IndyCar Back At Milwaukee

Should we react with enthusiasm? How about skepticism? Indifference?

With the announcement last week that the IZOD Indy Car Series will come back to the Milwaukee Mile in June, 2011, open-wheel fans in the area are buzzing over the prospect of a major event returning to the West Allis oval.

The event, scheduled as the second race after the Indianapolis 500, will follow on the heels of a unique IICS doubleheader at the Texas Speedway. It will also be run on Father’s Day, and just one week prior to the NASCAR Nationwide Series road race at Road America. Quite a crowded two weeks, or does this present a great promotional opportunity for Wisconsin to have the nation’s motorsports interest center on the Badger State?

The 2011 Milwaukee Mile event will be managed and promoted by AB Promotions, LLC, a joint venture of two companies (Avocado Motorsports and BMG Event Productions) both located in the Indianapolis area. The company has negotiated with the Wisconsin State Fair and Indy Car to secure options for races in 2012 and 2013 as well.

According to a series’ press release, “Both companies will be using complimentary areas of expertise to develop and promote race activities and associated community events to provide an excellent, affordable way for families to celebrate the Father’s Day weekend.” It was noted that the promotions group was given several choices of race dates, including the first weekend in May, prior to the 500, but knowing area weather conditions in early May, June 19th seems to be the better choice.

One important announcement by the new promoters was to simplify the ticket pricing levels. Tickets will be priced at three tiers, depending on how high up in the 40,000 available reserved seats that fans want to sit. Infield general admission will also be sold. To draw families in on Father’s Day, pricing needs to be at a price point that they can afford.

Chris McGrath, CEO and Managing Director of Avocado Motorsports, is looking for input aimed at finding activities that will draw fans to the track , not only for the ICS race, but for a full three-day menu of goings-on.

Here are some suggestions that could lure fans to the track and keep them there for the week-end. Do you readers have others?

? With access to one of the great troves of Indy Car racing history available at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum, why not mount a traveling display that could be set up at each series track to educate the fans about the cars and drivers who have made the 500 and its connected events what they are today? Bring some iconic cars to display, show the Borg Warner trophy just like the NHL displays the Stanley Cup. Have a mix of 500 winners and current pilots available (different ones each day), to sign autographs and chat with spectators.

? How about having Indy racing historian Donald Davidson give a workshop on Friday and Saturday, teaching not only about the 500, but also facts about the history of the Milwaukee track, and others that make up the series as well. How many current fans even know that our track was dirt until 1954 and once had quarter-mile and half-mile tracks in the infield where the paddock is today?

? After seeing how well it worked and how popular it was at the recent Road America ALMS race, why not have a “grid walk” open to fans an hour before the race, with cars in their starting positions on the track and crew members available to answer questions and hand out driver photo cards?

? Convince more teams and sponsors to have trailers selling merchandise to fans in the display area behind the grandstand. NASCAR events at Chicagoland Speedway have a huge, park-like display area for teams and series sponsors to contact potential consumers and hand out material about their product, Team trailers sell large quantities of souvenir items that help them make spectators into fans. At Chicago, that area is crowded beyond belief and gives people something to do during down time on the track.

? Try to link ticket sales for the ICS race at the Mile, with tickets for the NASCAR race at Road America the next Saturday. With the two tracks just 75 minutes apart, no other place in the country has two races this close together within seven days of each other. Of course that would mean that the two promotion groups would have to co-operate oh, never mind.

? And finally, set the daily track schedule for the convenience of the fans at the track and not for the TV viewers. There won’t be “butts in the seats” if there are hours of down time between support races and the Indy Car race. However, fans are made with the excitement generated by televised events leading up to the race. The Indy 500 and the doubleheader at Texas are potentially great lead-ins to the Milwaukee event, but until ICS races are shown on more mainstream networks (ESPN NBC, etc) and not on Versus, it’s difficult to pique the interest of casual fans who wouldn’t know a Danica from a Dallara.

Community events, parades, concerts, local media support etc. Are also important parts of the promotional puzzle. Today’s race fans have so many ways to spend their entertainment $$$’s, that a well-thought-out package of races and activities at the track will be necessary to entice a strong crowd to the track.

What may be the biggest advantage that AB Promotions has going for it is the absence of major racing events at the Mile in 2010. There is nothing like absence to make the heart grow fonder-right?

Ral Donner sang it best back in 1961- ” You don’t know what you’ve got until you lose it.”

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