Ryan Hunter-Reay's victory at the Milwaukee IndyFest was a bonus for team owner and race promoter Michael Andretti. [John Wiedemann Photo]
IndyFest At The Milwaukee Mile: A Home Run Tainted By A Few Errors
by John Atlas
HAMMOND, IN: With the future of motorsports literally on the line at the historic Milwaukee Mile, Andretti Sports Marketing's aggressive approach to promoting the IndyCar 225 resulted in an excellent crowd and a contract for a repeat performance in 2013. But, that's not to say there weren't a few glitches.
The first problem to overcome was a rather major rain shower which hit the Wisconsin State Fair roughly 90 minutes before the scheduled starting time. Fortunately, several of us were able to find shelter in a coliseum building across from the grandstands, where we were treated to a free display of "pig wrangling" by some young local folks. Ahhh, the Wisconsin State Fair; what's not to love?
The rain delay ended up causing the second problem, but this one didn't become apparent until we got back home and attempted to watch the ABC coverage of the event on our DVR. Just as I had feared; due to the rain delay the network bailed on Milwaukee at the halfway point in order to show the NASCAR Nationwide race from Michigan. The balance of the Milwaukee event was tossed over to the ESPN News Channel, but my DVR didn't know that. We understand it's all about TV ratings, but damn! Guess we know where we stand with ABC. And, even worse, there is no Milwaukee re-play scheduled. Sometimes, life just isn't fair.
The race itself was excellent, featuring plenty of great Milwaukee-style competition and lots to watch. The much discussed penalty to Scott Dixon on lap 103 was never explained to the spectators; understandably so, since it was yet another mistake by IndyCar officiating. With Dixon in line for a good finish prior to the bogus penalty, I'm sure everyone is hoping that this loss of points doesn't come back to bite Dixon in the behind at the end of the season, because there's no way to make this right.
First-year race director Beaux Barfield later admitted his mistake. He said a computer glitch caused him to review the wrong restart. "We thought we were looking at the correct (replay)," he said. "If we would have played it four or five seconds more, we would have realized (the field) got to the start/finish line and got the yellow flag. That was my mistake." Dixon finished 11th, a place Barfield said he couldn't correct once the drive-through penalty was served. On Twitter, Dixon said he felt "a little robbed."
To say the least.
But, back on the positive side, the fans seemed to really enjoy the day. Not only was the race interesting and drama-filled, but the "fun zone", complete with carnival rides, plus a free concert by rock group Smash Mouth after the race, provided something for nearly everyone to sink their teeth into. There were plenty of smiles in evidence, with the notable exception of Scott Dixon and crew, and hopefully those in attendance will bring their friends next year, because IndyCar belongs at the Milwaukee Mile. Now, more than ever.
"Unbelievable, just incredible," Michael Andretti said an hour after the race. "There's something about this place. (The crowd) looked good; it was something to build on. For the first time out, it was really successful." And, considering that Ryan Hunter-Reay won the event driving for Team Andretti, it appears that Michael scored two victories on Saturday.
There are still a few of us old-timers who still long for the days of auto racing DURING the Wisconsin State Fair in August but, those in the know say that those amazing days are gone forever. Much to their credit, the Andretti promotional group made the effort to create a state fair feel for the race weekend, and did a damn good job.
So, in June, 2013, grease up the pigs and crank up the Ferris wheel, 'cause the Indy Cars are coming to town!