On February 17, 2006 the Historic Race Circuits were recorded on the National Register of Historic Places by the Department of the Interior making the circuit eligible for placement of a Wisconsin State Historical Marker on the site. After carefully researching the history of the named location around the circuits, HRC sponsored a campaign to raise funds for the placement of the State Historical Marker on Lake Street in the Village of Elkhart Lake and thirteen smaller historical markers at named locations around the circuits. The estimated cost was projected at $20,000 and fund raising began immediately. The Milwaukee Region of the Sports Car Club of America donated the funds for the State Historical Marker and funds for the thirteen named location markers were donated by organizations, businesses and private individuals. The markers were individually set and hand cast in aluminum by Sewah Studios. Delivered in early July of 2006, the markers were erected around the circuit by members of the HRC Committee.
As it became apparent that funds for the markers would be available, HRC began to plan a Dedication Ceremony to mark their placement. Jaguar of North America provided a generous grant to fund much of the Dedication Ceremony cost with additional funds coming from private donors and organizations. A search for the original cars’ that raced and won events in 1951 and 1952 resulted in commitments from the cars owners to make the cars a part of the ceremony. Tom Mittler brought his Cunningham CR2 that had been driven to victory in the 1951 main event by John Fitch. Gerald Nell brought his C-type Jaguar that Phil Hill drove to take the 1952 Sheldon Cup race, setting the course record. The Collier Collection brought its Cunningham CR4 in which John Fitch won the main event in 1952. Not only were these cars be on display, but they also participated in a police guided “Tour of the Circuits” as part of the ceremony. Owners of classic and vintage sports cars were invited from around the Country and soon applications began pouring in. In all, eighty-two cars participated in the tour and ceremony.
With the success in obtaining participation from the original race car owners, HRC extended invitations to both Phil Hill and John Fitch to attend the dedication ceremony. Both accepted and traveled to Elkhart Lake as honored guests of HRC.
The Dedication Ceremony was held in the Village in front of the newly erected State Historical Marker (draped for the occasion) on Thursday, July 13, 2006. The event was as memorable as the original races themselves. Lake Street was closed to normal traffic and participating sports cars lined the street from Rhine Street to Elm. The ceremony began with the “Tour of the Circuits.” For the occasion the Osthoff Walkway was reopened to vehicular traffic by special permission of the Osthoff and the Village of Elkhart Lake. The walkway, a section of Lake Street and part of the original race circuit approximately a quarter mile in length, had been closed to vehicle traffic when the new Osthoff resort was built. For the first time in years, Cunninghams, Jaguars, Allards, MGs, Porsches, and Ferraris streamed across the original circuit route in a spectacular display of automotive history. After touring both the 1950 and the 1951-52 circuits, passing all of the named location markers, the cars returned to Lake Street for the dedication and unveiling of the State Historical Marker.
The ceremony was opened by State Senator Joe Liebham and Jim Draeger Architectural, Historian for the Wisconsin State Historical Society, addressing the importance of historical preservation. They were followed by Jim Dentici speaking for the Milwaukee Region of the Sports Car Club of America. Then it was time for the “Honored Guest”, Phil Hill and John Fitch. Although Phil was in failing health and spoke very quietly, you could have heard a pin drop during his comments. Here was a World Formula One Champion back in Elkhart Lake sharing his memories of racing here and his love for the area. The crowd loved it! John Fitch, who won twice in Elkhart Lake for the Briggs Cunningham Team, was both funny and poignant with tales of racing in the early days. His favorite memory of racing at Elkhart Lake: “It was very, very dangerous.” Wisconsin native and former USAC and SCCA champion Augie Pabst then asked Phil and John to join him in unveiling the State Marker. Together the three champions unveiled the marker in grand style to conclude the ceremony.
Following the ceremony, a private reception for marker donors, display car owners and honored guests was held at Siebkens Resort. Well known race driver, Brian Redman acted as master of ceremonies. To commemorate the dedication, HRC commissioned an original painting by famed automotive artist Hector Cademartori. The original painting, “The Last Race”, was auctioned at the reception bringing $5,000 to help the funding of ongoing preservation efforts. Food and drink was shared by all and in the end everyone agreed that it had indeed been a memorable day.
Honored guests Phil Hill, John Fitch and Augie Pabst unveiling the Historic Marker
For more additional photographs of these events click here
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from Cademartori’s original painting of the “Last Race”.