Americana Overload: A Weekend at Road America

It’s a family legend that my father took my mother to a swap meet on their first date. A blind date.

Nancy, a sworn non-drinker, coped by downing piña coladas before noon.

While Don hasn’t exactly passed along his love of old hot rods to his eldest, one of my favorite things to do with my dad is hit classic car shows in his ’57 Vette and scope out muscle cars.

When my dad mentioned my early arrival date would allow me to accompany him to Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin, I jumped at the chance. Things had been stressful since my grandpa’s passing, and I needed a few days’ break from a new house, issues with my Spanish bank and technology. I immediately cancelled plans I’d made with friends.

What I really needed was a good old dollop of Americana, the familiar lull of V8 motors and little else to do but stare at a lake with a beer in my hand.

When my dad went to college in Wisconsin, Elkhart Lake was halfway in between his hometown and his college town. For my entire life, he’s been spinning stories of the good old days when he and his friends would moon girls from the pier, stir up trouble at Siepkin’s Pub and sleep it all off the next day (yeah, I know, apple doesn’t fall from the tree). 

The town of Elkhart Lake sits along the north and west boundaries of the lake and was made famous in the 1950s, when road racing on the back county roads began to draw crowds. After a proper track was inaugurated in 1955, amateurs began racing vintage cars in time trials on the 4.5-miles track. Road America‘s classic car weekend is the biggest bash of the year, and the three days where my dad and his buddies meet up.

On Friday night, we met my Uncle Bill, cooler stocked full of beers, water and snacks for the weekend. The town was crawling with people – most decked out in Harley Davidson or Road America tees – with the token koozie and beer belly. After the hot rods roared through town, we carried our roadies down the main drag, where old-time, mom-and-pop shops sidled up to a curb-less road that once served as the finish line to the original road race.

Three bands rocked at the three bars, and after about a gazillion gallons of beer (what a sip of fresh air compared to two years of non-stop Cruzcampo), I belted out Journey until my voice was raw with my cousin and his friend.

Welcome home, Cat. 

My hangover the next morning was Unwelcome, but a reality as I sipped on a coffee without milk and watched the morning Milwaukee news. Don tossed me a hat and told me to get dressed to go see the track. I put on a cute dress and not-so-sensible shoes (though I would have done better with clothes that were way too tight and even LESS sensible shoes!).

“Oh, you meant go watch the races?” Oops. Apparently the time trials began at 7am, so we were running late. We paid $50 each to gain access, and my dad drove me right away to Turn 3 for the Ultimate breakfast sandwich. Capital U: a Sheboygan butter roll topped with Sargento cheddar and a specially made patty of bacon and brat. Doesn’t get any more ‘Sconsin than this sandwich.

Back in the ’70s when my dad and Ken would camp out at nearby Plymouth Rock, they’d watch the cars come down a shallow slope, nearly run themselves off the track at Turn 3, then speed off down the straightest part of the course. Back then, the course didn’t have barricades, and you could literally feel the cars rumbling in your chest.

I found the noise and the speed and the legendary rumble to be mesmerizing.

I followed my dad and uncle to the Pit and to a Bud heavy, where we watched the finish line. Don kept track of the leading cars around the six-lap track, where I just thought about how cool it was that he’d watch the course and its environs change over the last 40 years or so as I snacked on a Johnsonville Brat.

After two years of beginning to feel sevillana, one weekend, torque, and an endless array of condiments was all it took to remember I’m a corn-fed Midwesterner with a love of beef and hooch-mamma spotting.

What makes you feel really American when you’re home? Do you like going to car shows or car races?

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About Cat Gaa

As a beef-loving Chicago girl living amongst pigs, bullfighters, and a whole lotta canis, Cat Gaa writes about expat life in Seville, Spain. When not cavorting with adorable Spanish grandpas or struggling with Spanish prepositions, she wrangles babies at an English language academy and freelances with other publications, like Rough Guides and The Spain Scoop.


  1. Love, love, love this, especially as a born and raised Wisconsinite. Although, I’ve never been to Elkhart Lake. Shame on me…? Just reading about brats and cheddar cheese made my mouth water. I’ll miss this when I’m in Spain, but I can always come back an. It will be there. Brats, cheese, Miller, and, oh yah, go Packers! Haha. I’m glad you’re enjoying your Midwest summer. Where’d your Dad go to school?
    Mike of Mapless Mike recently posted..10 Things I’m Looking Forward to in SpainMy Profile

    • Cat Gaa says:

      My dad and many of his cousins went to St. Norbert’s in the late ’60s and early 70’s. Since he was raised in Antioch, he’s practically a Wisconsinite!

  2. That’s so funny you posted about car shows and car races. My dad recently went to an antique car show and somehow got it into his head he wanted to buy an Astin-Martin (spelling?). He keeps talking about it and my mom keeps rebuffing him. I don’t know what he’s going to do with it, he isn’t going to drive it anywhere and it just makes it look like he’s having a mid-life crisis. You really can’t get more American than car shows and races!

    Things that make me feel American: reunions with my sorority friends (try explaining sororities to Europeans haha, I’ve failed and tried), barbecues, golf carts, parades of any kind, my local YMCA (not the song, but the gym which I am a member of!), bagels, summer camp. I realize they have summer camps in Spain but they are so not the same when it comes to American day camps and sleepaway camps. Smores, color war, camp songs and cheers, kickball etc. Plus the camps I worked in were predominantlyJewish (which is typical for the area I live in) so that also led to a completely different feel than regular camps–they had kosher hot dogs for example and the kids always talked about Hannukah. Enjoy your very American summer!
    amelie88 recently posted..On the Dangers of Travel Writing Cliches (and Zombies)My Profile

    • Cat Gaa says:

      My dad’s Vette isn’t a midlife crisis – he’s had it for nearly 40 years! Astin Martins are gorgeous cars, even though I know nothing about it but where they were produced!

      Yes, America is pretty much what you encapsulate there. I find myself missing camp and campfires a lot when summer comes along!

  3. Glad you are getting to unwind a bit after a stressful beginning to the summer. I bet it felt odd not to be at camp, too!
    Cassandra recently posted..The Summer of Colombian SlangMy Profile

    • Cat Gaa says:

      It was weird not being at camp, but a welcome weird! I’ve been full steam ahead since I’ve been home, though…

  4. Oh sure, Cat. We’ve been away now for 3 weeks and I haven’t had one pang of homesickness until this. I’ve never been to Elkhart Lake, but can relate to just about everything else in this post. I could really go for a Leinie’s (in a koozie of course) and a lake right about now…
    Jed recently posted..A stroll through the Albaicín neighborhoodMy Profile

    • Cat Gaa says:

      Ah, sorry about that! Elkhart seems like any lake in Wisco – it was great! But you have so many wonderful things to enjoy in Granada, too!

  5. Driving and huge parking lots and huge every thing is what makes me feel at home – and I love it all!
    Alex, Speaking Denglish recently posted..THREE YEAR SWAP: GET YOUR GERMAN DRIVER’S LICENSEMy Profile

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