“Dear Mr. Penske”

Roger Penske - Indianapolis Motor Speedway. © [Andy Clary/ Spacesuit Media]

Roger Penske – Indianapolis Motor Speedway. © [Andy Clary/ Spacesuit Media]

by Paul Gohde

Dear Mr. Penske, I realize this has been a tough year for you and your many business/racing involvements what with the Coronavirus shutting down most of the sport that we both love. That virus has especially affected the investment you made when you purchased the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, IndyCar and all the bells and whistles that went with it. I understand that you have made some progress in updating that iconic track both inside and out. We will all appreciate the new bathrooms, paved parking and a widened Georgetown Road among other things, but we will have to wait a while to see those needed changes.

While recently reading an issue of Racer magazine from 2013, an article entitled “Epic Tracks” that featured circuits such as Spa, Monte Carlo, and Indianapolis caught the attention of this Milwaukee reader. Editor David Malsher, in his opening column, asked “ What is it that makes a great track great?…Some can appreciate the finesse required to drive an IndyCar around, say, the Milwaukee Mile; (while) to others it looks like (just) a car going around in endless, small circles.” Milwaukee Mile? It made me think.

Penske cars have had great success here at the Wisconsin State Fair track’s “small circle” that passed its 100-year birthday several years ago. As a car owner and former driver, you certainly know about that “finesse” required to get around the tight West Allis oval that Malsher referred to. It makes the Mile a driver’s track.

I drove past the Mile the other day on my way to pick up some barbeque for take-out at a great Greenfield Ave. restaurant. The track, just a few blocks away, looked empty and rather lonesome at a time, in late May, that once would have been getting ready to host the Rex Mays Indy car race, which since 1947 was the traditional follow-up to the Indianapolis 500. That June event lost its Mays’ reference several years ago and, unfortunately, the Mile lost its Indy car race in 2015 after a vain attempt by Michael Andretti’s promotion group to keep open wheel racing alive there.

Mr. Penske, Captain if I may, your expertice and IndyCar racing are needed at the Mile, next June, right after the Indianapolis 500. As every motorsports fan knows, you have a lot on your plate: your varied race teams, your many Penske Enterprises, and now your stewardship of that historic Indiana speedway, and perhaps the future course of Indy Car racing itself. You have done a great job of keeping open-wheel Indy-style racing going during the ongoing pandemic with timely schedule changes caused by several race cancellations. But with all that occupying your attention, here is a rare opportunity for you to bring the iconic Wisconsin State Fair mile pavement, another “Epic Track” if you will, back to life; a life that is struggling mightily to survive 117 years after its first race. IndyCar is a series whose backbone for many years dating to AAA and USAC featured oval tracks. Road and street circuits, plus those ovals, have today made the series the most varied of any major racing group, and that unique identity needs to be preserved as just four ovals remain on the ever-changing 2020 schedule.

Yes, the Mile needs some of your polishing. It would require garages, some safety upgrades and a great promoter and steward to bring it back. Hmm, sounds like what you are doing at that track in Indy. The State Fair Mile does have a newer grandstand, it is in the middle of a large metro area, and perhaps the best thing going for it is its long history of great competition.

Road America’s road course is a short 90 minutes north. A co-promotion with that “National Park of Speed” might be a natural. But your role as a promoter could be to come up with ideas as you have done at Belle Isle in Detroit.

Racing insiders will likely tell you that the Milwaukee Mile is dead, outdated, a promoter’s risk too strong to take on as you would have to work through a State Fair Board. But you have negotiated tougher deals than it would take with that group.

Please remember what that great racer Paul Newman noted in the 1969 racing movie “Winning”. “Everybody goes to Milwaukee after Indy.” I hope you take his advice.

Thanks for listening, come soon, A Milwaukee Mile fan since 1959

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