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Milwaukee Mile Weekend Notes

36 vintage Indy cars are lined up on the front straightaway for the 21st annual Harry Miller Club Vintage Indy Car Meet. 50 cars were on hand for the signature event on the vintage oval racing calendar. [Photo by Russ Lake]

36 vintage Indy cars are lined up on the front straightaway for the 21st annual Harry Miller Club Vintage Indy Car Meet. 50 cars were on hand for the signature event on the vintage oval racing calendar. [Photo by Russ Lake]

As someone who loves the history of the sport of auto racing, this was an exceptional weekend. Due to an extremely busy schedule at Wisconsin State Fair Park, the Andretti Sports Marketing group came to an agreement to share the track with the Harry Miller Club Vintage Indy Car Club on the weekend of July 10-12.

On Friday and Saturday, the Harry Miller Club held their 21st vintage event with 50 vintage racing cars dating from 1912 to 1965. By late afternoon Saturday, the track was turned over to the IndyCar series for the ABC Supply Wisconsin 250 at Milwaukee IndyFest presented by the Metro Milwaukee Honda Dealers.

Dan Davis (current owner) and A.J. Foyt pose with the Sheraton-Thompson Special dirt car A.J. put on the pole for the 1965 Tony Bettenhausen 200 at the Milwaukee Mile.  [Photo by Steve Zautke]

Dan Davis (current owner) and A.J. Foyt pose with the Sheraton-Thompson Special dirt car A.J. put on the pole for the 1965 Tony Bettenhausen 200 at the Milwaukee Mile. [Photo by Steve Zautke]

A special moment occurred Saturday afternoon as A.J. Foyt was reunited with the Sheraton-Thompson Offenhauser-powered championship dirt car he drove to the pole for the 1965 Tony Bettenhausen 200. Current owner Dan Davis of Brumos Racing fame along with NBC Sports Networks Robin Miller and “Super-Tex” A.J. showed former driver Dario Franchitti the intricacies of the Wally Meskowski-built car. Dario seemed exceptionally shocked when he learned how a “Sam Browne” belt was used (a usually military surplus leather belt that was worn by the driver and simply was buckled to the car). It was an extraordinary occasion that the 75-plus fans gathered will soon not forget. “It was a real treat to see that car (again),” Foyt said of the Meskowski-Offy. “Lining up (for the ’65 race), I felt like I was in a Greyhound bus against a bunch of sports cars. I finished second (to Gordon Johncock). It’s one of the highlights of my career.”

Fan favorite, Josef Newgarden won the pole Sunday and led the field to the green just past 4:30pm Sunday afternoon. I had the opportunity to sit in the stands for the first time in about twenty years. I’ve always felt media members should occasionally sit with the fans and rekindle their love of the sport and perhaps the change of perspective is refreshing. If you can get a bit jaded sitting in pressrooms, whether it’s at a race track, baseball or football stadium. Plus, if this was the last IndyCar race at the Mile, I wanted to see it like my first.

The historic one-mile Milwaukee Mile oval offers extraordinary sightlines and the pit action is also exhilarating. The multiple grooves in the turns led to great racing action and for the estimated 17,000 fans in attendance they came away with a smile on their face.

Sebastien Bourdais won for the second time at the Milwaukee Mile, it seemed like a popular victory as the crowd cheered. It was his 34th IndyCar win which if you asked the average IndyCar fan how many he had, my guess most would guess under that.

