NASCAR Cup Series

Will NASCAR ever return to Road America? ‘Our success is not defined’ by the series leaving Elkhart Lake

Will NASCAR ever return to Road America? ‘Our success is not defined’ by the series leaving Elkhart Lake

ELKHART LAKE – Behind the scenes, the 69th season of racing at Road America already has begun.

Although the first full spectator event doesn’t come until the SVRA spring vintage weekend May 17-19, season passholders have had access to smaller-scale action. They’ve seen the added viewing area at the Kink, a cleaned-up Canada Corner and the new facilities at Turn 1.

What they won’t see this year – for the first time since 2009 – is a NASCAR race on the hilly, 4-mile course in rural Sheboygan County.

In a wide-ranging interview with the Journal Sentinel recently, Mike Kertscher, RA’s president and general manager, reiterated what he said since the announcement last fall that the Xfinity Series would go away just as the Cup Series had a year earlier: The facility will be just fine without NASCAR, but it’d be better with it.

“Having Cup here for two years did exactly what we wanted it to do,” Kertscher said, referring to 2021 and ’22 races for NASCAR’s premier series. “We were found by many fans that hadn’t previously been here.

Fans crowd Road America near the NASCAR garage area before the Cup Series race at the track on July 4, 2021.

“We saw last year, even without Cup last year, our ticket sales almost mirrored those of ’22 even without that key, signature event on our schedule. That really tells us that the fans that found us in ’21-22, they came back. … They clearly like the Road America experience and they found another event to come to with family and friends.”

A two-year run for the Cup Series saw some of the largest crowds in track history. But with a schedule heavy on road courses and an opportunity to be in the heart of the United States’ third-largest market, NASCAR opted to bypass Road America and instead race on the streets of downtown Chicago. That event also was successful.

“Hey, they’re not afraid to try things,” Kertscher said. “If there’s anything they’ve been successful at, it’s trying to do new things, good or bad. There’s a few that have worked well and a few they wish would have been better. From us, we’re happy to be part of it if we can.

“We thought the cars raced well here, especially the Xfinity cars. They put on a lot of great races here. This year with the Olympics and other conflicts, we weren’t able to get an Xfinity race for 2024. We hope that comes back.”

NASCAR’s second division, the Xfinity Series (previously Nationwide) raced at Road America from 2010 to 2023.

With the Paris Games running from July 26 to Aug. 11 – and broadcast by the NBC family of networks, the same as NASCAR – the entire NASCAR calendar is clear the last weekend in July and first in August.

Sam Mayer, a Franklin native, won for the first time in the NASCAR Xfinity Series at his home track in the Road America 180 last July, but he won’t have the chance to defend with the series not returning this year.

That eliminated two possible dates for Road America, which has a relatively short season and is constrained by traditional dates for its other largest events, IndyCar in mid-June (June 9 this year) and IMSA sports cars on the first weekend of August (Aug. 4) as well as MotoAmerica motorcycles and SCAA June Sprints in June, a major vintage weekend in July and the SCCA National Championship Runoffs in October.

Kertscher also would prefer to avoid holidays. The 2021 and ’22 NASCAR events ran on the Fourth of July weekend.

“You know, we can never look back and say it didn’t work because that was the furthest thing from what happened,” Kertscher said. “Anyone that was here really saw what we could do. The place showed well. I was so pleased with our team for knocking it out of the park with that.”

Asked if he thought Road America would get another chance with NASCAR in the foreseeable future, Kertscher didn’t offer a yes-or-no answer, only the hope that it could happen.

In the meantime, he has hands full with a schedule – ranging from major national events to go-karting, car club track days, street drags and corporate outings around the 640-acre property – that included just four open dates from mid-April to November.

“We hope it comes back,” Kertscher said. “Definitely for us, it’s nice to have. It’s not necessarily a need-to-have.

“Our success is not defined by whether NASCAR races on the track, but man, it looks better with them here.”

This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: No NASCAR at Road America in 2024; will it come back to Elkhart Lake?

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