Chicago Region SCCA: Honors founder of Road America with a statue

On October 9, 2020 the Chicago Region SCCA and Road America partnering together unveiled a bronze statue of Road America founder, Clif Tufte.  Sixty-five years ago Tufte an Elkhart Lake resident and highway engineer established a plan to purchase the land and lay out and build the race circuit which would become Road America. Work began in early spring of 1955 and in September of that year the first race was held.  That race was won by Phil Hill driving a Ferrari Monza, who later became the first American Formula One World Champion.     

This joint project first began in 2018 at the Chicago Region SCCA June Sprints® when members of both Road America and Chicago Region SCCA board of directors met and agreed in principle to honor Clif Tufte.  Conversations about the project continued and in late summer 2019 the decision was made to honor Clif with a statue.  Sculptor Tom Holleran was selected to create the tribute which is based on photos and input from family members, and friends from Chicago Region and Road America.  After months of work on Tom Holleran’s part, and several project review meetings the final version of the statue was created.  No detail was left undecided, the tip of the hat, the stance, and facial details everything was looked at and looked at again.  When the final review of the full size clay mockup was reviewed, one of Clif’s grandson’s was overheard saying “that’s grandpa”. 

As mentioned earlier, Phil Hill won the first race at Road America in 1955, and Carroll Shelby won the first June Sprints® in 1956.  Since that time many of racings greats have competed on the 4 mile race circuit which to this day is unchanged from its original layout Clif created.  Two major figures in sports car racing, Roger Penske and Jim Hall had this to say about Clif;

Roger Penske – 1959 Road America 500 Champion

“Road America is certainly one of the most challenging and beautiful road courses in the world. I want to thank the SCCA Chicago Region and Road America for creating a statue to honor Clif Tufte, the founder and builder of this special facility. Clif had great vision to create such a unique and competitive racing circuit in the early 1950s and he is certainly deserving of this special honor. I first began racing at Road America in 1959, driving a Porsche at the SCCA Nationals. It was an honor as a driver to compete on the track back then and that continues to be true today. Our Team Penske race teams have participated in nearly 100 races at Road America over the years and we are proud to have produced 14 victories at the track across sports car, INDYCAR and NASCAR competition. Our teams know that winning at Road America means proving yourself against top-level competition, on one of the most demanding courses in the world in front of some of the most loyal and enthusiastic fans in racing. We have Clif Tufte to thank for that opportunity and this statue will continue to honor his legacy at Road America.”

Jim Hall, Chaparral Cars – 1962 and 1965 June Sprints® and 1965 Road America 500 Champion

“Clif called it ‘Road America’ and in many ways it was and is the definitive American road course. It is long, very challenging, and maybe the most beautiful racetrack in North America. Win or lose it was a place you wanted to be. I always enjoyed being able to grab a charred brat and sit in a shady spot on a beautiful Wisconsin afternoon. It was a different era in racing then, and Clif was one of the people who made it one of the greatest in the sport’s history. All of us who love racing owe Clif Tufte our everlasting respect and appreciation.”

Many drivers and some close friends that new Clif and have competed on, or been part of Road America’s history have offered their thoughts as well.    

Mario Andretti – F1 World Champion 1978, Indianapolis 500 Champion 1969

Clif Tufte will always be remembered for his love of motorsports, for his contributions, and of course for helping to make Road America one of the most successful road courses in American motor racing.   A testimony to his vision is the fact that Road America today still ranks at the top of race drivers’ favorite tracks.  Mr. Tufte created not just a race course, but an icon for racing in America.

Jonathan Laun – Road America Board of Directors 1978 – Present, Chairman of the Board 1990 – 2019

Clif Tufte was a special person in my life.  As a 17 year old entering my senior year of High School, Clif gave me my first job. Starting with spreading gravel on the path to Corner 5, picking up trash, and cleaning outhouses, Clif taught me the value of hard work as a young person. This continued for a number of summers while in college which gave me a unique view of the man.  Clif frequently visited the track and my office to share his thoughts giving me a great appreciation for Road America.  Later after I returned to the area to work in my family business, Clif invited me to be on the Road America Board of Directors. This culminated with thirty years as chairman of the board, so you might say I went from the outhouse to the penthouse.

Allen J. Sutton – Chicago Region SCCA Regional Executive 1978

The man, the myth, the legend.  I worked as a flag marshal on corner two at the first June Sprints® in 1956, I met Clif in 1962.  We became close friends over the years and Clif confided in me often.  In 1978 when I was Regional Executive (R.E.) he told me he had two dislikes about Chicago Region.  First, the annual dinner dance which Clif was always invited, came during duck hunting season, and second, the R.E’s changed every year and he always had to train the new kid. Clif was unique and I was honored to call him my friend. 

