Milwaukee Preview

Last year at this time, rabid fans of the IZOD IndyCar Series were anxiously awaiting the return of the Milwaukee Mile to the schedule. After falling off the 2010 schedule, we were all excited to learn that it had returned for 2011. Why were we so excited? Because this is a great track steeped in open-wheel tradition. In fact, the Milwaukee Mile is six years older than the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Many of the great names that have conquered both tracks are names like De Palma, Shaw, Parsons, Rathmann, Foyt, Andretti, Unser & Mears.

But when last year’s return after a one-year absence was in the books, no one was talking about what a historic return it was. Instead, there were lingering and legitimate questions about whether or not the race had a viable future. Oh, and by the way – the race was a dud. Dario Franchitti led 161 laps on his way to a dominating performance that was never in doubt. It’s estimated that the Father’s Day crowd that was on hand to witness the snoozer may have been less than fifteen thousand. Ouch!

This was not the jubilant celebratory return of the historic race that Randy Bernard & Company had hoped for. In fact, it was an embarrassment. If this was the best that a supposed cradle of open-wheel racing could do, most (myself included) figured that we had seen the last of IndyCar’s running at the historic mile oval.

Credit Michael Andretti for putting his money where his mouth is. Rodger Ward leads the all-time win list at Milwaukee with seven wins, but Michael Andretti is not too far behind with five. He has stepped up and taken over the promotion himself to insure that there is at least one more chapter for IndyCar’s at a track where he enjoyed so much success. The Andretti family knows and appreciates the history of this sport, since they played such a part in writing it. Now Michael is doing what he can to make sure this race doesn’t go away without a fight.

My question is; why does there need to be a fight? Why has attendance dropped off so much in the last two decades. In the early nineties, the stands were packed. Of course, those were the old stands which were covered. They have been replaced with bright shiny aluminum stands which radiate heat and tend to bake their occupants. The June weather in Wisconsin can be pretty unpredictable. I’ve seen races there where fans were bundled up for the cold and others where the oppressive heat made everyone wilt. Exposed metal stands are not an appealing thought with a forecast in the nineties.

If I lived in the Midwest, this would be an annual destination of mine. Since this is somewhat of a do or die situation for this race, I would be there this weekend if I weren’t in the middle of moving out of the house I’ve called home for the last ten and a half years. As it is, I’m doing well to be able to pound out three posts a week. I say this only to explain why I am not putting my money where my mouth is this weekend.

As for the race itself, I expect it to be a good one. The racing is usually very good at Milwaukee because it is more of a driver’s track. You need to know what you’re doing to get around there. The flat turns do not lend itself to where the driver keeps their foot in it the whole way around and just hangs on.

This week will be even more interesting because the two leaders in the points battle, Will Power and Scott Dixon, will both sustain ten-spot penalties on Saturday’s grid due to engine failures suffered in testing at Iowa earlier this week. That will certainly spice things up to have the point leaders starting from mid-pack, at best. Other drivers that will be set back ten spots due to either blown engines or unauthorized engine changes are Justin Wilson, Mike Conway, Josef Newgarden and Takuma Sato.

It’s been a few races since I made a prediction. My streak of correctly picking the winner lasted exactly one race – Will Power at Long Beach. I missed on São Paulo and Indianapolis and have not made a pick since then. I think I’ll get back into the prediction business. My pick for this week seems obvious. He has raced at Milwaukee twelve times. In that period, he has amassed two wins along with seven other top-ten finishes; including one third and two fourth place finishes. He has the car and the savvy to get the job done again tomorrow. Who am I talking about? This year’s winner – Tony Kanaan. We’ll see.

George Phillips

16 Responses to “Milwaukee Preview”

  1. I find myself looking forward more to each race this year than I have in a while and that is saying something because I am an INDYCAR fanatic. And Milwaukee gets my attention this year more than usual. Other than Indianapolis and Texas this is one I have been looking forward to. Maybe Ihave more curiosity about it because of the circumstances, but I think the series is poised to have one heck of a race here. The new car has been awesome and so have Chevrolet and Honda. I predict this is where Chevy and Penske get it back., but not without a fight.

  2. I don’t think there is any deeper explanation for the attendance issues at Milwaukee, than the fact that Indycar has fallen off the radar of the casual sports fan. I credit Michael Andretti with stepping in, and doing his best to create an “event” around the race to try to draw people in. As anyone who lives in Wisconsin knows, Milwaukee in the summer time is one weekend festival after another. (Summerfest, Polish Fest, German Fest, Irish Fest, etc…) and all of them are well attended. This is a city that likes to get outside in the summer and party. Most festivals take place down by the lakeshore, which is a further draw in the hot and steamy Midwest summer. Hopefully “IndyFest” will draw them inland a few miles to the fairgrounds.

    I’d complain about the attendance, but I’m another guilty party. Milwaukee is only a 5 hour drive away, but I already spent my kitchen pass for the summer on Indy, so I’ll be staying in Minnesota and watching on TV. Let’s hope the casual sports fan-party going crowd saves this race for us all.

    • Tom, 5 hours is a STRONG commitment and I don’t blame you. However, you will be one of the many, like me, who will be attracted to the television set and the ratings will be a major part of the Milwaukee synergy. I am pulling for the best.

