“Come for the experience and stay for the race,” says Mike Kertscher, Director of Business Services at Road America, located in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin. According to Kertscher, the average person does not know how diverse Road America is. It’s a park with a couple of racetracks built into it – truly. That’s what it is.”
Road America: "A Park with a Couple of Racetracks Built into it."
by Ziva Allen
“Come for the experience and stay for the race,” says Mike Kertscher, Director of Business Services at Road America, located in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin. According to Kertscher, the average person does not know how diverse Road America is. “You can bring your family and friends here. Even if they’re not into driving, they can still come here and have a great time. I cannot stress enough that we have a little something for everybody. It’s a park with a couple of racetracks built into it – truly. That’s what it is.”
Road America has diversified quite a bit over the past 10 years and “sometimes our track may even be considered outside the traditional realm of motorsports,” says Kertscher. Road America offers many experiences to folks other than motorsports, such as the recently installed zip line, which runs along a path that overlooks turn 13 and brings you to speeds up to 60 miles per hour, go karting, stunt shows throughout race weekends, onsite camping, hiking, tailgating, and other fan engagement activities. “We know that the more people we can get here, the better, whether it be for races or other activities. We’re aware that a percentage of the folks that come here for something else will come back and buy a ticket so we concentrate on developing an experience for all people. The race is certainly the feature but there’s plenty to do for all folks,” says Kertscher.
Kertscher himself is an automotive enthusiast who, prior to working at Road America, had been involved in competitive motorsports for quite a number of years, racing an open wheel sprint car for about 15 years. Eventually Kertscher was recruited by Skip Barber to assist with programs they were involved in at race facilities. “I grew up in Wisconsin. Actually, I grew up just about an hour from Road America. So after I started working for Skip, I decided to spend a lot of time here as I really appreciated this facility, not only for the great track here, but for its beauty as well.” Kertscher began working for Road America in 2007 as a Programs Manager. At that time his day-to-day duties were developing new and exciting ways to utilize the facility and developing the driving school programs. In fact, it was Kertscher who started Road America’s motorcycle school which now runs about 100 classes a year. Kertscher went on to develop their driving school as, until then, Road America did not have its own school. Currently Kertscher is in charge of developing the business, keeping its current programs successful, concentrating on new ways to utilize the facility, and bringing in new people.
Another fun event offered at Road America is called Sunset Cruising which is designed to open up the track to newbies, families and folks who are pre-beginners, and people who would love the opportunity to get on the track but have not necessarily made the leap to HPDE as a hobby. “We built the Sunset Cruising program a few years back and the whole scope behind it was to get new people here,” says Kertscher. “Of course everybody wants to drive on the racetrack so this is a safe, fun family event that anybody can participate in. Because this is a way that everyone can be exposed to the track, we find it is another way to develop new customers.” And hey! Maybe it even converts some of them into everyday track drivers.
In fact, Kertscher has noticed over the years that although “the track day events have always been quite strong, there’s definitely an influx of new track day goers. This weekend is a prime example actually. We hosted a winter autocross event here. That event draws a younger demographic with cars like Subarus and the like. And we know that a lot of those people had not previously done track days and they are just getting into it.”
We asked Kertscher what his favorite track car is and he said, “That’s a tough question. Well I’m impartial really. I’m probably going to have to say the new Stingrays are a whole lot of fun. We are indeed a Chevy track so we do like the Chevy product here.” Kertscher’s advice to those just getting started and looking to purchase a track dedicated car: “I think it’s important for people to find a fit that matches them. And everyone’s a little different. Buy something that you can afford to run. Get a car where you can get plenty of laps, especially starting out. You want to get a lot of laps, you want to hone your skills, you want to start slow and work your way up. You don’t want to be in the poor house because you have to put brakes and tires on your car all the time. So it’s different for everybody. I would say participate within your means – I think that’s the biggest thing. Otherwise, you find you can only afford to do one or two days a year. I always say, ‘come on guys, you’re not helping yourself that way.’ If you participate within your means, then you may just stay around longer.”
Road America also offers a winter and teen driving program, which focuses on defensive driving. It is a program that Director of Operations Greg Wieser is quite proud of. “I find this program to be very important for young people just starting out. However, it is not necessarily geared exclusively at teens, especially considering our weather conditions. The knowledge picked up is invaluable. Honestly, I think in climates like ours, everybody should take one of these classes.”
Wieser’s trip to his position at the track does not follow your traditional driving fanatic’s journey. Wieser started at the facility working part time doing seasonal maintenance. “Pretty much weed eating and dumping the garbage while I was in college,” says Wieser. “I then got a full time job here in maintenance right out of college and have progressively worked my way up. Eventually I became track manager. Then the position of Director of Operations was created. It’s kind of a unique story.” Although Wieser did complete a one day Skip Barber class back when he first started working at Road America years ago, “I realized really quickly that I enjoy a lot of things other than going fast. However, I have also come to realize that I am very good at working on the racetrack when incidents occur. Being quick on your feet to get the repairs accomplished is very important. The main goal is to get the track green again so everybody else can enjoy themselves.” Wieser’s current duties involve facility maintenance and upkeep, assisting with on-track incidents, equipment repairs, overseeing the track safety team, track security team, track medical team and IT Department as it relates to issues out in the field.
Wieser takes great pride in the history surrounding Elkhart Lake and the track. Says Wieser, “We’re really just stewards of this great facility while we’re here. The track’s been here for 60 years this season. We hope of course that it’s going to be here for many more years moving forward. We are just here in the meantime to continue to improve it, grow it, and be stewards of the facility just for our time here.” Wieser is aware that people come to Elkhart Lake for its track as well as for the beauty surrounding the track. Wieser notes that driving into Road America is literally like driving into a park. The grounds are manicured very well, there are a ton of woods and people can move from one area to another if they so choose and just enjoy the beauty the area offers.
Wieser explains that with all of the events and programming going on at any one time, planning is the most important element. “We run about four events a day. From the four mile track, to the go kart track, to motorcycle schools, corporate outings, paintball and so on…it’s a pretty big shell game as to who’s going to be where, when are people coming, leaving and the effects it all may have on operations of any of the other tracks. It’s a huge planning effort. We’re always planning a minimum of a week out if, not further when we talk public events. Once the event gets here, the staff has all the necessary information, proper contact names and everything needed to run a successful day. We all try to personally introduce ourselves to the head of the renting group and put a name with a face. We tell them ‘It’s a phone call away if you need anything.’ We really try to make it easy for the renter by planning in advance to make sure everything’s going to go smoothly for them. It’s a team effort.”
For all of you drivers who are planning to hit the Lake this upcoming season, you can look forward to new projects, as Road America always spends the offseason planning improvements to the facility for the competitors, spectators and media. Says Wieser, “We’re working on turn 12 on the track, repaving a portion of the track, putting in some new fan seating, and installing big screen TVs for fans. Of course mother nature throws her little punch at us this time of year so we have to plan around the weather to get it all done and be ready to roll when the race season starts.”
And start it will! It may be snowing where you are now but before you know it, the temps will start rising, the snow will start melting, and you won’t have to shovel your driveway to get to your track car. Just put it in drive and off you go to Elkhart Lake!
A guided lap around Road America in a Chevrolet Corvette
Road America's Programs Manager, Mike Kertscher, takes you on a guided lap around the legendary 4-mile, 14-turn circuit in one of RA's Chevrolet Corvette pace cars.