NASCAR’s Second Visit To Road America

The year was 1956, and Road America, the 4.1 mile road course, was beginning its second year of racing through the sweeping ups and downs of Wisconsin’s glacial Kettle Moraine.

NASCAR was in its infancy in ’56, still competing mainly in the southeastern U.S., but occasionally scheduling events in the northeast and on the west coast.

Fifty-six races were on the organization’s calendar that year, and to everyone’s surprise, one weekend in August was set to be run on a road course in the heart of America’s Dairyland.

Clif Tufte, whose civil engineering background led him to build highways, also put him in a great position to gouge a racetrack out of farmland just south of the usually quiet village of Elkhart Lake in the spring/summer of 1955, just two years after sports car events that were run on the area’s public roads, had been banned by the state due to safety concerns.

Tufte had promoted some successful events at his new track, called Road America, in the fall of ’55, but he was looking for a summer race in 1956 that would be different than the usual sports car events, and a NASCAR race in early August would fill the bill perfectly.

So without much fanfare, two NASCAR races were scheduled to be run on the weekend of August 11- 12, just a week after that circuit ran a 100- miler on a dirt track in Oklahoma City. They were in for quite a change.

The Saturday 100-mile preliminary race was to be for under 3500cc sedan touring cars according to the entry blank. Sunday’s 200-mile main event featured Grand National cars (today’s Sprint Cup Series).

Twenty-eight cars were entered for Sunday, with twenty-six taking the soggy green flag in front of 10,000 rain-soaked fans. Most NASCAR stars of the fifties were present including Junior Johnson, Curtiss Turner, Lee Petty and Buck Baker. The cars were running on street tires with treads, thus making them able to race on the slick, twisting RA surface.

Tim Flock was the eventual winner averaging 73.858 mph for the 63 laps. He was followed by Billy Meyers, Fireball Roberts, Paul Goldsmith and Joe Eubanks. It is said that Flock finished the race with windshield wipers on his Bill Stroppe Mercury flapping in the breeze. Oddly, there were no caution flags recorded during the slippery race, though several of the oval track veterans spent time off the course.

A 1957 renewal of the event was talked about, but scheduling problems cancelled any hope for a NASCAR return. In reality, NASCAR probably wasn’t ready to expand to venues like Road America and road courses in general at that time. Expanded media coverage and corporate sponsorship would make events like this possible in the 1980’s and 90’s, but the circuit wouldn’t return to the road course west of Sheboygan until promotional woes at the Milwaukee Mile forced NASCAR to move its annual oval track event, held there for many years, to a Saturday in June, 2010 in the Kettle Moraine.

The Bucyrus 200 for NASCAR’s Nationwide Series will be contested on June 19th, with hopes that a successful running will bring the event back next year and for years to come. Let’s hope that it’s dry.

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