      • Thanks. Sadly, looking at the ticketing page on the Milwaukee Fest website this morning (dreaming) I saw lots of available seats. Some sections of the main grandstand don’t have a single person in them. Unfortunately, unless they do a huge walkup business tomorrow, I’m estimating 15,000 tops.

        • billytheskink Says:

          There’s a fellow on Trackforum who has been tracking ticket sales and says they’ve sold 15,300 reserved tickets as of early this morning.

          • Is this like the Price is Right? If I guess closest to the number without going over, do I win a prize?


          • billytheskink Says:

            Kind of, but you have to wait for (Bruce) walkup, general admission, and infield part pass numbers to get released to know for sure…

  3. It’s good that Andretti is giving it a go, especially since ovals are a rarity on the schedule. If it doesn’t go this time, it just means that times have changed and there’s no interest any longer in Indycar.
    But it’s good to give it a try.

  4. Carburetor Says:

    I am excited about this upcoming race. I am hoping attendance is strong. As to why crowds have diminished, I wonder if the Generation X & Y simply found a different avenue for their interest. Despite my constant prodding, I’ve been unable to get my grandsons interested in auto racing period. (I’ve considered disowning them(!).

  5. billytheskink Says:

    I didn’t think last year’s race was a dud until Kanaan crashed himself and Helio cut a tire, both while running ahead of Dario. Dudlier than the racing, though, was Dario being a total pill in his post-race interview. Complaining about Helio blocking is the first thing you have to say after winning a race? Even Kurt Busch was saying “Dude…”

    Milwaukee seems to be a microcosm for IndyCar’s struggle to remain relevant in the American sports scene. Outside of Indy, fans are not inherently interested in indyCar. You can’t simply run and they will come, and no place illustrates this better than Milwaukee, all of its history, and the lackluster at best rotation of promoters the track has had since reunification.
    It’s not, and never will be a dead market, but it will require IndyCar to make itself relevant to be a success, same as nearly every other track in the country.

  6. Steve K Says:

    Despite the penalties, I have to go with Power or Dixon for the win. They both made mistakes last week but they also got it to the front and stayed there.

  7. Ron Ford Says:

    As someone who lives in the greater Miiwaukee area and has been going to races at the Milwaukee Mile for over 60 years, I am happy to see that most of the regular commenters here recognize that Milwaukee is indeed a “microcosm for IndyCar’s struggle to remain relevant in the American sports scene. I will go even farther (further?) and say it is becoming harder to get young people interested in any sport. I am quite sure that some of the kids who will be at the race tomorrow will probably be texting throughout the race.

    George is correct about the stands. The Wisconsin State Fair Park board did the new stands on the cheap. (The Fair Park overall is deep in debt). There are no luxury boxes like there are at LAMBEAU FIELD, so those potential profit opportunities are not available to a promoter. Aluminum seats get very hot. And there is no roof. Last year the stands were beginning to fill in nicely with fans when a torrential downpour occurred. At the time I did not see any way the race could be held. With no roof for cover and the outlook for a face dim, the stands emptied out and my guess is that few of them came back.

    For as far back as I can remember, there was a fine 1/4 mile dirt track a short distance from West Allis in Hales Corners. The track featured both open wheel and stock car racing. It was very popular and the stands were full every Saturday night. Former Indy500 starter Duane Sweeney got his start flagging at Hales Corners.
    Eventually the track closed and is now the site of a Menards’ store. The closing of this track has in my opinion contributed to the falloff of interest in racing in this area.

    Of the 200 or so people that I work with each day, there are about a dozen of us who are racing fans and about half of those are open wheel racing fans. When I try to talk up IndyCar racing with other co-workers I mostly just get a blank stare. (At the same time, virtually all 200 workers are Green Bay Packer fans)

    Well, enough said. I am on my way to the track to wander about and watch qualifying. Tomorrow I will be at the track with 4 guests. I think the Andretti group has done an outstanding job of promoting the race. They have created a very unique experience for an oval track race. Hell, they will even have the famed University of Wisconsin marching band there tomorrow. I am predicting a total crowd of about 25,000.

    So George, you are in the midst of moving. What a flimsy excuse. Where are your priorities? Almost as bad as having to go to a wedding in Indiana the night before the 500.

  8. Great day, still no fans! Well it’s Friday so many at work, indy car needs to talk to the fans and react to that. shame on you tony george you really messed things up

  9. Indy car whoes: Here’s what’s wrong, you get to watch practice and time trails for free, ya !, parking is $10 boo !, and if you want to go into the infield ( Carnival ) it cost $22 each double boo !, nobody there of course. there is nothing for the fan to do. even all the team souvenir shops are in the infield ? they should call it ghostfest lol !!

    • Ron Ford Says:

      I don’t know what track this guy was at, but at the Milwaukee Mile there was plenty of things for fans to do and there were thousands of people there having fun, many of them with their children. In 60 years of attending races here I cannot remember another pre-race day with so many people in attendence. The Andretti group has done a wonderful job of promoting this race. Today there is rain predicted. Deja freakin Vu. Hopefully, it will hold off.

      It is obvious to me that this pathetic “(another) george guy wrote an intentionally negative post that bears no resemblance to what took place yesterday.

      • Oilpressure Says:

        To be fair tho this poster…I was the one who added (another) to his name. I didn’t want anyone to think that this was my commentary. – GP

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