Center of communications, timing and scoring and press
Road America's old Pagoda at Elkhart Lake, WI
initially housed Race Control, Timing and Scoring,
and Media operations. The timber-frame structure was
built in 1955 along with the new track and was
barely ready in time for the race that September.
The building saw several improvements and remodeling
over the years.
It was a major icon of Road America for 35 years, but the
undersized wood frame structure outlived its usefulness
and was woefully inadequate. One the floors gave way under load during
a final after race party in 1989. The
tower's final demise was a befitting one, and an
opportunity for Elkhart Lake's
fire department to use it for a training
exercise burn in early 1990. Photos of the burning do
First Race at Road
1955 SCCA National Road Races
(Looking south) The first Road America Inc.
Start/Finish banner near the control line. The
Pagoda is off to right out of picture. The banner
also endorses the track's official gasoline and
reminds drivers to, "WATCH YOUR MIRROR." Photo taken before
racing starts on weekend of September 9-11, 1955.
The photo (RIGHT) was taken on opening day and the
first day of practice for the SCCA National race.
Dwight Pelkin, a Sheboygan Press sports editor,
said: "They were still pounding nails the morning of
the first race."
A line of F-G-H Production and H
Modified cars is ready to go out for the first laps
on the new track. It is an exciting moment as track
time nears and goes hot.
Note that many of the cars
are lacking any roll bars protection, as 1955 was a
simpler and more dangerous time to race.
Pagoda's second floor as a practice
session gets underway late
Saturday, September 10, 1955. Cars
are all lined up on false grid. The
SCCA National races were held the
following day on
Cars on the starting grid for the seventh race (2 - 8 liters)
for B, C, and D Modified cars on Sunday, September 11, 1955.
Yet to be built is a small steel pedestrian bridge
down the track near the line of trees to the right.
The crossover allowed access to the competition
paddock on the left, and the spectator area on right
side of track in photo.
By a nose... Phil Hill #3 started 4th and won
the 148 mile feature race in a Ferrari Monza, after
a sensational fight with the D Jaguar of Sherwood
Johnston #60 who started and finished second place
just 0.010 seconds behind Hill.
Road America 1955 National
Championship Sports Car Races
Seventh Race - Classes B, C & D Modified (2-8
liters), 148 miles
Winner's Average Speed: 80.2 mph - Sunday,
September 11, 1955
Ferrari 750 Monza
George E. Tilp
William C. Spear
Ferrari 375 Plus
Ferrari 375 MM
James H. Kimberly
Ferrari 340 MM
Ferrari 250 MM
M. R. Lyeth, Jr.
Mercedes-Benz 300 SL
Charles W. Fifield
Walter S. Gray
Allard - Cadillac
Howard A. Bosken
Glenn R. Glendening
Cunningham C6-R Offenhsr.
Ferrari 375 MM
James H. Kimberly
George R. Boyd
Robert H. Fergus
Ferrari 250 MM
1956 SCCA National Road Races
The Pagoda with a field of cars is on the starting grid
the SCCA National race for B, C, & D Modified cars on
Sunday, June 24, 1956.
The Pagoda appears as originally built in 1955
before a roof was added to middle section. The
backdrop of trees and festive nature of events
make it appear like an enchanted forest.
It served as a
race communications, timing and scoring, and as a
VIPs and the press. It was eventually enclosed with
windows by the 1970s.
behind it were all cleared in 1990, to make way for
expansion of the pits and paddock. The changes were
spurred on by increased number of car entries and to
accommodate space needed by Indy Car racing teams,
as well as to comply with newer safety requirements
Pagoda's appearance is similar to that of nearby resorts and
boathouses on the shores of Elkhart Lake.
