Fourth Turn – Road America Nationwide Series Race

Elkhart Lake, WI – Spirits were high among Road America personnel as the marathon running of the Bucyrus 200 finished under fair skies, with a large crowd having enjoyed a long day of NASCAR Nationwide Series racing.

Though final ticket- sales numbers won’t be known for a few days because, ” Several thousand tickets were sold off-site by Menards and need to be counted,” track President George Bruggentheis stated near the end of the event that,” We (the track and NASCAR) want to do this again, but NASCAR doesn’t set its schedule until November.”

The crowd came early on a warm, sunny day that was just the opposite of the rainy 1956 inaugural appearance of NASCAR at the then two-year old facility. Today’s crowd seemed equally divided between Road America regulars who are more used to seeing several races each day in various classes, and NASCAR fans who are used to viewing the entire circuit from their grandstand seat. The trick for the track will be to bring both groups back if an event is scheduled in 2011.

The drivers did their part to entertain, especially in the final stages, when the event’s slam-bang nature looked more like the Stanley Cup finals cross-bred with the NBA’s game seven.

Carl Edwards, Jacque Villeneuve, Brendan Gaughan and Paul Menard, along with a supporting cast of three-wide players, tried the crowd’s patience with numerous late-race cautions and a 31minute red flag.

One curse of a 4.088 mile road course is that the action is spread out over a long lap, resulting in cars not always being in the view of the fans- especially during slow-paced caution periods. Video screens are sprinkled over the circuit, but there are nothing like live, noisy race cars in front of the fans.

Road America was universally praised for its scenic beauty and historic atmosphere, its competitive nature and the cooperative attitude of the RA staff who were working with NASCAR for the first time. Second-place finisher Ron Fellows, the quintessential road racer, laid heavy praise on the facility saying, “We need a Sprint Cup event here. What a great crowd and a great atmosphere.” Third-place runner Brendan Gaughan chimed in: “This is America’s road course. I’d love to see the Cup cars here.”

The event was truly that; an EVENT, and everyone involved hopes it comes back even stronger next year, but an earlier start, and some support races prior to the main event, would go a long way toward keeping the fans engaged all day and on the road earlier.

Notes: It is generally believed that with the large crowd today, NASCAR will bring the Nationwide Series back to Road America in 2011. Some observers optimistically view this weekend as a trial balloon for an eventual Sprint Cup date for the track several years hence, but no one is willing to confirm that. NASCAR?s Jim Hunter once told me that the sanctioning body would never rule-out any type of track being added to the schedule, and with NASCAR currently staging Cup events on road courses on both coasts (Watkins Glen and Sonoma), another one in the Midwest could be a natural addition. We?ll wait and see… Speculation in the Road America paddock also centered on the reappearance of the Indy Car Series in Wisconsin after a year?s absence. Some would like to see the ICS paired with the ALMS sports cars on a Saturday/Sunday here at Road America. While a more substantial possibility has the ICS dropping their Kansas date in May and doing a self-promoted pre-Indy event on the first weekend in May, 2011 at the Milwaukee Mile, replacing Kansas on the schedule… Ten Nationwide Series drivers have some sort of previous experience competing here at RA. From Jacques Villeneuve winning twice in CART competition to Colin Braun in the Star Mazda series, many have experienced the track?s ups and downs. Others who have run here include Tony Ave, Paul Menard, Ron Fellows and Brad Coleman. Tim George Jr., Victor Gonzalez Jr., Patrick Long, and Michael McDowell have also competed… All forty-three entered cars made the race, with last- place qualifier Kevin Lepage being over fourteen mph off the pace of pole- winner Carl Edwards… Edwards, Menard and Brad Keselowski are the only Sprint Cup stars doing double-duty both here and at the Cup race in California. The trio practiced here on Thursday, qualified at Infineon on Friday, and returned to post times here on Saturday morning with Edwards earning the pole. Erik Darnell (Edwards), Michel Jourdain Jr. (Menard) and Parker Kligerman (Keselowski) practiced their cars here on Friday… Former Indianapolis 500, Formula One and NASCAR driver David Hobbs, who currently works with Bob Varsha on Speed TV?s F1 coverage, said that the network has a solid 3-year contract to continue its F1 coverage through 2012. Hobbs, a part-time Milwaukeean, and Varsha, broadcast the race from Speed?s studios in Charlotte due to cost concerns, but the native of England says that with live stat feeds and Will Buxton doing pit road prerace at the track, they do just as good a job of calling the event as if they were on site… Thirty-nine year old Braun Racing Toyota pilot Jacques Villeneuve has stated that he will try once more in the off-season to hook-up with an F1 team. The Canadian, who is only the third driver to win the Indy 500 and the Formula One and CART championships, (others being Mario Andretti and Emerson Fittipaldi) says that he has sharp memories of racing Indy cars here in 1994-95. ?I still remember the track as if I had driven it last week. It was always one of my favorite road courses and I was looking for an excuse to come back here and it?s been great fun.? And as to the difference between these cars and the CART vehicles of the 90?s Villeneuve said,? These cars are very heavy and don?t have down force. It?s a huge difference, especially in the high-speed corners. You change your braking distance. In the Carousel (turn) and the last part of the track where you have rolling corners and high-speed corners- in an Indy car you wouldn?t brake. You?d stay flat or lift a little bit. Now you have to brake a lot and position the car.?…

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