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Just dropping by: Elkhart Lake’s Road America

The four-mile racecourse is a popular destination for spectators

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September 11, 2023

LTIPmkbSwcQELKHART LAKE – After spending about two laps in the Road America Corvette Pace Car, I realized I might have a slight issue with motion sickness.

I’ve never had an issue in the past, but being on a constant rollercoaster for eight minutes – at points traveling 100 mph – did me in.

Don’t worry – I didn’t get sick, but I was told I looked a little pale when exiting the car.

My pace car adventure was part of the ninth installment of Just dropping by when I visited one of the most famous racecourses in the world – Road America.

Situated on the outskirts of Elkhart Lake, Road America is a four-mile, 14-turn venue with billowing terrain and sweeping turns.

“In the early 1950s, sports car races were being run on the streets in and around Elkhart Lake,” John Ewert, Road America’s communications director, said. “The State Legislature stepped in and banned racing on public roads, so Clif Tufte, a highway engineer, led a group to develop plans and sold stock to build Road America. It was originally 525 acres, but today it’s 640.”

Ewert said Tufte’s dream became a reality in April 1955. 

“Tuft used the natural topography of the Kettle Moraine area for the track, with undulating terrain and sweeping corners,” Ewert said. “The track is virtually the same today as what it was when he laid it out. I might be impartial, but I think it’s the greatest track in North America.”

Ewert said in addition to having the opportunity to ride in the pace car and try go-karting, the venue offers group event programs, motorcycle and advanced driving schools, camping, disc golf, four miles of fitness, drag races, sunset cruises and more.

Road America also offers go-karting at the Motorplex, with speeds up to 40 mph. The Business News Staff Photo

Though I didn’t get a chance to disc golf or ride my bike around the famous course, I can already lay claim to doing one of those activities.  

Last August – though I failed quite miserably, at least in my mind – I completed the “12 Hours of Road America” on my bicycle.

“More than 800,000 visitors flock to Road America per year,” Ewert said. “Additionally, its economic impact is more than $100 million annually with the 500-plus events held yearly.”

In addition to being a passenger in the pace car and looping around the go-kart track, Ewert also took me and The Business News video team on the starters catwalk overlooking the start/finish area as the motorcycles testing that day zipped by.

I’m not sure how fast they were traveling, but based on the familiar roar of their throttles as they whiz by, I’d guess it was probably close to 150 mph.

I ended my visit by chatting with a few racers in the pits and had my picture taken in Victory Lane.

I plan to head to Road America in September to ride my bike around the track – when no cars or motorcycles are whizzing by, and I’ll only be surrounded by other cyclists – probably best given my new-found motion sickness.

For more information on what the venue offers, visit 

A rollercoaster of a ride 
Greg Vandalen, the Canadian transplant who took me and The Business News staff around the course in the Corvette Pace Car, said he’s been involved in motorsports for about 20 years. 

“It started more as a hobby,” he said. “I didn’t know I could turn it into a career, but eventually, I started going to tracks and got into racing. I’ve been at Road America for about a year and a half. I got into it because I love racing and wanted to drive on tracks.”

After completing his pace car laps and go-karting adventure, Rich celebrates in Victory Lane. The Business News Staff Photo

Vandalen is Road America’s management consultant for track rentals and business services. 

“In the industry, you wear a lot of hats,” he said. “I’m a licensed driving instructor and have a race license. When it comes to opportunities like this – when we need to take guests around the track – there are a few people in the office who are qualified to do it – I’m not going to say ‘no’ to driving the car around the track.” 

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