frame structure and trees behind it would be cleared
in 1990. Expansion of the pits and paddock was
needed in order to accommodate growing interest for
Indy Car racing and improved safety that would meet
Carroll Shelby #111 completes a lap
in his Ferrari 121 LM and went onto win the
1956 SCCA National race for C-Modified class and
Road America 1956 National
Championship Sports Car Races
Seventh Race - Classes B, C & D Modified, 150
Winner's Average Speed: 84.04 mph - Sunday, June
A. A. Browne
Added in 1956
roof was added over the upper grandstand in the
middle between both end towers, some time after the June
Sprints. The next event scheduled a NASCAR
race, the first to be held at Road America on Sunday, August 12, 1956. The photo (BELOW) shows the
Pagoda's new grandstand roof in place for that
(LEFT) Tim Flock #15 drove a 1956 Mercury
sedan and won the NASCAR Grand National on
Sunday, August 12, 1956. The race was 63
laps, 252 miles on the 4-mile road course,
and was the series' first run at Road
(RIGHT) The Pagoda, circa 1956, was the first
communications center and overflowed with race
officials, staff, the press and various dignitaries.
The Pagoda (LEFT) between 1957-1958 was
outfitted with two large timing clocks
mounted on wooden outriggers and suspended
in front for timing and scoring personnel
sitting in lower level.
Road America 500 is an annual sports car race
held at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin. The
first actual "500" mile-long endurance event was on
September 8, 1957 and was added to the SCCA National
Sports Car Championship series. In 1963, the series
was taken over by the United States Road Racing
Championship. The Sports Car Club of America created
the USRRC in 1962. It was the first SCCA
series for professional racing drivers. In 1968, the USRRC was abandoned in favor of SCCA's more
successful Can-Am series.
In 1979, after an 11-year hiatus, the IMSA GT
Championship revived the Road America 500. In
1988, IMSA shortened the race to 500 kilometers (310
mi), and again in 1991 to 300 kilometers (190 mi).
The race was shortened to 2 hours in 1992. After a
return to a 500-km distance, the race was cancelled
in 1994. The Grand American Road Racing Championship
revived the 500-mile distance once again in 2000. Since 2002, the race has been an
American Le Mans Series event, and after 2003 has
been a 2 hour, 45 minute race. The only two
exceptions to this were in 2007 and 2008, when 4
hours were scheduled. Porsche has won the event nine
times, most recently in 2007. Augie Pabst, Chuck
Parsons, and Geoff Brabham have each won three times
(RIGHT) In capable hands, Briggs S. Cunningham #62 driving his 1958 Lister Jaguar XK L6 3000 cc in the
500-mile race. A film camera is mounted above the instrument
panel and pointed at the driver.
The #60 car in front is
Walt Hansgen driving a 1960 Jaguar E2A Le Mans
Sports-Racing Two-Seater Prototype. The start/finish line is shown before there was an
overhead flag stand for starters.
(right) from the dash mounted camera with legendary
driver Briggs Cunningham at the wheel of
his Lister Jaguar. His car has just passed the
start-finish line near
the Pagoda shown over his shoulder.
America 500, SCCA National Sports Car Championship
race September 11, 1960.
(LEFT) The Road America 500 on September 9,
1962, a year before the Pagoda's third floor
is waved for Hap Sharp as he finishes 500-mile race at speed. The Cunningham transporter is
in background, one of the first big rigs to
The flag stand was added between 1960 and 1962.
Race starters were moved from
harms way on the track surface to the cantilevered
platform above next to the start-finish line.
About the same time, The two timing clocks were inverted
(upward) for timing and scoring workers moved to the
Pagoda's second level.
The New Third Level
Eagle's Nest added in 1963
It's a great day for a racing. Gathering for early
morning drivers meeting at the 1963 June Sprints SCCA
Pagoda is showing a new third floor. There's a new
starters flag stand (just above heads) between the
start-finish banner and race tower. The gravel/dirt
hot pits are in foreground and were eventually paved.
In 1963, the Pagoda saw the addition of a third floor called the
Eagle's Nest. More space was needed for race
officials, stewards, communications staff and timing
and scoring personnel. Ample counter space was
needed in the days before computers and
transponders. There were over 20 assignments for T&S
personnel when timing and scoring was performed
Third level Eagle's Nest and workers below. Photo from flag stand
above track at 1963 Road America 500.
