|Racing at Elkhart Lake, WI
Part 1: The Early Years, 1950-1952
|Report By Mike Marini||Photos provided by Peter Laun|
Today we are fortunate to have so many great race courses, but of course it was not always that way. By 1948, road races were being held in the West at Pebble Beach, CA and in the East at Watkins Glen, NY. Many were interested in having a similar event in the Midwest, but no course existed.
About 1950, Sports Car Club of America member Jim Kimberly out of Chicago (originally from Neenah, WI) came up with the idea of having a race at the popular resort area of Elkhart Lake, WI. The Chicago Region of the SCCA liked the idea and several members (Jim Kimberly, Fred Wacker, Jr., Karl Brocken, and C. Bayard Sheldon) went to view the proposed course. They drove to the area and then Steve Wittman flew them over Elkhart Lake for an aerial view of the course location. Following the flight, they went to the Elkhart Lake Bank and met with President James Johnson. He was enthusiastic about the idea of a road race and got several local business people together who also liked the idea. The SCCA, Chicago Region and the Elkhart Lake business people moved forward and organized a road race event. Everyone was aware of the Wisconsin "right of access" law and realized it could stop the race. The law stated that any citizen could appeal to the Governor to maintain open access to their property, along any public road. This eventually contributed to the ending of the road races on public roads around Elkhart Lake, but it did not hinder getting the 1950 event underway.
1950: A 3.35 mile triangular road course was laid out on public roads just west of Elkhart Lake. The Elkhart Lake Businessmen's Association organized personnel necessary for the race. It was kept low key until on July 19, 1950 an article about the upcoming race appeared in the local Sheboygan Press newspaper. It featured a photo of an MG-TC with Fred Wacker at the wheel. At the same time, a letter was sent to the residents of Elkhart Lake telling about the race and asking for their help and support. The residents responded positively and provided the necessary help for the event.
On Friday, July 21, many interesting cars arrived in Elkhart Lake. Some of the cars that showed up were Hispano-Suizas, Duesenburgs, Auburns, Jaguars, Allards, a Ferrari, and some MGs. The owners treated the locals to rides in their cars and created a positive impression. This also gave the participants a chance to drive the course and they soon found out it was quite dangerous. The shoulders were narrow with steep drop offs on each side of the road.
On Sunday, July 23, 1950 the Elkhart Lake Businessmen's Association sponsored the road race in cooperation with the Sports Car Club of America. Six events were held on that day. Event One was a 30-mile race for novice drivers in cars under 1500cc. First place went to Larry Whiting out of Lake Geneva, WI driving a Simca (30 minutes, 30.1 seconds). Second place went to Fred Stratton out of Milwaukee driving an MG-TC. Event Two was a 30-mile race for novice drivers in cars over 1500cc. First place went to Ted Boynton out of Lake Forrest, IL driving an MG-TC (28 minutes, 58.4 seconds). Second place went to Tom Friedman out of Milwaukee driving a Jaguar XK-120.
Event Three was a 15-mile race for ladies driving cars under and over 1500 cc. First place went to Sally Chapin driving Jim Kimberly's Healey Silverstone, and second place went to Mrs. Corwith Hamill out of Wayne, IL driving their family Allard. Third place went to Mrs. George Severens out of Lake Forest, IL driving an under 1500 cc MG-TC. Event Four was a Concours D'Elegance for all vintage cars, but no prizes were given. Event Five was a Vintage Race for the entrants to tour the course so the spectators could view all of the cars.
Event Six was a 60-mile race for the fastest cars being driven by experienced drivers. First place went to Jim Kimberly out of Chicago driving a Ferrari 166 (56 minutes, 13.2 seconds). Second place went to Fred Wacker out of Chicago driving Jim Kimberly's Healey Silverstone (57 minutes, 12.2 seconds). Third place went to James Feld out of Milwaukee driving a Jaguar XK-120 (57 minutes, 12.2 seconds).
There were a total of 20 entries of under 1500 cc cars, 13 entries of over 1500 cc cars, and 7 antiques. Of the 20 under 1500 cc cars, 18 were MG's: 5 MG-TDs, 12 MG-TCs, and 1 MG-Tourer.