Brian Redman – 24 Hours of Daytona Champion 1970 and 1981, F5000 Champion 1974, 75, 76

My first race at Road America was in mid-July 1972.  It was extremely hot when we arrived—myself, my wife Marion, son James, 7, and daughter Charlotte, 4—and when amiable track president Clif Tufte told us we had accommodations at a local college, we were delighted.  Not quite so happy when we discovered our college dormitory had no air conditioning!  Happily, Clif sorted that out for us the very next day, for which we were very grateful. Thursday afternoon was open practice and it was raining a bit but, being from the U.K., I was used to wet conditions. In fact, I was surprised when no other cars went out. But I soon found out why: the surface was extremely slippery.  In the race, the suspension broke, so we were out of my first-ever race at Road America. But I’d already fallen in love with the circuit, and subsequently had many wonderful and happily successful races there. Road America has been one of my favorites since my very first race there, and some of my fondest memories are of the circuit and the surrounding area. What Clif Tufte created is truly America’s greatest road-racing circuit.

Ward Torke – As a young man helped build Road America 1955

My recollection of Clif is that he always wore his hat, I only saw him once take it off because he was so mad about something, he threw the hat on the ground and once the hat came off the only thing you saw was this head of thick white hair. He was very even keel, never a raised voice, never overly excited about things.

Bobby Rahal – Indianapolis 500 Champion 1986, Indy Car Champion 1986, 87, & 92, Road America Board of Directors Emeritus   

“I never personally knew Clif Tufte which is odd as I’ve spent much of my life at Road America. Whether it was as a young, enthusiastic spectator in the 50s, 60s and 70s or as someone who finally had the privilege of experiencing its twists and turns in September of ’74, one would think I would have had plenty of chances to meet Clif.”

Had I met him, what would I have said to him?

“Thank you Clif for providing racing fans and drivers with one of the World’s best circuits and in my mind, clearly the best circuit in North America!” 

Road America has everything…fast straights, slow corners, deceptively fast right hand corners and of course, “The Kink!” It has elevation change and braking points that challenge your bravery. In short, Road America has everything a driver could want.  But what makes Road America really special is that the circuit we all drive on today is the same circuit that those racers drove on in 1955! It is unchanged, unmodified…in short it has withstood time.  I know of no other circuit in the World with this pedigree.

And what it provides a driver with, it does the same for spectators. What’s your favorite viewing area? Fireman’s Hill? Turn 5? Hurry Downs? The Kink? Canada Corner or the Carrousel? There isn’t a bad viewing area at RA! 

I was fortunate to see the greatest drivers perform as a young man and even more so to compete against the best at Road America, Clif’s legacy.  

Bill Wuesthoff – 1963 RA 500 Champion, Road America Board of Directors Emeritus    

American road racing was very fortunate to have Clif Tufte in the Elkhart Lake area in the 1950’s after SCCA people decided this would be a great place for a national road race circuit.  Clif was part of this process from the beginning, with his knowledge of local business people, property owners, plus his background in sand and gravel and road building where excellent ingredients in solidifying the accomplishments of creating our wonderful Road America.  The grading began in April 1955 with the first race in September of that year.  Clif was a good organizer and with his PR ability which was so important in the early years, he got the job done.  It is wonderful that this sculpture of Clif has been created to maintain the memory of this special person.  

Augie Pabst – 1960 June Sprints® Champion, Road America Board of Directors Emeritus    

As everyone knows, there would be no Road America without Clif Tufte. He envisioned what we have today. He picked out the land, raised the money to purchase the property, and with the help of many other dedicated people, we have the finest, most beautiful and challenging race track in the country.

Emmitt Stains – Chicago Region SCCA Regional Executive 1974

“Join us to honor one of the fine gentlemen in our sport, the man who brought Road America into its place of prominence.”

In the October 1955 following the running of the first SCCA National road race at Road America Clif’s peers from the Chicago Region printed these words in their October issue of the Chicago Region SCCA newsletter Piston Patter to pay tribute to this exceptional individual; 

Let there be no mistake, when the record of Road America is written into the history of sports car racing, one name will stand alone.  Although he sought and received help from any qualified source, he and he alone – had the vision, courage and ability to carry out the construction of a superb course. While the rest of us talked, he built.  The man?  Clif Tufte

Now today, the many that worked on this project, and those that enjoy this wonderful place called ‘Road America’ have just one thing to say “Thank you Clif”.