Troubled Milwaukee Mile draws interest
With NASCAR and the Indy Racing League poised to post their 2010 schedules soon, any deal will have to come soon.
Wisconsin State Fair Park interim executive director Craig Barkelar said there have been “general discussions” with six potential promoters and hopes to receive formal bids by Friday.
“NASCAR and IRL are close to doing their 2010 schedules,” Barkelar said. “To be able to go ahead with that, (new promoters) need to be prepared to move quickly.”
Barkelar confirmed a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel report that the State Fair Park board voted Monday to end its partnership with promoter Wisconsin Motorsports, which is believed to owe NASCAR and the IRL several million dollars.
Barkelar said Wisconsin Motorsports granted the board permission to search for a new promoter several months ago. Six groups have indicated interest, but Barkelar acknowledged that trying to sell the right to run a racetrack in a tough economy isn’t a slam dunk.
“Everybody loves racing and sports,” Barkelar said. “But like any other business, there’s risk. And this might be riskier than others.”
If a deal doesn’t come together soon, the track could lose both its major events: An IndyCar series race held the weekend after the Indianapolis 500, and a NASCAR Nationwide and Camping World Trucks series weekend held later in June.
The IndyCar series is expected to announce its 2010 schedule by early August, and NASCAR’s schedule could come out soon after that. And if the Mile isn’t on either schedule, its chances of getting back on would be slim—putting the track’s future in serious doubt.
“Our sole focus right now is to settle the 2009 issues,” NASCAR spokesman Ramsey Poston said. “With regard to the future, there is a great deal that needs to change and be fixed before we can make any further commitments to race at the Milwaukee Mile.”
Indy Racing League spokesman John Griffin said series officials are holding out hope for a return to Milwaukee.
“Our focus is seeing if someone or some group steps up and moves forward with the venue,” Griffin said. “We currently have flexibility in giving them a date for 2010 and we want to go back.”
Barkelar said the board is looking for two main characteristics from potential promoters: Deep pockets to absorb an immediate financial hit, and a long-term business plan that does a better job of cutting costs and increasing revenue than the track’s previous promoters.
Barkelar said the new promoter must do “whatever’s needed to satisfy IRL and NASCAR for 2009 and 2010”—meaning they could be on the hook for outstanding debts.
“They assume there is a start-up loss, and give it a chance,” Barkelar said.
The upside: Barkelar said the new promoter’s licensing fee to State Fair Park would be about $180,000 per year—only 10 percent of the debt service on recent improvements to the facility. The rest will be paid by State Fair Park.
“It is a deal,” Barkelar said. “So it comes down to, can you make the operations excel? And I hope they can.”
Unless a new promoter can be found quickly, a significant piece of U.S. auto racing history will be at risk.
Located at the state fairgrounds in a residential neighborhood just west of downtown Milwaukee, the track bills itself as the oldest active auto racing facility in the country, hosting its first race in 1903—eight years before the first Indianapolis 500.
The track’s list of open-wheel race winners reads like a racing Hall of Fame: Foyt, Roger Ward, Jimmy Clark, Parnelli Jones, Mario and Michael Andretti, Al Unser Sr., Al Unser Jr. and Bobby Unser, Tom Sneva and Rick Mears. NASCAR races are a more recent addition to the track, but have proven to be popular.
And the track’s legacy extends beyond racing. It hosted some Green Bay Packers games on its infield during the 1930s—including the 1939 NFL championship game, in which the Packers beat the New York Giants, 27-0.