Driver in front of Pagoda carrying a trophy cup
before volunteer workers and announcer at 1963 June Sprints.
Pagoda with third level Eagle's Nest and flags
The turret on left is shown partially glassed in on
the second level.
The fourth car on the starting grid is a young
24-year-old Jerry Hansen in #44, a maroon McKee Mk
II Chevrolet. The Road America 500 on Sunday, September 5, 1965.
Ron Hissom #66 in a Chaparral 2A stops in front of the pagoda to pick
up the checkered flag for a victory lap at the end
of 500-mile race on September 5, 1965.
The team of Jim Hall, Hap Sharp and Ron Hissom took
turns driving 125 laps on the 4-mile circuit in
5-hours 35-min. and 6-sec. with an average speed of
89.53 mph. The race was stopped on lap 16 after a
collision between Jack Ensley in his Apache special
and Clint Lindberg driving an Elva-BMW, which caught
fire. The cars blocked the course and stopped the
race until the track was cleared. After an hour and
14-minutes the race was restarted. It was one of
largest attendance draws in Road America's first
(LEFT) Gradually, the pagoda received
more windows. It
also created ventilation issues for those working inside
on long hot weekends. That's British driver Stirling
Moss in the pace car at the wheel of a 1968 Chevrolet Camaro Z/28,
for the Can-Am SCCA race on Sunday, September 1, 1968.
(RIGHT) A yellow McLaren M6B and other sport racers
are lined up on the starting grid, awaiting start
the start of the SCCA Can-Am championship race on
August 31, 1969. The Pagoda and start-finish line
are together in background.
The Road America 500 race was discontinued the same
year and didn't return until 1979.
Window glazing complete
The iconic red roof was replaced with charcoal color
shingles after 20-years. Gone are the red white and
blue banners as seen in older photos. The
glassed-in building, charcoal shingles and fresh white paint gave the building a more official
appearance, less celebratory than what was mostly
been a nationalistic theme.
The CASC North American Formula Atlantic Series Race
on July 22, 1979, showing start.
The Pagoda began to look more serious as a
control building with tall radio tower, completed
window enclosure and dressed up appearance.
Following the building's updates, the flags
which once decked out the roof were no longer flown
and were replaced by tripod antennae and
(RIGHT) The Pabst 500 race weekend on August
21-23, 1981. Passing in front of the Pagoda is Janis Taylor's
#74, in a blue 5.4 Chevron Buick 36, GTP class
A "Pabst 500" banner is hanging above
the first floor windows. Pabst
Blue Ribbon beer was the event's title sponsor for a few
Originally, the 500-mile was conducted by the USRRC. The United States Road Racing Championship was
created by the SCCA in 1962. It was SCCA's
first professional racing series, which ran until
The IMSA series was founded in 1969 and racing
debuted in 1971.
In 1971, the IMSA series debuted over sanctioning. The
title sponsor was R.J. Reynolds Tobacco and
the race was marketed as the IMSA Camel GT Challenge.
Aerial view of the main straight, pit lane and
start/finish in front of Pagoda. A blue
starters flag stand is suspended above the track on left
building. The competitor's paddock with electrical hookups
The trees to the left were all removed along with
the Pagoda in 1990 to make way for the expansion of
the pits. (Photo by
It was a perfect day for a flyover and some
aerial photography. We took off from an outlying
airport near Madison, WI on route where we encircled
Road America then landed for lunch at
the Manitowoc airport in Jim's two-seater Cessna 150.
This is one of a few
photos I took of the 4-mile track with my 35 mm Fujica MPF105X
with an 80-200 mm zoom lens. My regret for not
loading camera with slower film, instead of grainy
high-speed ISO 400, which I used for capturing
speeding race cars.
Looking south about 1987, down the main straight
in direction of cars, the start/finish banner,
starter's flag stand and Pagoda. The new control
building is out of view on left side of track.
