IndyCar: A Look Ahead-Part Two

Opening ceremonies of the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500. [Russ Lake Photo]

Opening ceremonies of the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500.  [Russ Lake Photo]


In Part One we looked ahead to 2017 in the areas of IndyCar drivers, tracks/scheduling, and the Aero Kit situation. For Part Two we’ll discuss the 100th 500 and beyond, the potential 2017 grid numbers and the future of the Milwaukee Mile. We’ll be attending the Performance Racing Industry trade show in Indianapolis during early December and try to bring the latest IndyCar news and plans to you from that huge event.

  • The 2017 101st Indianapolis 500: The 2016 100th 500 brought large numbers of race fans to 16th and Georgetown, many of whom hadn’t been to the Speedway for some time. A sell-out crowd saw pageantry, history and a pretty exciting race. Alexander Rossi’s win, albeit a fuel mileage victory, was a memorable one, with a sputtering last lap run off of Turn 4 leaving some doubt whether he would make it to the checkered flag; and it didn’t hurt that he was an American on that star-spangled Memorial Day weekend. But, was this a one-off, historic “must see”, or have the faithful rediscovered how exciting the 500 can be? The facility has embarked on a remodeling program the past few years, bringing the venue up to modern stadium standards without losing its historic look. It is hoped that fans who enjoyed last year’s Centennial running will join another crowd of 250,000 + on May 28, 2017, for the 101st. Be there.
  • The 2017 Grid-Up or Down? The nine teams that entered IndyCar events full-time in 2016 basically supplied 22 cars to all races; except the 33 that made up the Indy 500 starting field. The way things look at this early date, most 2017 races are likely to have that same number taking the green. As it looks right now Penske will have its usual four, Ganassi (4), Andretti (3) and Andretti-Herta (1), Coyne (2), Foyt (2), KV (1), Rahal (1), Schmidt Peterson (2), and Carpenter (2) = 22. A team that signs a sponsored driver with money before the St. Petersburg opener in March, might be encouraged to add another car to its entry, thus boosting the grid count. There are a number of deserving, but unsigned, drivers who would love to land a full-time ride, but open seats are few and sponsors are hard to find, leaving many talented drivers looking elsewhere for employment…Carlin Racing, the prolific British junior motorsports team, entered the Mazda Road to Indy ladder series with Indy Lights cars in 2015 and 2016, with plans to eventually move up to the Verizon Indy Car Series. Carlin has added the USF 2000 races to its 2017 calendar, but rumors continue that at some point they could join with a current IndyCar team to enter a few 2017 events; with KV being a possible partner…Time will tell, but even a 24-car grid would be an indication of healthy growth for the series.
  • Will the Milwaukee Mile Rise from the Ashes? You’ve heard the track called the Milwaukee Mile, the Historic Milwaukee Mile and the Wisconsin State Fair Speedway, but some think that at some point it may be the former Milwaukee Mile. Back on September 9th the Biz TimesMilwaukee’s Business News reported that the City of West Allis included a “Grand Vision” for State Fair Park in its 2030 comprehensive plans. Biz Times writer Corrinne Hess noted that the plan includes working with the City of Milwaukee (it, along with West Allis, shares the land on which the State Fair resides), to develop 127.5 acres of the Park, including the Mile site, into a mixed-use development that would include a public plaza, 390,00 sq. ft. of retail space, 1.9 million sq. ft. of office space and 200,000 sq. ft. of destination entertainment. John Stibal, West Allis Community Development Director, said in the Biz Times story that, “Racing is dead (at the Milwaukee Mile), but everyone is afraid to say it because talk radio will kill you.” Not a very encouraging look to racing’s future on the oldest continually operating race track in the world. The West Allis facility opened as a privately-owned horse race track in 1876 and was purchased by the State of Wisconsin in 1891 to create a permanent site for the State Fair. The first auto race on the dirt mile was held in 1903, and racing activity has continued ever since. But if you attended the Michael Andretti-promoted IndyCar race in 2015, you may have seen the final major event at the track. Over recent years a list of promoters has come and gone, a modern grandstand was built in 2003 with a large debt service (reported by Hess to be around $12 million) still current and projections of hoped-for profits from growing schedules of events have dwindled to almost nothing. Milwaukee is a major league city, and the annual State Fair draws more than a million customers, but as with some other tracks and sports, interest seems to have bottomed and no one is stepping forward to breathe new life into the facility that is in need of some further remodeling and updating. Several fourth-turn bleacher sections have been sold off and six dates for the the Rusty Wallace Driving Experience seem to be the only “racing” scheduled as of now. Motorsports Tribune staff writer Frank Santoroski recently wrote that the track had a “near-death experience” in 2009 when it was announced that no major races would be held in 2010. Financial reasons were cited according to Santorski, the track offices were closed and staff was laid off. Andretti Marketing stepped in as promoters for 2011 and it appeared to be the savior the track needed. But despite a valiant four-year run with IndyCar races, the plug was pulled and lack of consistent scheduling was partly to blame. 2017 has seen the announced Verizon IndyCar schedule grow to 17 events with tracks such as Watkins Glen, Gateway, Phoenix and Road America having returned to the calendar recently. Oval track races for the Indy cars seem to be giving way to street/road courses in greater numbers and a list of former series’ sites (Portland, Montreal, Edmonton, Australia, among others) have been mentioned as potentially returning to the schedule in the future; but no hint of racing in West Allis is among them. Don’t hold your breath.
  • Notes: Veteran Indianapolis Star racing writer Curt Cavin accepted a position with IndyCar last month as vice president of communications. Cavin, who was with the paper for almost 30 years, joined IC on October 24th…Chip Gannasi Racing has not yet announced a replacement for long-time sponsor Target on Scott Dixon’s entry. Various companies have been mentioned, but no news yet…Viewership was down for the ten IndyCar races telecast on NBCSN in 2016 versus the 2015 season. On an average, 488,000 viewed the series’ events this year versus 507,000 in 2015. The most watched event was the Mid-Ohio race with 929,000 viewers. Oddly, with no race at the Milwaukee Mile, the Milwaukee area was ranked second in ratings at 0.83, behind Indianapolis’ 2.38…New rules for 2017 testing for IndyCar teams were recently announced. Four open tests during the season reflect an overall reduction in the amount of in-season tests. The testing window-April 11-September 17- permits one team test in addition to the four open days within that window of time. Off-season tests could have begun on October 3, 2016 with teams allowed three test days until April 6, 2017. Additional days may be granted for teams with a rookie driver (4 days), a current Indy Lights driver (1 day) or teams operating an Indy Lights team (1 day). A team new to the IndyCar series may be granted up to four additional tests. Tire supplier Firestone and engine suppliers Honda and Chevrolet are also allowed limited testing opportunities.