Bourdais spanked the field as he led 118 of the 250-laps, even held the lead after pitting on Lap 213. After the final restart on lap 213 it seemed that perhaps Team Penske driver, Helio Castroneves, may had caught Bourdais, however the Frenchman was able to hold Helio for a 2-plus second victory. Bourdais explained after the race, “It was just about managing traffic. Then that crucial yellow situation where we stayed out because we didn’t think the rears were going to take it. Jimmy was coming on the radio saying, Do whatever the leaders do. Too late, passed pit lane. I guess we’re not coming in (laughter). In the meantime, I was like, Boy, only did 10 laps, running in clean air, we’re going to be able to go quick. I was thinking, Not so bad. Sure enough, another yellow came out. I’m thinking, Boy, that’s not looking very good.
At that point I just said, All right, I’m going to have fun in the car, enjoy the clean air, run quick, and we’ll see what happens. And that worked out pretty good.
The next sequence was the crucial one. When I came out of the pits, boiling, on a mission. They all had to save fuel. They had significantly older tires than me. They didn’t have the pace at that time because they had to drive a pace to save fuel and make it. There was no more yellow to make their life any easier. At that point they were trapped in their own strategy.
So I just run like hell and start passing one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight. Here we go, leading the race again. I was like, Man, that’s just awesome.
Yeah, after that never looked back, was pretty much in control from there. Not making mistakes. We didn’t have time to make an adjustment for the last stop, we were really free at the end. At that point I was running in front of the pack and I really didn’t need to do anything crazy to make anything happen. Car was strong and I could just ride it. It worked out really good. “

How was this victory different from his win in 2006 for Newman-Haas in Champ Car?

Bourdais explained, “It’s very funny because it didn’t happen the same way, but it’s pretty much the same thing all over again. In ’06 we started from pole, ran away, got a flat, went a lap down, lapped ourselves, went through the field, almost lapped the field again to go and win the race.
It was obviously quite a bit harder than today, but we had a bit of a rollercoaster ride the same way. In ’06 the difference is, like I said, there were not as many strong cars, so it was easier to go through the field. First of all, there were only 18, 19 cars. Not so many of them are as good as we’ve got them right now.”

Although not known as an oval racer (this was his 5th win on an oval) Bourdais wants to come back to the Milwaukee Mile, “Let’s look at the upside. It was a good crowd today. I know everybody’s trying to make it work. There’s a lot of money and energy put together to keep that event. There’s a lot of energy put together to come twice in Wisconsin, to Road America, where we should have never left. Obviously the difference between the sporting side and the financial side is always very challenging. I understand everything. But you got to be true to your fans and to your sport. It’s our roots. It’s very deeply anchored in IndyCar. I know the organization will try as hard as they can to keep it on the schedule. Hopefully it all works out and we come back to race.”

Graham Rahal, who won the MAVTV 500 in Fontana on June 27, continued his strong year by finishing third in the Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda. Once again the lead Honda, Rahal explained after the race, “Honestly, the setup we showed up with yesterday, never touched the track ever. Never been tested. It was just thought up between the engineers. Thank God it worked ’cause otherwise we were going to be in trouble.
Hopefully some of this stuff we can carry on to Iowa. We were pretty decent at Iowa last year. We’ll have to see how that translates.
Our strength has not been ovals. Within the last couple years, we’ve been terrible. So I’m pretty shocked by the way that everybody has performed. It’s pretty awesome to see. I think it shows the resilience of this team. Being short-staffed, undermanned, they keep working hard, putting their heads down. It’s amazes me what these guys have accomplished.”

Let’s hope the Verizon IndyCar Series comes back to the Milwaukee Mile, I know many fans wish the race would return to its traditional date, the week after the Indianapolis 500. By the way, the track is available that weekend.

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Steve Zautke
Steve Zautke, a Milwaukee, WI native, was raised in the sport of auto racing. His father, Bill, was a movie photographer that shot racing footage at tracks such as the Milwaukee Mile and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in the 1960's and 1970's Steve's first professional job in racing was as an Emergency Medical Technician at tracks such as Angell Park and Hales Corners Speedway (1988-1991). Steve has also worked for the Milwaukee Mile as videographer, in media relations and historian (1993-2011). Steve also has worked as a reporter for Racing Information Systems (RIS) and has written features for 'Vintage Oval Racing' and 'Victory Lane' magazines. Most recently, Steve has written a book on Road America for Arcadia Publishing. ( http://www.amazon.com/Road-America-Nascar-Library-Collection/dp/1467111457 ) Steve co-hosts "Sparky's Final Inspection" a motorsports-based radio show with hosts, Steve "Sparky" Fifer and "NASCAR Girl" Summer Santana on Sports Radio 1250AM in Milwaukee and is also available on the internet at www.Sportradio1250.com. A member of the National Sprint Car Hall of Fame Induction Committee, Steve follows all types of racing from the dirt tracks to Formula One.