Elkhart Lake Road Race Circuits

Cty Hwys, J, P, JP, A, and Lake St., Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin

One of the original road race circuits in the United States

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Elkhart Lake Road Race Circuits

In 1950, a road race was held just northwest of the village of Elkhart Lake. Races were also held in 1951 and 1952, before the State of Wisconsin outlawed public road racing in 1955. That was when the Road America road race track was opened south of town, to emulate road racing. Most of the original route is intact but don't even think about it. Speed limits are tightly enforced and development has made road racing unsafe and a just a pleasant memory.

Photo taken by J.R. Manning in July 2016

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Description 

"INTRODUCTION

"The Elkhart Lake Road Race Circuits are composed of two resources: the 3.35-mile course used in 1950, and the 6.5-mile course used in 1951 and 1952. Both courses followed public roads that pass through the rolling terrain of Rhine Township and the Village of Elkhart Lake in Sheboygan County, Wisconsin. The 1950 route was confined to rural highways north of the village and east of the Sheboygan Marsh. The 1951-52 circuit ran over most of the 1950 route, but added a link through the village and around Elkhart Lake. One small segment of the 1951-52 circuit has been closed to automobile traffic since 1994.

"STATEMENT OF SIGNIFICANCE: SUMMARY

"The Elkhart Lake Road Race Circuits are significant at the national level under Criterion A, in Entertainment and Recreation, as the major road racing venue in the Midwest and one of the premier road racing venues in the country during the brief era of sports car road racing on public streets in the United States. The three races held during the period of significance, 1950-1952, quickly established Elkhart Lake as a road racing area rivaling Watkins Glen, New York (Watkins Glen Grand Prix Course, NRHP 2002). The Elkhart Lake races drew tens of thousands of spectators and the participation of nationally famous drivers. While components of the course have changed over time as part of routine road maintenance and a small section is now closed to vehicular traffic, the character and corridor of the racing route is largely intact.

"The events run on the Elkhart Lake Road Race Circuits brought European-style road racing to Sheboygan County, Wisconsin from 1950-1952. Following the success of the shorter trial race held in 1950, the 1951 and 1952 meets featured some of the most important names in American automobile racing, attracted large crowds of spectators, and were a major factor in reviving Elkhart Lake's languishing resort industry. The success of the Elkhart Lake Road Races demonstrated the viability of road racing as a spectator sport, such that when racing on public roads was discontinued following the 1952 race, local business leaders were inspired to construct a purpose-built track simulating country road conditions in 1954-55. This facility, named Road America and located just south of Elkhart Lake, was one of the first specially constructed road courses in the country, and remains one of the premier road racing tracks in the world.

"The Elkhart Lake Road Race Circuits represent a brief period in American automobile racing history, when wealthy amateur sportsmen raced cars on public roads that had been temporarily closed to traffic. Originating in Europe at the turn of the twentieth century, road racing had enjoyed a brief period of popularity in America before being supplanted by oval track racing. After World War II, the availability of imported European sports cars led to a resurgence in American road racing. The sport was conducted on public thoroughfares until it was deemed too dangerous. It was moved, first to artificial tracks laid out at airports, and ultimately to purpose-built tracks that simulated country road conditions, where it continues to be a popular sport today."

Taken from a document entitled National Register of Historic Places Registration Form by Elizabeth L. Miller, dated August 1, 2005 revising an earlier document prepared by Susan G. Mikos and submitted to the NPS for inclusion on the NRHP in January 2006.

National Register information 

Status
Posted to the National Register of Historic Places on February 17, 2006
Reference number
06000053
Area of significance
Entertainment/Recreation
Level of significance
National
Evaluation criteria
A - Event
Property type
Structure
Historic function
Road-related
Current function
Road-related
Period of significance
1950-1974
Significant years
1950; 1951; 1952
Number of properties
Contributing structures: 2

Update Log 

  • July 16, 2016: Updated by J.R. Manning: Updated status, added description and added photos

Sources