IndyCar Returns To Milwaukee

Mark your calendars for March 1, open wheel fans. It may be the most important day, other than your spouse’s birthday, all year.

That March day will be the first time you can purchase tickets for the Izod Indy Car Series race at the historic Milwaukee Mile on June 15-16. And purchase you’d better if you want to keep Indy Car, ASA late models or any other form of motorsports coming back to the West Allis oval. If you don’t, there could be a lot more parking spaces available for the Home Improvement Show or State Fair in 2013: The track might be gone by then.

With only fifteen races on the IICS calendar as late as the first week in February, irate Indy Car fans across the nation have bombarded racing web sites wondering why Milwaukee didn’t step up to fill the void. And with only four oval track venues signed, it seemed like a natural addition. But a race needs a promoter/organizer with experience in motorsports promotion, a major sponsor, a good date, a supportive local business community eager to partner in the promotion and an infrastructure of personnel to work behind the scenes and at the track to make the event successful. Many of these components have been sorely lacking at the Mile in recent years.

Various groups have attempted to run Indy Car events at the Mile in recent years, but most have found little to brag about. Changing policies for fans regarding ticket purchases, office location, parking, etc., coupled with shifting race dates have brought confusion in the marketplace. Unpaid bills owed to sanctioning bodies and business suppliers have also left a bad taste in the mouths (and bottom lines) of many. NASCAR was one of those, and they took their Nationwide Series event north to Road America in 2010 and have experienced success at the Elkhart Lake road course. Indy Car vanished from the Mile in 2010, only to return last year to a small crowd and a poorly organized event despite promoter promises.

As most know by now, Andretti Sports Marketing, headed by Michael Andretti and former airline executive Kevin Healy, has joined with MDC Partners, a Canadian marketing group, to promote Milwaukee Indy Fest at the historic track, hoping to bring large crowds, exciting races and a solid business foundation on which to build. We’ve heard all this too many times to get excited, but if we DON”T get behind the latest effort, we may have to drive to Iowa Speedway to find the nearest Indy Car event next year.

A Friday-Saturday weekend and an early starting time suits ABC-TV’s planned coverage of the race better than a Sunday show on the dreaded Fathers Day; a date that was one element responsible for low attendance in 2011.

According to the IndyCar website, Andretti’s group also has a Firestone Indy Lights race scheduled for the Mile, but no date is listed on their site. Assuming that race will be on Saturday, either before or after the Indy Car 225, it’s likely that practice and qualifying will be held on Friday.

The only other race on the Mile’s 2012 “schedule” is an ASA Midwest Series late model race to be run on Tuesday night, June 12, just three days before Indy Cars arrive. That race is not an Andretti Sports Marketing promotion.

Indy Car CEO Randy Bernard officially announced the addition of the Milwaukee race to the schedule during his State of IndyCar presentation in Indianapolis Monday; an event that was open to the public. When he got to the Milwaukee announcement, a loud, extended roar was heard from the fans in attendance.

That “roar” of approval for the Milwaukee event needs to be translated into ticket sales, community support, and a well-organized event by Andretti’s group. The historic track and its supporters deserve no less.

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