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Paul Gohde heard the sound of race cars early in his life.

Growing up in suburban Milwaukee, just north of Wisconsin State Fair Park in the 1950’s, Paul had no idea what “that noise” was all about that he heard several times a year. Finally, through prodding by friends of his parents, he was taken to several Thursday night modified stock car races on the old quarter-mile dirt track that was in the infield of the one-mile oval -and he was hooked.

The first Milwaukee Mile event that he attended was the 1959 Rex Mays Classic won by Johnny Thomson in the pink Racing Associates lay-down Offy built by the legendary Lujie Lesovsky. After the 100-miler Gohde got the winner’s autograph in the pits, something he couldn’t do when he saw Hank Aaron hit a home run at County Stadium, and, again, he was hooked.

Paul began attending the Indianapolis 500 in 1961, and saw A. J. Foyt’s first Indy win. He began covering races in 1965 for Racing Wheels newspaper in Vancouver, WA as a reporter/photographer and his first credentialed race was Jim Clark’s historic Indy win.Paul has also done reporting, columns and photography for Midwest Racing News since the mid-sixties, with the 1967 Hoosier 100 being his first big race to report for them.

He is a retired middle-grade teacher, an avid collector of vintage racing memorabilia, and a tour guide at Miller Park. Paul loves to explore abandoned race tracks both here and in Europe, with the Brooklands track in Weybridge England being his favorite. Married to Paula, they have three adult children and two cats.

Paul loves the diversity of all types of racing, “a factor that got me hooked in the first place.”