It was not long ago that the phrase, “new normal”, had a connotation of adapting to a life of survival and caution. Following the Fourth of July race weekend at Road America, Wisc., however, the phrase could take on a new meaning.
For the first time since 2019, the presence of fans and their well-wishes to one another filled the venue for the holiday. Their presence, all 100,000 strong, created an atmosphere of relief not felt on this particular weekend since Daytona International Speedway hosted their final Fourth of July race weekend in 2019.
Attendees included Wisconsin residents Steve Wynde — a Joey Logano fan — and Derek Pipkorn — a Jeff Gordon fan — who attended the NASCAR Cup Series Jockey Made in America 250 with their three friends.
“It’s so good to see a ton of people everywhere,” Steve said. “With us having to cancel our plans last year, it’s so good to be back here.”
“We’ve been coming to races for seven or eight years,” Steve stated. “We’ve been fans for right around that time and we have a fantasy NASCAR league, so each year the league gets together and we go to a race somewhere.”
The group is from Wauwatosa, Wisc., which is an hour away from Road America.
“We’re excited to be at Road America because it’s the first time we’ve had a Cup race in our backyard like this,” Pipkorn expressed. “We got here faster than anyone else because we were excited to see qualifying. Beautiful weather and, from what I’ve heard, one of the biggest sporting events in the country this year.”
The group’s first race was the 2013 GEICO 400 at Chicagoland Speedway. Despite the rain causing them to watch the finish at home, they became hooked on the sport after the race.
“Just getting there, seeing it and experiencing it, we knew that we were going to pick out a track each year to just keep coming,” Steve said. “This is probably the tenth race we’ve been to, each at a different track.”
Out of the estimated ten tracks that they have visited, Road America is the first road course race that the group has been to.
“It’s my first road track so just walking around and seeing the different turns on the track is awesome,” Steve said, “as opposed to an oval where you sit down and watch it all in front of you.”
“Road America is different from any other track we’ve been to,” Pipkorn said. “Being able to see fans, walk around, we already put on three miles walking around. You can bring stuff in, it’s been a great experience.”
Pipkorn brought refreshments in a 1990s Jeff Gordon cooler, which has become a family heirloom.
“My grandpa was a Jeff Gordon fan when I was a kid growing up,” Pipkorn recalled, “so when he passed away, I was given all of his Jeff Gordon memorabilia and this beauty has been coming with me to several tracks. It’s priceless.”
Following the race, fans congregated around victory lane waiting to see NMPA Most Popular Driver Award winner Chase Elliott celebrate with them for the third time after the race. Elliott’s celebration culminated a weekend of excitement that buzzed throughout Road America, a venue that better resembles a typical Wisconsin campground and hiking area than a racetrack.
Road America is one of three new road courses on the NASCAR Cup Series schedule and one of seven road course races on the schedule. Just four years ago, the NASCAR Cup Series schedule featured only two road course races.
Wisconsin’s $22.2 billion tourism industry will continue to thrive, no matter what NASCAR’s future in the state may look like. However, for one of the state’s busiest tourism months, excitement for the sport’s new normal is alive and well.
State of Wisconsin Department of Tourism