of nearby Kiel as the key to the financing. At an Initial meeting at Siebken’s Hotel in January, 1954, Laun proposed that those present at the open meeting pledge stock purchases. It was the local people who got involved, buying shares at that point – Ed Leverenz, a golf course operator; John Laun, a furniture manufacturer and the Senator’s brother; Everett Nametz, a hardware store owner. Road America was incorporated in November, 1954. The following April, the first stockholders’ meeting was held with 35 present. Today, there are 378 stockholders from fifteen states, chiefly in the Midwest. Though corporation by-laws preclude any one person acquiring enough stock to control Road America, the Tufte family is the chief stockholder and Tufte runs the organization because everybody knows he’s the man to run it. With a September race date set work was launched April 1, 1955. The perfect weather they enjoyed during that construction summer – hot and dry 0 had become known in circuit folklore as Tufte Weather: in the 46 major weekends of major racing events since 1955 no event has been cancelled and only one has had to been shortened. Tufte was equally fortunate in the men who signed on to build the course, men themselves caught up in the once-in-a-lifetime spirit of the project, an experience unlikely to repeat in their prosaic professions of doing the same thing over and over. They cut swaths through the close-limbed trees, gutted huge boulders from their deep sockets, made a path out of a vision and then a roadway out of it all. By late summer they were ready to lay a very expensive hot-mix surfacing which Tufte decided on, taking advantage of the almost limitless gravel on hand. Atop a gravel base of one to two feet depth, they poured such a solid surface – mixed with more pebbles for traction in those pre-rain tire days 0 that the track has required no overall resurfacing since 1955, though it has been widened from 27 to thirty feet and slightly more in the tight corners. They pounded the pagoda together the morning of the first event, September 10, 1955. It was a dandy, especially the 148-mile finale in which Phil Hill nudged his Ferrari Monza past Sherwood Johnston’s D Jaguar on the final turn with the two cars finishing a split second apart. For the record, the class winners of this first North American closed-circuit event were Roy Heath in an MG, Paul O’Shea in a Mercedes, Bob Goldich in a Triumph, Frank Bott in an Osca, Ted Boynton in a Maserati, Bob Ballenger in a Porsche, Ralph Miller in a C Jaguar, Rees Makins in an Osca, John Mays in a Fibresport and Walter Gray in an Allard. Hill and Johnston also won in their classes. Then as now the Chicago Region was a working partner with Road America, supplying not only a large group of drivers but practically all the race officials and workers, corner personnel, and , especially, the timing and scoring crew headed by Don and Ruth Nixon. But overlying the whole operation is the Tufte philosophy of running a race course which bucks the thinking of the Sixties and Seventies in many ways. For Tufte is no fast-buck operator. To use a layout like Road America for only two or three race weekends a year would be unthinkable to most promoters, but Tufte doesn’t believe in overkill. And it works: Road America is one of the very few circuits in the country to be truly solvent. Not that the course isn’t used other ways at other times. It serve for non-spectator doings staged by groups such as the Boy Scouts, National Guard, antique car meets, Driver Schools, Army helicopter maneuvers, civic clubs, and, once, for dogsled racing. To promote the family-outing atmosphere Tufte encourages picknicking, trail-traipsing, photography, and anything else of appeal to the mom-dad-kids crowds. The June Sprints have long been a collegiate happening and Tufte perpetually strives to make the place more appealing to young people. Perhaps the essence of Tufte is in his reply to a question about Big Moments in is life. “I guess the Can-Am of 1972 when we had all that bad weather around us and at the track and still the people came, anyway. It was a good crowd and it showed that Road America had proved itself. That’s about the most satisfying thing I’ve ever enjoyed.” Quite a long way down the road from that memorable spring day eighteen years ago when, with bulldozers rooting out underbrush and pushing aside boulder, Tufte turned to Harvey Fischer, then and now his right hand and foreman and asked: “Do you think anyone will ever drive over this goldarn, crazy course?”