All agreed that the 1950 event was a success, and planning began for an event to take place the following year. Some changes would be made such as using a longer course and promoting it as an international event, rather than as a regional event as in 1950. The crowd size in 1950 was estimated to be between 1,500 and 5,000. Not bad for a little publicized regional road race event in 1950 in rural Wisconsin.
1951: For 1951, the event at Elkhart Lake would still be run on public roads, but the course was expanded to go around the lake. The new circuit would be 6.5 miles long. The first International Elkhart Lake Road Race was scheduled for August 25 and 26, 1951. The Elkhart Lake Chamber of Commerce together with the SCCA sponsored the event. Saturday would be the finish of an additional event that was added for 1951, which was the North American Elkhart Lake Road Rally, and Sunday would be race day.
The 1951 event was highly publicized and celebrities such as Dave Garroway, "Today" show host (Jaguar SS-100), Mary Hartline, bandleader of TV show "Super Circus", and General Curtis LeMay of the Strategic Air Command entered or attended the 1951 event. Most of the race cars were driven, not trailered, including the Cunninghams that were driven from Florida to Wisconsin. Other cars in for the weekend were two Ferrari's of Jim Kimberly, and two factory prepared Jaguar XK-120's that were driven by George Malbrand and Phil Hill.
The "right of access" law was on the mind of many people from the event organizers to those living on the race course. The General Chairman, C. Bayard Sheldon, personally visited everyone that would be affected along the course, and although most of the residents cooperated, one individual would not. He was upset about being confined to his home and filed a complaint with the Sheboygan County Highway Department who took no action. More would be heard from him in 1952.
Events held on Saturday, August 25, were the completion of the Rally ending in Elkhart Lake, a Concours D'Elegance, and a street dance in the evening. The rally could be run over various routes across the United States through specified checkpoints to the final destination of Elkhart Lake. The entrants could start the rally where they chose and the greater the distance to Elkhart Lake the more points they would be awarded. They could also choose their own traveling time and scoring was done according to when they reached each checkpoint. The winners of the rally were: First place went to Morgan Sinclaire driving an Allard from Santa Monica, CA (2,241 miles at 41 mph).
The Sunday events and results are as follows. Event One was a five lap novice race. First place went to Roger Wing out of Bethesda, MD driving a Jaguar XK-120 at an average speed of 81.13 mph. Second place went to Frank Bott out of Chicago, IL driving Dave Garroway's Jaguar SS. Event Two was a four lap ladies race, however it was cancelled due to threatening weather. The race officials wanted to make sure there would be enough good weather to run the main event.
Event Three was the 30 lap feature race. First place went to John Fitch driving a Cunningham (150 minutes, 20 seconds). Second place went to Michael Graham driving a Cad-Allard (151 minutes, 18 seconds). The factory Jaguars finished third and fourth, with Phil Hill ahead of George Malbrand. Fifth went to Bill Spear driving a Ferrari. Sixth place went to Phil Walters (who took over for Briggs Cunningham) driving a Cunningham. Note that Briggs started out on the front row, and Phil Walters who started out further back, took the lead on the first lap, but lost it on the third lap to John Fitch. Walters dropped out on the eighth lap due to mechanical problems, but took over Briggs' car to finish sixth.
The Class 5 (under 1500 cc, supercharged) was won by John Bentley of New York driving an MG-TD MK II. Class 6 (under 1500 cc) third, fourth, and fifth places were MGs, behind the first place Simca and the second place Siata.
There were 98 cars entered in the 1951 races. The 1951 event was also a big success, so planning took place for another event in 1952. According to the Sheboygan Press, "For many persons … it was the first visit to Elkhart Lake. They could not help but be impressed with the attractiveness of this resort area and the hospitality of the people who make it their home. They will want to come back and that is why Elkhart Lake will be the site of the road race next year." The crowd size in 1951 was estimated to be between 15,000 and 75,000. Elkhart Lake and the races taking place there were making a name for themselves.
1952: The 1952 races would again use the 6.5 mile public road course. The Elkhart Lake International Road Race and Monte Carlo Rally were held on September 6 and 7, and unlike the previous two years, races were held both days. A big emphasis was placed on the safety of the cars and the spectators to prevent any incidents. Noteworthy cars on display in 1952 were the Buick XP-300 (GM experimental car), Excalibur (designed by Brooks Stevens), and two Arnolt MGs (a coupe and a convertible by S. H. Arnolt). There were 238 cars entered in the races for the weekend.
