The open road sports car races held in 1950 through 1952 were conceived and operated by the members of the Chicago Region of the Sports Car Club of America (SCCA). Jim Kimberly is acknowledged as the person who selected Elkhart Lake and was the driving force behind organizing the races along with Fred Wacker, Karl Brocken and C. Bayard Sheldon.
At the time, Elkhart Lake was at a low point in its economic history and Jim Johnson, President of the Elkhart Lake Bank, felt that the races would bring a new energy to the area. Joined by Fire Chief Ray Kramer and Resort owner Ollie Siebken Moeller, a strong community effort was mounted that resulted in dozens of volunteers coming forward to help organize the races. Governor Walter Kohler, who had a summer home on Elkhart Lake, helped pave the way.
The 1950 races, held on the 3.35-mile circuit north of the lake, had the flavor of a typical club event. All the drivers and cars came out of the Chicago Region and most cars were driven to the event, raced and then driven home. The event took place on Sunday, July 23rd and five races were held with cars divided into two classes: under 1500cc and over 1500cc. Two 30-mile races for novice drivers were held, one in each class. A novice driver was defined as one who had never finished higher than fifth in any open road race. The novice races were followed by a 15-mile ladies race that combined both classes. The day was concluded with two 60-mile races for experienced drivers, one in each class. The event was very successful with an estimated 5,000 spectators in attendance.
The 1951 and 1952 races were held on a new 6.5-mile circuit that circumvented the lake and had a much different flavor. The Chicago Region of the SCCA planned, promoted and orchestrated the races and nationwide promotion attracted celebrities and professional race teams from across the country.
The 1951 races were held on Sunday, August 26th and three races were scheduled with cars divided into four SCCA classes. The first event was a five-lap race (approximately 32 miles) for novice drivers mixing all classes in the same race. The second event was planned as a ladies race but was cancelled due to threatening weather. The third race was a 30-lap race (approximately 200 miles) for experienced drivers, again mixing all classes. John Fitch, driving a Cunningham CR2, won the race. Although no official attendance records were kept, spectator attendance was estimated to be in the area if 50,000.
The 1952 races were held over the course of two days, Saturday and Sunday, September 6th and 7th. The first race was held on Saturday, a 15-lap (approximately 100 miles) event for cars between 1950ccs and 4000ccs. The race was for the Sheldon Cup, named for one of the race founders C. Bayard Sheldon. Future F1 World Champion Phil Hill won in a C-type Jaguar. There were two races held on Sunday. The first race for the Kimberly Cup was a 15-lap (approximately 100 miles) event for cars under 1950ccs. The winner was Bill Spears driving an OSCA. The main event for the Elkhart Lake Cup was a 30-lap (approximately 200 miles) race for cars over 1950ccs. The winner was John Fitch in a Cunningham CR4. There were a total of 238 cars entered in the three races, a far cry from the 33 cars raced in 1950. Attendance was estimated to exceed 100,000.
Although open road racing ended in 1952, it was not the end of sports car related activities in the Village of Elkhart Lake. In 1955, Road America, one of the premier closed circuit road race courses in the world, was opened just a little southeast of the original open road circuits. The Village continued as a center for gatherings of sports car enthusiasts. Concours and car club events are often held on the streets where sports cars once raced. These events frequently include formal police-escorted reenactment tours of the historic circuits. Many clubs and individuals informally tour the circuits throughout the year and the rumble of sports car engines are still heard where now vintage racers once roared.