Kia Racing and the Pirelli World Challenge at Road America


I am a unashamed newb when it comes to the world of auto racing.

Save for that time I drove a Ferrari very swiftly around a scorching hot Vegas track a few years back, I barely know my way around a race course. To further illustrate that point, I had to Google the spelling of Ferrari.

In Milwaukee late last month, I found a little bit of a groove in the racing game and learned more of the lingo of the car racing community…although my spelling remains atrocious.

The Pirelli World Challenge is a 9 event circuit featuring, among other classifications of vehicles, GTS cars, many of which look, from the outside at least, similar to vehicles we might see in the parking lot of our local shopping mall or maybe the kind of car we drive our own kids around in on a daily basis. It’s this relatability that helped make my day at Road America with the red & white clad Kia Racing team so terrific — I felt like I could easily slide into one of those gorgeous Kia Optimas (decorated like the zambonis of my beloved Detroit Red Wings) and maybe find myself on the podium at the end of a 50 minute GTS race. On a side note, delusions of grandeur are always a good time and go extremely well with brats and root beer.

Yeah, I had some special access to pit lane, Kia Racing drivers Ben Clucas and Mark Wilkins, and the Kinetic Motorsports team, but what is so rad about the Pirelli World Challenge in general, and the Road America track (located an hour outside Milwaukee) specifically, is the lack of pretentiousness surrounding even the most pretentious seeming racing outfits (ahem, Aston Martin). This isn’t the Indy 500 or the Monaco Grand Prix. You don’t need to flash obnoxious amounts of cash to have this experience or to get yourself and your kids close to the drivers and the racing action. It’s just all there for you, waiting to be enjoyed in a spacious, casual, family-friendly atmosphere.

One moment that will remain with me for a very long time, a moment that speaks to the family friendly nature of both this racing circuit and the Kia Racing team, is when a young, wide-eyed fan — maybe he was 8 years old — approached the Kia Racing paddock with a glossy 8×10 photo of the two Kia drivers and a Road America race program held tightly in his clutches. He watched as Ben Clucas and Mark Wilkins, the talented men at the helm of the Kia Optima GTS race cars, spoke to me and my fellow writers about their careers, interests, childhood passions, favorite sports teams, and more. The young fan shifted his minimal weight from foot to foot, his focus never wavering, waiting patiently for a break in the conversation, some small sliver in which to politely insert himself, to shake the hands of a heroes, and to have those heroes names added to his collection of bedroom-wall mementos.

Both Ben and Mark spotted the kiddo and made sure to make his day, pose for photos, shake hands, sign everything he wanted signed and, in the process, they became a small but indelible mark on the childhood of a young boy. That’s pure magic right there, and in speaking to the guys later, they knew it and told me that they cherish that part of their job and the special opportunities to bring joy to young race fans every single time they put on the Kia Racing shirt, hat or red and white fireproof race suit.

I’ve already told my wife that I’d like to return, with my own wide-eyed and excitable kids, to Road America for next year’s Pirelli World Challenge weekend. Sure, brats and root beer are also a convincing reason to head back to Wisconsin, but I had such a wonderful time watching a variety of colorful cars zoom around the long road track and seeing the Kia Racing drivers stand proudly on that podium, that I want to share the experience with my daughters too.

Read more about Kia Racing and this press trip to Milwaukee and Road America on MenWhoBlog.

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