Fourth Turn – Milwaukee Mile

It should have been a slam-dunk, and maybe next year it will be. For years the Indy Racing League event after the Indianapolis 500, was held at some track other than the Milwaukee Mile. With the national publicity linked to the 500, promoting the next race, ?starring Joe Indy Winner and the stars of the 500? should be somewhat easier than an event in April or September. Eddie Gossage and his crew at Texas Motor Speedway had a natural lead-in to their event for years and they annually packed huge crowds into the Texas facility. In 2006, the Milwaukee Mile learned that the Champ Car World Series would not be returning to the Milwaukee oval in June of 2007 for one of their few oval appearances, thus opening the door for the IRL and the Indy stars to ride the 500?s publicity machine into Milwaukee on June 3rd. With history and tradition on their side, and an exciting 500 in the public?s mind, it was good to see an announced crowd of 31,838 appear on a day that was admittedly rain-threatened and stormy. The expected advertising blitz that could have lured more fans to see those drivers fresh from Indy, seemed oddly lacking, with fewer newspaper and TV ads than we remember in the past. The IRL brought only 18 cars to Milwaukee, about half of the active entry at Indy, but the field that did come provided an entertaining event. In today?s motor sports world, where many think that NASCAR IS auto racing, open wheel competition is not usually the popular flavor of the day. The IRL does draw well at places like Texas, Chicagoland, St. Petersburg and, of course Indy. Many tracks package their IRL event tickets with those for their NASCAR events, forcing fans to purchase tickets for both. Milwaukee doesn?t have a Nextel Cup event to leverage sales for their open-wheel dates, but NASCAR Busch and Truck series events do draw well here, and a required ticket package could be helpful to both series at the Mile. Hopefully, as the week-after Indy-date again becomes a tradition at the Milwaukee oval, more open wheel fans will make the event an even greater box office hit. For motor sports to grow, racing does need to succeed throughout all series, not just in NASCAR.

A tradition was started back in postwar 1947 that was revived this weekend at the Milwaukee Mile. Over the years, drivers and cars from the Indianapolis 500 made the trip up old Highway 41, later I-65, to race the week after Memorial Day at the Wisconsin State Fairgrounds, which is now the Milwaukee Mile. That tradition, though sporadic since the 1996 open-wheel split, was renewed this year with the running of the Indy Racing League?s ABC Supply Co./AJ Foyt 225. Nine drivers, including Foyt, Unser, Rutherford and Mears have won the 500 and were victorious on the State Fair oval the next week. Juan Montoya (pre Pablo), won Indy in 2000, then won the CART-sanctioned Wisconsin event the following week. ? We don?t have enough time to practice here (Milwaukee), coming from Indy where we?re going 225mph. to the Milwaukee Mile where we top out at 170mph or so,? said two-time Indy winner Helio Castroneves. ?It?s hard to shift your mind from one place to another.? Castroneves, who was the event?s pole winner, saw that as an advantage. ? On a short oval it?s always good to be up front. The air buffets extremely hard, and with no banking, up front is the place to be.? Castroneves has started on the front row 35 times out of his 86 Indy Car starts?Indy Pro Series pilot Alex Lloyd won a series-record fifth-straight event during Saturday?s Road Runner 100 at the Mile. The 22-year-old Lloyd led every lap of the event for the third time this season. Unfortunately, only a few hundred spectators witnessed the event that was green-flagged at 5:15pm, long after most fans had left the track. With Sunday?s IRL race not scheduled until 3:00pm, wouldn?t it have made more sense to run the IPS event on Sunday when more fans could see the future of Indy Car racing? Scheduling Sunday?s driver autograph session for 5 1/2 hours before the start of the feature race didn?t seem to make sense either. After all, NASCAR has been successful in promoting its future stars as they come up through the Craftsman Truck and Busch series- shouldn?t the IRL try harder to do the same? ?Milwaukee Mile PR Director Jim Tretow, who also works on the announcing staff for the Speed Channel?s ARCA/ReMax telecasts and the Daytona International Speedway?s public address staff, hints that NASCAR?s Motor Racing Network, and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway?s radio network have shown interest in his considerable announcing talents?Three-time Indianapolis 500 winner Johnny Rutherford drove the Honda Accord Hybrid pace car, while four-time 500 winner Foyt gave the ?Girls and boys, start your engines? command?Indy winner Dario Franchitti is scheduled to appear on the ?Late Show with David Letterman? on June 4th on CBS. Franchitti?s wife, actress Ashley Judd was also in attendance at Milwaukee?There were a few among the media who felt that the rear wing failure on the Penske cars of Sam Hornish Jr. and Helio Castroneves, might have been due to a massaging of the rules in that area rather than an odd coincidence. ?This is the same problem that Helio had,? said Hornish. ?It?s pretty strange that this happened to either one of us, let alone both of us.? Helio concurred: ?it?s a shame that something so odd happened there at the end I?m not exactly sure what went wrong.? Post-race inspection should answer some of those questions.

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