Could Road America return?

UPDATE #2 Doing a bit more research on an early May race at Road America – actually the weather isn't so bad–checking with the meteorologists at WBAY-TV 2 in Green Bay. For the dates of May 13-14-15, the precipitation was:
2004 – 1.6" rain
2003 – 0.16" rain
2002 – 0.03" rain
2001 – No record
2000 – trace
1999 – .02" rain
1998 – .07" rain
1997 – .18" rain
The last snow was 1990, when there was 5.5 inches, but you can see that was an anomaly. It happened, but it was an anomaly.

Temperatures for the same years:
Average high is 64 – 65 degrees, at 3 p.m. to 4 p.m.
Average low is 43 – 44 degrees, at 6 a.m. to 7 a.m.

This weekend, in fact, may be drier than the August dates Champ Cars have traditionally been at Road America. Bottom Line?

1. First and foremost, it is a date for Champ Cars at Road America–and that may be the most important consideration.

2. Champ Cars and Road America are good for each other. Road America brings out the best in Champ Car racing–speed, passing, intensity, braking, engineering. Champ Cars bring out the best in the track. Together it's a dynamite combination.

3. Things are changing in the front office of Road America. They are supportive of what the new CCWS management is trying to do and feel it is important to work with them.

4. The May date is a good spot in the CCWS '05 schedule because of the big gap between Long Beach and Monterrey, Mexico. If it's a good fit for Champ Cars, and it will work with Road America, then they should try to work it out — because of #2, above. Yes, the weather will be risky, and it will be cold, but it could be done. Get those tire warmers ready. 12/18/04 This Sheboygan-Press newspaper article says, For the second time in three seasons, efforts are being made to revive the annual Champ Car race at Road America. Track officials confirmed Wednesday that talks are ongoing with Champ Car, the Indianapolis-based open-wheel series, to bring a race back to Elkhart Lake for a 23rd straight season. Road America was off Champ Car’s schedule when it was released last month. But talks between the track and Champ Car continued.

“The door never closed for 2005," said RA president George Bruggenthies. “When Champ Car made the announcement, they indicated it was a work in progress. There were still negotiations in progress with Road America. But there’s not a lot of time left."

RA and Champ Car president Dick Eidswick met Dec. 9 and talked again Wednesday about plans for 2005. Bruggenthies said a decision on the race’s future should be made in the next three weeks. The race would be scheduled for late April or early May, according to Cheryl Barnes, the track’s director of communications.

“We already have several dates booked throughout the summer, and they seem to like a May date," Barnes said. “They have some space."

The primary factor in the decision is revenue. In a press conference during August’s race weekend, Bruggenthies said RA has lost about $500,000 each of the last four years while hosting the Champ Car stop.

The track is working to secure sponsorship for the 2005 race. “We’re still talking (with sponsors)," said Barnes. “The issue the past three or four years is we’ve lost money." Champ Car weekend has traditionally been one of the most anticipated events around the county. But attendance has fallen off during recent years in part because of the race’s uncertain future.

In 2003, the race was removed from the schedule because of lawsuits between CART (the former owner of the open-wheel series) and Road America. It took racing legend Mario Andretti’s intervention to get the two sides to agree on a two-year contract and restore the race.

This year’s race, held Aug. 8, drew only 30,000, a drop of about 30 percent from the previous year. In the early years, race day traditionally drew more than 75,000 spectators, many of them visitors from outside the area. “Road America is a huge part of our tourism package," said Denny Moyer, Convention and Visitors Bureau manager for the Sheboygan County Chamber of Commerce. “They fill the hotels regularly (around the county). That weekend is pretty much off the books."

When asked if there will be a race in 2005, Bruggenthies wouldn’t venture a guess. “I just don’t know," he said. “I couldn’t say. It’s 50/50 right now. A lot depends on how things come together. We’ve reached agreement on a business plan, now we have to get our partners together and make it happen. Securing sponsors is the critical key."

10/29/04 To no one's surprise, Road America was left off the preliminary 2005 Champ Car schedule. However, the door is most definitely open. "We're in continuing discussions with Road America, Laguna Seca and Vancouver," stated Champ Car's Joe Chrnelich at Thursday's press conference announcing the 2005 schedule. "One thing we have to do is to make sure when we have an agreement that works for both sides, for both parties involved. It makes no sense for us to have a good agreement economically for ourselves or for other reasons and the promoter not have a good deal. It's got to be a balanced agreement." contacted a Road America spokesperson late Thursday who informed us, "yes, we are most definitely still talking." Many within the Champ Car community lament the loss of Road America. It is one track where the Champ Cars can really stretch their legs because of the long straights and variety of turns. It is every driver's favorite track. Losing Road America, one of the oldest races on the schedule, is like ripping the guts out of the Champ Car series, which has lost all of its natural terrain road courses except two (Mexico City and Portland).

While the chances of Road America being reinstated are slim, apparently some of the talks are centered around what can be done to make the event more popular at the box office. Of course part of that is Champ Car's duty. This year the series has become largely invisible both on TV and any serious marketing campaign. That must change in 2005. As for the track, one option is to make the weekend a mini-24 Hours of LeMans event by bringing in a large carnival company a la LeMans and make the event a must place to be for Wisconsin residents who can come to beautiful Road America to take in racing and the carnival could be there for the whole family. Whereas street circuits have a great nightlife, remote circuits like Road America go black at night and there really isn't much to do except to camp out and enjoy the traditions and old acquaintances. With a carnival lighting up the night sky, Road America becomes the place to be for race fans as well as non-race fans for miles around. If advertised properly, it can be one of the biggest happenings in Wisconsin each year. The question is whether Road America President George Bruggenthies and his staff are ready to step up and make the commitment, or take the easy way out and forego returning the Champ Car weekend to the once big event it was. Mark C.

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