A Road America “Sunset Cruise”

[Paul Gohde Photo]

[Paul Gohde Photo]

by Paul Gohde

Elkhart Lake’s Road America – To the two of us it felt a bit more like a qualifying run in our Can Am racer with John Surtees just ahead of us and Dan Gurney on our rear bumper. In reality, our four-lap cruise around the full Road America circuit was really a “Sunset Cruise” with 65 other road vehicles including our newly washed 2017 Ford Escape along with pickup trucks, vans and other daily drivers.

I’ve been to many, many races at the historic 4.06-mile internationally renowned circuit, but this was our long-awaited chance to do some laps with many other drivers who arrived in with their Mercedes, Ferraris, Corvettes and Mustangs as well.

Having seen an advertisement on RA’s web site that for $20 we could take a three lap (that turned out to be four laps) “Sunset Cruise” on a glorious, golden late summer afternoon.

The convivial group of drivers and passengers gathered at 6:00pm for a “drivers meeting” chat with the pace car driver, noting the 45mph speed limit we were to obey, with no passing allowed and no driver changes. After a few jokes we belted up tightly and entered the track near Turn One single file.

My wife and I have walked the track during its annual fund raising charity Run/Walk, and I’ve been able to be a writer/ photographer for several racing publications and have traversed most of the track’s hills and valleys, but perhaps the most surprising impression of this day’s drive was how steep the main straight climb is to the start/finish line, how challenging the curves are on the back stretch and at Turn Five, and how rough some of the rumble strips are when you stray from the prescribed “line” through tight turns.

Before long some drivers caught on that if they slowed their “racers” and created a gap ahead of themselves, they could perhaps speed up a bit and see where the limit might be entering certain corners. Don’t tell the pace car boss.

Our enjoyable four laps (16+miles) went by quickly and after taking some photos thru the windshield on our final laps while we still had a bit of that golden light left, we pulled off the course and found our way back home at higher speeds than the race pace we had just enjoyed at Road America. Great fun at a bargain price. We highly recommend it.

The track offers a variety of events and experiences on non-race days throughout the season including a high-speed lap in the pace car driven by track personnel. Check the RA website for details.

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