Beer brewing sponsor
Pabst to Miller (red banner) between first and
second floor windows. In this photo a new banner and
race sponsor Miller High Life is above lower level
windows. Pit lane is on right side of aqua colored
Armco and enters onto track just after Pagoda. Pit
lane was almost doubled in length after removal of
the Pagoda in March 1990.
Bendix Trans-Am Race #8, Living Well/Provimi 200
Weekend at Road America was on Saturday, August 29,
1987. The race was 25 laps on the 4-mile circuit for 100
miles. Newman started 6th on the grid.
Driver/actor Paul Newman walks
through the paddock from the pit area just before
the start of the SCCA Trans-Am race on
Saturday afternoon of August 29, 1987. Deborah
Gregg's Mercury Capri is in parked in background
near the Pagoda.
were two qualifying sessions on Friday with a second
on Saturday. Newman crashed three hours earlier
during the second qualifying session when he spun
out in the Carousel between turns 9 and 10.
Newman/Sharp Racing team got the #33 Nissan 300ZX
Turbo (LEFT) repaired just minutes before the race.
Even though he qualified fastest at 106.94 mph, "PLN"
started sixth because of a previous slower run
during a wet session on Friday.
(Photo by Mark Windecker)
Footage of Trans-Am race start on Saturday, August 29,
Newman's #33 Nissan
ends up going sideways off
Saturday's race got off to a very ragged start with
cars out of position. Deborah Gregg began making an
inside pass in her Capri and drivers didn't get a
green flag on the pace lap.
the false start, Newman crashed when the engine blew
on his Nissan
300ZX Turbo and sent him off course before reaching
the start/finish line.
He was out of the race before it
started, on what was still a pace lap.
clip (LEFT) includes a brief follow-up with PLN
shortly after the incident.
The layout of Clif Tufte's remarkable 4-mile
circuit followed along the Kettle Moraine's natural topography and
transformed the site into an enchanted land of
racing. The world-class racing circuit is a
hidden jewel in Wisconsin's backyard. The track is
well regarded and revered by top drivers, race teams and
legions of fans that attend.
The Pagoda's Finale
One last year of racing
(LEFT) The Miller High Life 500
(kilometers) IMSA Camel GT weekend was July 14-16,
In front of the Pagoda is a Nissan GTP ZX-T
(Grand Touring Prototype) car being fueled. Car #84
was driven by Geoff Brabham (AUS) and Chip Robinson
(USA), but did not start race.
The team's identical
backup car #83 was piloted by same drivers, and won
the endurance race.
In 1988, the annual Road America
500 endurance races were shortened from 500 miles to
500 kilometers, about 310 miles.
(RIGHT) The LuK Clutch Challenge, IMSA-IS International Sedan race on
Saturday, July 15, 1989. Walter Payton, former
Chicago Bears running back, drives an Oldsmobile Calais
#34 to 8th place finish. (Photo by Mark Windecker)
One of the last photos of the
Pagoda in its final days, before the 34-year-old
wood frame building was removed. The building was a
fond familiar site to everyone at
space was needed for a longer pit lane and larger
paddock. The press couldn't wait to
take up residence in the facility being planned for on
the opposite of main straight.
Working inside the old Pagoda
Mary and husband Ade Mullen were active
members of Land O' Lakes Region SCCA
since 1958 and volunteer workers through
much of the 1990s. This is an excerpt from
the region's newsletter and an account of
what it was like to work inside the Pagoda.
"Mary and Ade also worked the Media Room
at Road America for 13 years, including
moving from the Pagoda to the new
control building. She and Ade both
remembered the stormy afternoons when
they’d be finishing cutting stencils for
the mimeo to copy the results, with Mary
supervising a crew of a half-dozen women
while Ade called the media who were not
present at the track. Often, they could
feel the Pagoda sway in the wind, and
sometimes a window would blow out, but
they kept working."
Source: (July 2000) The
Tonneau On-line Edition, Land O' Lakes Region
SCCA vol. 100. Retrieved April 6, 2013, from
A Fiery End
Training exercise for fire fighters
The old Pagoda literally went out in a blaze of
glory, when local volunteer fire fighters used it as
a training exercise.