Events held on Friday September 5, were the completion of the Rally ending on Lake Street in Elkhart Lake, a Concours D’Elegance, and a street dance in the evening. Notable winners of the rally were: First place (Prince Ranier III Trophy – Best Overall Performance) went to Dorothy Dickinson driving an MG-TC from Long Beach, CA. Nuffield Trophy – Best performance by a car under 1500cc, first place went to Boyd H. Keys and John Wright driving an MG-TD from Dayton, OH. Second place went to Mrs. Chas. Portman & Mrs. Jody Hutchison driving an MG-TD from Los Angeles, CA. Third place went to Chas. B. Wilson driving an MG-TD from Columbus, OH. The Madame Junek Trophy – awarded for the best performance by a lady driving the last 120 miles from Highland Park, IL to Elkhart Lake, WI. -- went to Mrs. Tom Newcomer driving a Jaguar XK from Overland Park, KS.
The following events (and their results) were held on Saturday, September 6. Sheldon Cup, a 15 lap race for cars of 1950 cc to 4000cc: first place went to Phil Hill driving a Jaguar XK120C (average speed 89.5mph). Second place went to Phil Walters driving a Ferrari (average speed 88.5 mph). Third place went to George Weaver driving a Jaguar XK120C (average speed 88.2 mph).
In the Concours D'Elegance, the Modern Class (1933 to 1952) winner was Briggs Cunningham; 1952 Cunningham C3 Coupe. The Vintage Class (1926-1932) winner was Brooks Stevens; 1928 Mercedes Benz Phaeton. The Veteran Class (1911-1925) winner was H. C. Wuesthoff, Jr.; 1919 Locomobile 40 HP Touring, and Edwardian (before 1911) honorable mention (no contest) was Frank Fricke; 1909 Hupmobile Roadster.
The Sunday events and their results are as follows. Kimberly Cup, a 15 lap race for cars 1950 cc and under: First place went to Bill Spear driving an O.S.C.A (average speed of 66.2 mph). Second place went to Karl Brocken driving a Porsche. Third place went to John Von Neuman driving a Porsche. Fifth (William Lloyd), sixth (Jack McAfee), seventh (Robert Salzgabre), ninth (Norman Carlson), and tenth (Fred Allen) place finishers drove MGs.
Note that nearly 20 MGs were in the race and John Gordon Bennett had an early lead in his blown MG until he suffered a broken piston. One serious incident took place when William Taylor spun in an MG at Siebkens Corner and ran into the snowfence. He hit several people behind the fence and then hit a telephone pole. Eight spectators and the driver were injured, though none seriously.
In the Elkhart Lake Cup, a 201.5 mile race for cars 1950 cc and over, first (John Fitch), second (Phil Walters), and third (Briggs Cunningham) place finishers drove Cunninghams. Fourth (Phil Hill) and fifth (George Weaver) place finishers drove C-Type Jaguars.
The September 6 and 7 races in 1952 attracted 238 entrants and more than 100,000 spectators. But racing was not going to be allowed on public roads any longer. The main protestor was not going to give up so the "right of access" law was going to be enforced and a different venue was needed. Local engineer Clif Tufte had a vision and selected a 500-acre site near Elkhart Lake in 1953. A first-class road racing track and facility was constructed and Road America opened on September 10, 1955 -- but that's another chapter of the story.
Come and enjoy the Elkhart Lake area and Road America during September 21, 22, and 23 when the MG VINTAGE RACERS FOCUS EVENT for 2001 is held at the VSCDA Elkhart Lake Vintage Fall Festival. MG is the Featured Marque for the weekend. You will be able to drive a first-class race course – Road America, AND you can tour the original road race courses.
More will be said about Road America in Part 2 of Racing at Elkhart Lake, WI.
Information was obtained from Peter Laun's The History of the Elkhart Lake Road Races 1950-1952, and various articles from "The Sheboygan Press" and "The Milwaukee Journal".
Online Editor: Christopher Kintner
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