ELKHART LAKE — Given the vitriol over NASCAR choosing Chicago over Road America for a Cup Series race in 2023, one had to wonder.
Would the anger so apparent on social media and radio shows over the past year carry over to box office?
Would fans boycott an Xfinity Series headline weekend, essentially swapping filet mignon for meatloaf?
Would they consider staying away as sticking with NASCAR – as misguided as that might be – for offending 100,000 real fans to hold a race in a city where racing is an afterthought?
“Road America fans are going to support Road America,” said Mike Kertscher, president and general manager of the sprawling facility just outside Elkhart Lake in rural Sheboygan County. “Over the years what we’ve done here, the reality is that we have loyal fans and they love this place and so do our staff.
“If we race roller coaster cars, they’ll come.”
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Hyperbole aside, Kertscher’s take on Road America’s July 27-29 weekend is well done.
About halfway between an inaugural street race in Chicago that succeeded despite myriad obstacles and a diminished NASCAR weekend at Road America, ticket buyers seem to have forgiven if not forgotten.
“When I look back to 2019, our ticket sales are way ahead of where we were in 2019,” Kertscher said, referring to the last comparable, pre-Cup and pre-COVID weekend.
“Since then, our business has grown. All our events have been in place since then. But if we compare this year to 2019 Xfinity, there is no comparison. It’s almost double the size.
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Sales are up, but how much attendance does that mean for the Xfinity Series at Road America?
A small problem here is Road America, a tightly held private company, does not share sales or headcount. Management did not for almost 30 years because inflated attendance figures were the industry norm. So whether those increased advance sales total 150, 1,500, or 15,000, only a few people beyond Kertscher know.
We’ll be in the same place on race day, when determining how many people are scattered across more than 640 partially forested acres — for what it’s worth — comes down to anecdotal evidence and wild guesswork. Ultimately, if Road America is happy with the bottom line, it matters more than a specific number of people through the doors.
And there are still a lot of factors at play, not the least of which is the weather. Other than saving a few bucks, there’s no huge incentive to buy in advance. Rain on race day or even in the forecast can have a substantial effect on who actually shows up.
More campsites have also been sold out for the Road America NASCAR weekend July 27-29
That said, campers are encouraged to reserve their places in advance. Those numbers, according to Kertscher, are also up from last comparable weekend.
“The Cup race was also tough because it was a holiday weekend,” Kertscher said. “We knew it coming in; The 4th of July is a very, very difficult weekend. People have these traditional plans. They’re up north with their families, they’re doing this or that, and it’s hard to break that tradition.
“We were successful in part because it was new and people had been asking for it for so long, but we knew there was no guarantee this thing would stick around forever. We were happy to have him for a few years and if he ever comes back, great. We have no ill will.
“And I hear that from fans every once in a while (about a boycott, which would actually hurt Road America more than NASCAR) and I tell them, guys, it’s not “There are no guarantees in motorsport. We had a big event for two years and they went ahead to do something different. There’s nothing to be salty about, in my mind.
Do something different.
It’s what led NASCAR to bring the Cup Series to Road America, Nashville, Gateway, a dirt-covered Bristol and ultimately the center of the nation’s third-largest city.
A change in the NASCAR schedule may also help other tracks
Kertscher proclaims himself a NASCAR fan doing something different, even at the short or long term detriment of his own track.
“You go to some of these sites that worked, it’s stale,” Kertscher said. “The excitement is gone and some of the fans are gone.
“I know they’re touting a lot of new ticket buyers (in Chicago) and I think that’s great because people will experience motorsport and it’s good for all of us.” The more we get into the sport, the more they will venture here to see what we have here. Then the next progression is to bring their families, buy an RV, get out. It’s our niche, that’s for sure.
Maybe the Cup Series will sign a three-year deal to stay in Chicago. Perhaps the success there encouraged NASCAR to try the New York market or who knows where next. Either possibility could hurt Wisconsin’s chances of a Cup comeback, but Kertscher isn’t sure. He added that he was also not particularly concerned about such factors beyond his control.
“It’s not like I felt like street racing was going to take over everything, or road courses or ovals,” Kertscher said. “Part of what people love is just diversity and variety and the fact that they’re doing different things on different weekends. I do not see it.
Road America’s Xfinity Series race has no title sponsor
Another factor to note: the next race in the Xfinity series has no corporate name attached. Wisconsin companies Kwik Trip and Jockey flipped the title and featured sponsorships for both Cup events, and Henry Repeating Arms contested the final three Xfinity races, following CTech Manufacturing and Johnsonville. The last “Road America 180” dates back to 2016.
“It’s sustainable, no doubt about it,” Kertscher said. ” Everything will be alright.
“I think it’s just that a lot of people don’t know what the future looks like. When we planned this event last year, nobody really knew, are the fans going to support it, are they pissed off, are they going to come back?
“Nah, nah, nah. The fans… those who come are clearly done.