The twin turreted Pagoda possessed character and
charm on the outside, but less so for occupants
working within. Structurally, it was barely adequate
and from the beginning was often overloaded with
occupants and beehive of activity.
The mostly post and beam structure saw some
renovations over the years, most notable was the
addition of a third level dubbed the Eagle's Nest.
It was transformed from an open-air shelter to a
fully glassed-in building. The Pagoda purpose and
longevity went beyond what many must have expected.
Calls for the wrecking ball were being heard.
The time for change was ripe for Road America in the
mid 1980s, as 30 years of highly successful race
events proved. Like Clif Tufte's vision for the
racing circuit long ago, the same attention to the
track's future was paramount.
In the spring of 1984, Road America began
construction on a $1.5-million VIP Tower/Media
Center, which was located at the start-finish line
directly across from the old Pagoda on the main
straight. The new two-story facility was built of
concrete, brick and glass measuring 150-feet by
60-feet, and had a rooftop observation deck for
camera crews. Once the building was complete, only
race officials and a track announcer continued using
There was another phase of development in the works.
The track was experiencing growing pains. Pit lane
needed to be widened and lengthened to allow for the
increasing number of race entrants and bigger field
of cars. Also, the competitors paddock overflowed
with cars, trailers and tow vehicles and began
sprawling outside to other open areas of the track.
Standing in the middle of the path for the new pit
lane was the Pagoda and about 10-acres of dense
trees, which resembled a small forest. Both had to
go if the track was going maintain its function and
relevance in motorsports.
The Pagoda Remembered, from the Official Program story
1990 Road America IMSA race program.
The building that oversaw
35 years of amateur and professional road racing was
slated for removal in the upcoming winter.
At the close of 1989, there was a final tribute at
one of the last races. Like an Irish wake, a party
was held by workers and staff to bid farewell inside
the old Pagoda. By one account, a section of the
floor gave way as the result of all attending.
Nobody was injured, but revelers were almost
certainly reminded why the shoddy building had to
On the cold evening of March 1, 1990, volunteer
firefighters from nearby Elkhart Lake gathered for
the purpose of training exercise and set the Road
America icon ablaze. Like a great bonfire, the
Pagoda went up in flames; its wood frame glowed in
the cold darkness of the winter evening.
Forty-years prior, Elkhart Lake's Fire Chief worked
with Clif Tufte and others to bring road racing to
Wisconsin, where it has remained since.
Road America's New Control Building
Pagoda name did not carry
Architectural perspective rendering of
Road America's new press/VIP building and
The Milwaukee Journal write-up by Roger Jaynes on Friday,
February 3, 1984.
Photo of VIP Tower/Media Center taken about 1987. It
sat across the track opposite the Pagoda on drivers
A new and more modern race control building was
built in 1984. It was located on the opposite side
of track from the Pagoda at start/finish line. The
new building served chiefly as a VIP/Media center at
first, while the old Pagoda remained in operation to
accommodate race control and timing and scoring
operations until the end of the 1989 season. The new
facility did not have a starter's flag stand until 1990,
after the Pagoda was gone.
The VIP Tower/Media Center also housed race
officials and was also known as the RC, or
The design was a popular form applied to
commercial buildings in the 1980s. The new
tower bears resemblance to a WWII machine
gun nest. Function is one thing, and form
another. There is a lot of concrete in this
The photo (left) was taken about 1995 when
the building was already ten-years-old. You
can some minor rust stains at the base
plates for the flag stand.
(RIGHT) Photo of race
control building taken from
pit lane at 1:36 pm on Saturday, August
The first makeover to Road America's second control
building had been completed by 1999, just 13 years
following its original construction.
The theme pays
homage to the old Pagoda, and follows suit
with Road America's rural branding as it is
applied elsewhere on the track. The latest
dress-up is definitely more fitting and less
Road America is a world-class racing facility
and one of the best in the country.
"America's National Park of Speed," is proudly
displayed on a large billboard at Turn 5. But then,
Clif Tufte had already envisioned that by 1955.