June 16, 2012 | By John Oreovicz
The Present And The Future Of INDYCAR At Milwaukee
If you haven’t been to an Indy car race at the Milwaukee Mile for a few years, you may not recognize the place.
In 2003, new aluminum bleachers replaced the old stone grandstand built in the 1930s. That took some getting used to, but the racetrack itself remained the same since it was paved in 1954.
What didn’t change was the experience of attending as a fan. Traditionally, whether holding a grandstand ticket or not, most folks parked in the infield, fired up the grill, and tossed a Frisbee back and forth.
Yet through a combination of factors, attendance dwindled at the Mile over the last ten years. Last year, barely 15,000 people showed for a race that consistently drew 40,000 or more during its heyday in the 1980s and 90s.
It doesn’t matter if the problem was the open-wheel split, a revolving door of promoters, or spectator-unfriendly late afternoon start times: Indy car racing at the Milwaukee Mile is on life support, and in fact, the race was not even a part of the 2012 IZOD IndyCar Series schedule.
Then Michael Andretti stepped up. It’s safe to say that Michael has a soft spot for the famous old venue, having won no fewer than five Indy car races at Milwaukee during his successful driving career.
Andretti does a pretty good job as a race promoter these days too. He took over promotion of the successful Grand Prix of St. Petersburg in 2005, and acquired the rights to the Toronto Indy in 2009. Since then, he split with partners Kevin Savoree and Kim Green, who maintained control of St. Pete and Toronto while also purchasing Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, site of another popular IndyCar Series race.
But Michael got back in the promotion business this year under the Andretti Sports Marketing banner, reviving Milwaukee and taking on the responsibility of stabilizing the Grand Prix of Baltimore. Both are important markets for the IndyCar Series, so Andretti must be applauded for taking a risk for the good of the sport.
One of the things ASM has done is to reinvent the Milwaukee weekend as IndyFest. Gone are the days where fans park in the infield and tailgate; that area is now filled with a carnival midway and a “snake pit,” and will play host to a post-race concert featuring popular ‘90s act Smash Mouth.
ASM has also slashed ticket prices, with a two-day general admission ticket that includes Friday grandstand access for just $29. Saturday reserved grandstand seats start at $31 and top out at $74.
Holding the race on Saturday is another change, and the 12:30 local start time is more than three hours earlier than a year ago.
Certainly almost everyone involved in the sport of Indy car racing wants to be at the Milwaukee Mile – most of all the drivers.
“It’s great to be back at Milwaukee and this track is one we all love,” observed four-time IndyCar Series champion (and two-time Milwaukee winner, including 2011) Dario Franchitti. “There’s so much history, and in order to get Indy car racing back to where it needs to be, we need to be at these places.
“With all the problems, it looked like we weren’t going to be coming back, but we’re back here because of what the IndyCar Series and Michael Andretti and his team did to put this together. There are so many things going on for the fans and I think Michael and his team have done a good job. It should be a good event.”
This is the first short oval outing for the Dallara DW12, but most of the field had a chance to test at the track just after the Indianapolis 500.
“Based on the test we had here, we’re in store for another exciting race,” said Andretti Autosport driver James Hinchcliffe. “The first street course went well. The first road course went well. The first 500 went well and the first mile-and-a-half went well. So if you’re going to look at trends, we should be all right.”
There is little doubt that the drivers and the DW12s will put on a good race Saturday afternoon. But the future of Indy car racing in Milwaukee isn’t dependent upon the quality of the show.
It’s up to the fans. So come out and show your support!
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