Please, NASCAR, don't abandon Road America

Please, NASCAR, don't abandon Road America
Courtesy of Toyota Racing

After two successful experiences at Road America, it would be hard to imagine the bucolic circuit absent from the NASCAR Cup Series schedule next year.

Yes, the tour survived for 65 seasons without an annual pilgrimage to Sheboygan County, and recent reports indicate the track’s future on stock car’s top tour could be in question again.

But after a taste of prime brats, New Glarus Spotted Cows—the ale known to locals as “Spotties”—and phenomenal racing on the historic four-mile course, removing a Road America date from the Cup calendar would be a travesty.

“I think this is one of the most iconic road courses in the country—in the world really,” said 2014 Cup champion Kevin Harvick, who finished 10th in the Kwik Trip 250. “It’s a great part of the country for us, as far as fans. A ton of people showed back up this year. It’s been well received.”

NASCAR needs tracks that truly test the mettle of aspiring racers. With many of the current up-and-comers entering the sport with the mentality of hitting reset as if they’re in a video game, venues such as Road America separate the men from the boys.

Phoenix native Michael McDowell supported his early racing habit as a driving instructor. His first trip to Elkhart Lake was love at first sight.

“I grew up in the desert and to see Wisconsin and see this big, four-mile, magnificent racetrack with rolling hills and green grass and trees and all the scenery--it’s just an amazing facility,” said McDowell, who finished eighth on Sunday. “It’s a really cool place to not only challenge yourself as a driver but really put your machine and yourself to the test.”

Like everyone else in the sport, McDowell has heard the rumors of Road America being replaced by a street course in Chicago. The fan support alone should make Road America a no-brainer.

For pundits who believe the sport needs fewer road courses, NASCAR would be better served by abandoning an infield circuit like the road course at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in favor of the traditional oval. If the debate is a question of over-saturation in the region, then take a second race date from Atlanta Motor Speedway or Kansas Speedway before eliminating a race in a state that supports a variety of motorsports on both dirt and asphalt.

“Road America, to me, Wisconsin and the Midwest is just the feel of what American road racing is,” McDowell said. “It’s just so much to it. There are plenty of races that I can think about on the schedule that I would like to remove. Obviously, I’m biased, too, because I’ve gone to these places a lot and there are tracks you run well and tracks you don’t, but Road America has got great fans. You think about it, just like Watkins Glen. You go to Watkins Glen and there are campers all the way around the entire facility. The fans love it. They love NASCAR.

“It’s just a cool community and that’s what Road America is. Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin, is that same community. They love racing. They love what the track does for the community. When you drive to the facility you can see how much they care about it. It looks like my front yard, but better. Everything is manicured and is super nice. It’s just a great facility, so I hope that isn’t the case. I haven’t heard any official word on what’s happening next year, but there are a few I’d like to remove before Road America.”

With NASCAR’s recent reimagining of the schedule, Denny Hamlin won’t be questioning the sanctioning body’s decisions. Creating a buzz while introducing the Cup series to new major markets and fans has been a boon for the sport.

“I think that track has a place in our schedule,” Hamlin said. “It’s in an area that we don’t visit often, so I’d like to see it continue to be a part of our schedule. I don’t know that we should really jump the gun too much on it being off of our schedule.

“What we saw last year with the fan turn out, the welcoming that the area brought to us, was great. If something major changes, then maybe look at it but it’s really a great race track that deserves a place on our schedule.”

Let’s hope Hamlin is right.

Here's the bottom line. The world's top stock car drivers love the track, not just for the racing but also for the experience, Fans flock to Road America in impressive numbers, and yet traffic in and out of the track is some of the smoothest on the Cup circuit.

If a road course has to be sacrificed to make rood for a Chicago street course, let it be Indy. Don't punish fans in Wisconsin who have supported NASCAR racing in six-figure numbers.

In its short, two-year tenure. Road America has established itself as a bona fide Fourth of July experience. If any track deserves to stay on the schedule, it's the massive 4.048-mile in cheese, Spottie and Packer country.

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