Fourth Turn – Cup Drivers At Road America

Paul Menard holds off Ryan Blaney on his way to winning the Road America 180 NASCAR Xfinity Series race. [John Wiedemann Photo]

Paul Menard holds off Ryan Blaney on his way to winning the Road America 180 NASCAR Xfinity Series race in 2015. [John Wiedemann Photo]

by Paul Gohde

Rain is never a friend of race promoters and Road America obviously suffered from a morning shower that hung around just a bit too long this Sunday morning. Attendance at the NASCAR Xfinity Series weekend here has gone down a bit since that first run when Cup driver Carl Edwards won back in 2010. Cup drivers won again in 2013 (AJ Allmendinger) and again in 2015 (Paul Menard), but support for the Xfinity race by big name Cup series drivers has been slim, if at all, over the event’s seven-year run.

The matter of Cup series drivers running in the Xfinity Series, or even the Camping World Truck Series, has been a matter of intense debate; especially when Kyle Busch dominates all three series’ events at Bristol as he did a few weeks ago.

Busch, Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano and other Monster Energy Series drivers usually enter the limited amount of Xfinity events each season that are allowed by NASCAR; and they quite often dominate. Twenty-two Xfinity events have been run so far in 2017, and 15 of those have been won by Cup regulars; five by Kyle Busch alone.

Whether Cup participation in those lower level series is good or bad can be debated over and over, but if those drivers continue to whine over the limitations put on their participation in those events by NASCAR, then, when the opportunity arises to support those races, where are they?

The Monster Energy Series was off this week; a perfect chance to support a race at Road America that could use a shot of adrenalin in the form of Busch, Logano, Keselowski, Kyle Larson and others. Road America is a world-class facility. NASCAR claims to be the top motorsports series in North America. Why not come and try it?

All of those Cup drivers have literally turned their backs on a chance to run here and support an event that could challenge their skills and bring the event some needed energy.

Back in 2010, when Edwards won in front of a reported 50,000 fans, Ron Fellows plunked himself down in the RA Media Center after finishing second and declared, “Two Words: Sprint Cup.” He was thrilled by the challenge of the course and the ambience of the event. Bring the Cup Series here; soon, he begged. That hasn’t happened yet, and it may never get scheduled.

But Kyle, Brad, Joey and all you others, you have another chance to come to Elkhart Lake. The 2018 RA Xfinity race is scheduled for Saturday, August 25th; a weekend that is again open on the Monster Energy Cup schedule. You need to listen to Ron Fellows. It’s not a Cup race, that’s for sure, but you do need to come and race at Road America; soon. Enjoy the brats, too.

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Paul Gohde heard the sound of race cars early in his life.

Growing up in suburban Milwaukee, just north of Wisconsin State Fair Park in the 1950’s, Paul had no idea what “that noise” was all about that he heard several times a year. Finally, through prodding by friends of his parents, he was taken to several Thursday night modified stock car races on the old quarter-mile dirt track that was in the infield of the one-mile oval -and he was hooked.

The first Milwaukee Mile event that he attended was the 1959 Rex Mays Classic won by Johnny Thomson in the pink Racing Associates lay-down Offy built by the legendary Lujie Lesovsky. After the 100-miler Gohde got the winner’s autograph in the pits, something he couldn’t do when he saw Hank Aaron hit a home run at County Stadium, and, again, he was hooked.

Paul began attending the Indianapolis 500 in 1961, and saw A. J. Foyt’s first Indy win. He began covering races in 1965 for Racing Wheels newspaper in Vancouver, WA as a reporter/photographer and his first credentialed race was Jim Clark’s historic Indy win.Paul has also done reporting, columns and photography for Midwest Racing News since the mid-sixties, with the 1967 Hoosier 100 being his first big race to report for them.

He is a retired middle-grade teacher, an avid collector of vintage racing memorabilia, and a tour guide at Miller Park. Paul loves to explore abandoned race tracks both here and in Europe, with the Brooklands track in Weybridge England being his favorite. Married to Paula, they have three adult children and two cats.

Paul loves the diversity of all types of racing, “a factor that got me hooked in the first place.”