If you’re like most hard-core, rabid fans of the IZOD IndyCar Series; you were ecstatic to learn that the Milwaukee Mile had made its way back on the 2011 schedule. The last time the series ran there was in 2009. I’m still not sure if the series has ever received payment for the sanctioning fee of that race. I don’t claim to know the ins and outs of Milwaukee politics, but I do know that the Wisconsin State Fair Board that has controlled the fate of the track has done a poor job of running things. That’s why the race was absent from the 2010 schedule.
Randy Bernard has done a lot of great things since coming on board in March of 2010. One of the first moves he made was to learn and embrace the history of open-wheel racing. It didn’t take long for him to get up to speed and understand the important role that the Milwaukee Mile has played in the history of this great sport.
We just finished celebrating the Centennial Era of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, which opened in 1909. The Milwaukee Mile had already been in business for six years, before IMS held its first event, having opened in 1903. The track was a dirt track until it was paved in 1954. Many historic events took place on the one-mile oval. Controversial driver, Ed Elisian, met his end on Turn One of the track. Legend has it that he was so despised by the other drivers that they sat and watched him burn. That has been proven to be a myth many times over, but it still makes an interesting story.
One of the most famous legends that is true, is when AJ Foyt was forced to qualify his dirt car in 1965. His regular car was delayed arriving, so he set his upright dirt car for pavement and somehow managed to place it on the pole at a speed of 107.881. Even more remarkable was that he led the much faster champ cars for sixteen laps and finished second behind Gordon Johncock.
In more recent years, the Milwaukee Mile has been witness to some outstanding drives. Mario and Michael Andretti have each had great success there. In 1991, the Andretti family swept the top three positions, with Michael winning, cousin John finishing second and Mario coming in third. Michael won again in 1992. In 1993, the car he would have driven won in dominating fashion when Nigel Mansell took the top spot. By that time, Michael was struggling in his ill-fated attempt at Formula One.
Paul Tracy scored four victories on the historic mile. Other recent winners include Greg Moore, Juan Montoya, Sebastien Bourdais, Dario Franchitti and Tony Kanaan. One of the more memorable runs came in 2004 when Ryan Hunter-Reay won a Champ Car event, leading all 250 laps.
When Randy Bernard realized how important this race was to the fabric of open-wheel racing, he made getting it back on the schedule a priority. My understanding was that the series was simply leasing the track from the fair board and acting as their own promoter. However, Randy Bernard said on Trackside last night that there was a promoter for this race. Randy also had some very choice words for the President of Phoenix International Raceway, but that’s another story for another time. It will be interesting to see how attendance plays out for this event. There has been talk of possibly alternating years between Milwaukee and Road America. CART was able to do both, but I realize times have changed – even though I’d love to see both tracks as an annual feature on the IndyCar schedule. Still, I hope that this race is a big success at the gate.
It’s popular to say that Milwaukee is more of a driver’s track than an engineer’s track. That may be true, but you only have to look back to 2009 to understand the importance of an engineer at this track. That was when Paul Tracy drove AJ Foyt’s car for the injured Vitor Meira. It was an embarrassment. Even Foyt acknowledged that they had screwed up and given Tracy a car that was virtually undriveable.
There are other memorable moments in recent years from Milwaukee. There was the Dan Wheldon – Danica Patrick dust-up in 2007 that led to a one-sided shoving match in the pits afterwards. There was also the year (2006, I believe) that the Penske cars of Sam Hornish and Helio Castroneves both had their rear wings collapse. Helio was leading, when his rear wing snapped on the front-straightaway, sending him head-on into the inside wall. The wing of Hornish collapsed later on in less dramatic fashion.
Then there was Ryan Briscoe in 2008 fighting off rumors of his impending dismissal from Team Penske, winning when he had to and starting a year and a half stretch where he was as good as anyone.
The first five races of this season featured four different drivers from four different teams. Texas may have been the beginning of a return to normalcy as a Penske/Ganassi car won each race. Will Power won his first oval race. If he has truly gotten the hang of oval racing, that doesn’t bode well for the rest of the paddock. We may very well be headed toward a summer of Penske/Ganassi domination. But the Milwaukee Mile can serve as a great equalizer. It provides true side-by-side racing and can humble some of the greatest egos out there.
It’s been a while since I’ve made a pick for a race. My unofficial pick for Indianapolis was Oriol Servia. My pick for Texas was just that a Penske/Ganassi car would win one race and a first-time winner would win the other. I missed Indy and got half of Texas right. My luck seems to be holding. My pick for Milwaukee is between two drivers that both have their backs to the wall. A car from the Team Penske stable will win at Milwaukee, but his name will not be Will Power. Take your pick between the other two – Ryan Briscoe or Helio Castroneves. They are both desperate for a win.
Enjoy the race!