See you in Milwaukee: IndyCar makes last-minute return
The Milwaukee Mile in West Allis has played host to racing nearly every year since 1903. To give you some comparison, the inaugural Indianapolis 500 was held in 1911. Perhaps the racing series most closely linked to racing in Milwaukee is IndyCar .
The IndyCar series has raced at the track, located in the Wisconsin State Fair Park, almost annually since the 1930s. The only missing years were during World War II and in 2010, when various issues made it impossible for the track to host racing of any sort.
From 1947 until the CART/IRL series split in 1996, drivers went from the year’s biggest race, the Indy 500, straight to Milwaukee the next Sunday. “See you in Milwaukee” is what Paul Newman’s character Frank Capua said at the end of the Indy race in his 1969 racing flick “Winning.” Having that date was a boon to the track as it clearly drove up attendance.
After the split, the CART (later Champ Car) series held the post-Indy date at the Mile, but it was the IRL that held the marquee event at Indianapolis. Due to many factors, attendance slowly declined, sponsorship dried up and promoters came and went.
My dad and I have been to every IndyCar race at the Mile since 1991. From 2004-2006, in the waning years of the split, we attended both series’ races.
After the unfortunate 2010 hiatus, IndyCar returned to the venerable track in 2011, but to dismal attendance. Many things contributed to the poor showing, including a Father’s Day race date, questionable weather with rain on race day morning, and a too-late 2:30 p.m. starting time. It is estimated that fewer than 10,000 people attended the race at a track where the grandstands hold 40,000.
IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard has said that the series owes the track one more try, but many believe that if this year’s race is a failure, there will not be any reason for IndyCar to attempt to come back. With the lastminute addition of the Milwaukee Mile, it seems that the drivers, fans and the IndyCar brass knew that something had to be figured out to get the track back on the schedule.
After a tragic end to the 2011 season, in which reigning Indy 500 champion Dan Wheldon was killed in a horrifying crash in the season finale at Las Vegas, the IndyCar series is making great strides to recover its lost glory. After reunification between Champ Car and the IRL in 2008, the IndyCar series now sits alone as the premier open-wheel racing series in the United States, and things are moving the right direction.
This will be the first season since 2003 in which an all-new chassis will be deployed. There will also be three engine manufacturers with Chevrolet and Lotus joining Honda, who had been the sole engine supplier in the series since 2006.
As the IndyCar series hopes to regain its foothold in American racing, team owner (and five-time Milwaukee winner) Michael Andretti and his marketing group have taken the task of bringing the series back to Milwaukee. Andretti Sports Marketing has already built successful IndyCar races in Toronto and St. Petersburg, Fla. If this year’s race is deemed a success, one can only hope for a return to the post-Indy date in the near future.
I would implore anyone with even a basic knowledge or curiosity of racing to check out the IndyCars in Milwaukee. It’s a heritage that goes back many years, and I promise you won’t be disappointed.
The atmosphere is something you rarely experience: the smell of burning rubber and ethanol fuel wafting through the air; the sound of engines revving as sunshine gleams off of the unrealistically shiny cars; the excitement in the voice of the PA announcer and roar of the rising crowd as the field takes the green flag; the sound of screeching rubber and carbon fiber slamming the wall, seconds after you actually see it happen. Or just enjoying a brat and a cold (Miller) beer on a hot summer day while you watch the excitement unfold from the grandstand. It’s absolutely electric.
The race is scheduled for the afternoon of Saturday, June 16, the day before Father’s Day. Tickets go on sale Thursday. See you in Milwaukee!
Dave von Falkenstein is an online services technician for the Gazette, and an auto racing fan.