Editor's note: This is the third “RACER fan diary,” where race fans will submit a selection of photos and words to capture the atmosphere and ambiance of a race weekend beyond the classic “who won, who lost and who stood out.”
Our third fan to offer one is Ben Wedge, on Twitter at @thebenwedge, who attended the American Le Mans Series weekend at Elkhart Lake's Road America. Although a Minnesotan by residence, he ventured to the east in Wisconsin for an inaugural trip to what many consider America's "National Park of Speed."
His full photo gallery from the weekend can be found here, on Flickr. Audio clips captured from throughout the weekend are here, as well.
Going into the American Le Mans Series race weekend at Road America I knew of three things that Wisconsin did well: brats, beer and cheese. I can now add sports car racing to that list, after experiencing an amazing weekend at the track and away from my cubical.
Along with my friends David and Jason (driving and backseat, Ben has the glasses), we loaded up a car with a weekend's worth of camping gear, plus camera and recording equipment that filled up the BMW to the point that the six-hour drive from the Twin Cities was uncomfortable for the passengers! But for whatever reason, none of us gave a damn. Race weekend was a mere six-hour drive away.
We hit the road early Thursday morning, fueled by McDonald's and Kwik Trip donuts en route. We had enough time to set up camp and start watching the racing action right away, with the USF2000 cars first up – Dave called them the “Angry Hornets.” We spent much of the afternoon wandering around, and that eventually lead us down a steep, washed out path. Now there, at the bottom of the path, was Canada Corner.
The track is just feet away from the old and dilapidated spectator fence. You have to wade through decades old PBR cans and overgrown bushes to find a good spot to witness the action. When cars aren't on track this is a very peaceful place, but when Extreme Speed Motorsports sends a pair of screaming Ferrari 458s your way, the valley that Canada Corner lays in turns into an amazing concoction of glorious automotive sights and a hellishly loud mixture of engine sounds.
One thing that quickly became evident as we wondered down a wooded trail with racecars screaming by: Road America is simply “b-e-a-utiful (Yes, I'm invoking Jim Carey in Bruce Almighty here). Where else do you get to hike through the backwoods of Wisconsin, but with sports cars beaming what seems like feet away? When you're standing on a ridge overlooking the exit of the Carousel, you're busy embracing the weekend and dreading heading back to the cubical on Monday.
After a dinner of Wisconsin's finest dairy products and beer (cheese curds and Leinie's), we decided to wander the paddock. Seeing the cars up close, talking with the crew and PR people all while dodging golf karts and pit bikes is something that you can't do in most other sporting events. Not too long after we started exploring, I struck up a conversation with Team Falken Tire's PR rep, Kelly Brouillet, and, here's the kicker – she was kind enough to offer me a hot lap in a Porsche road car the next day and let us into the garage to get an up-close look at the car! I guess being a fan and avid Twitter follower can have its benefits. Later on in the paddock, following at least four near-death collisions, we were able to get a close up look at the new SRT Vipers.
Friday was a continuation of Thursday, but with some new things added in. The only difference was that the constant commotion of mopeds, motorcycles, ATVs, golf karts and “mobile homes” was more intense.
Away from the paddock, constant walking to explore new spots of the track was the name of the game. Often times the comment, “I wonder where this goes,” started the adventure. Stops at any one of the many concession stands fueled us throughout the day. This is one of the keys of the track – each concession stand is a bit different but again the fuel of choice was Wisconsin's finest brats, cheese curds and beer, with the occasional ice cream cone thrown in.
The extra stuff involved the aforementioned fast lap in a Porsche 911 road car (ALMS Vitesse Program), biking the track for charity (Tour de Road America), and the craziest of all; a random Corvette racecar in our campsite. The hot lap was amazing! It was my first time experiencing that kind of speed and performance.
On another note, the Tour de Road America is also an amazing event. Biking the track provides you a greater perspective on the elevation involved, particularly up the front straight hill. Or, alternatively, it's a way for the average Joe to say that they went flat out through the legendary kink. The racecar in the campground was just plain cool. How often does a world class race team drive their car into camp ground to do some radio/telemetry diagnostics? (Editor's note: Corvette was present for a charity event Friday night around the same time as the Tour de Road America; more information here).
Saturday was the big show. The day was planned out: breakfast, USF2000 race, IMSA Lites race, autograph session, brats and beer, grid walk and then race time followed by more fine dining at Siebkens. With Patrick Dempsey on site, there was the inevitable pursuing of his autograph – among others – as I witnessed the tremendous line for a modern day James Dean's signature. When we got to the grid walk, the coolest part undoubtedly was quite literally bumping shoulders with Rob Dyson (No. 16 Dyson Racing car, RIGHT). Yet the conversation with the legend consisted only of, “Sorry. Good luck later.”
Overall, I'd have to say that the best part of the weekend was the people – everyone at the track, naturally, shares the common interest of racing. It was so easy to strike up a conversation with anyone where that instantly became the topic.
There was a good conversation with a couple of USF2000 crew guys who were enjoying the IMSA Lites race, or there was the case where I met a gentleman who was in a “meeting” and he happened to be a driving instructor at the track. I met people from my home state of Michigan as well as a few people from my new home in Minnesota. I had a similar experience at the 12 Hours of Sebring this year. Sports car racing seems to attract good people.
Undoubtedly there's more to tell about Road America but the best thing to do is simply experiencing it for yourself – there's the beautiful scenery, amazing roads, great people, fast cars and grid girls. You can't ask for much more.
Back at the cubical farm on Monday, a co-worker asked me how my weekend was. I replied with “It didn't suck. In fact, it was pretty freaking awesome.”