Random Thoughts On Milwaukee

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Despite the downpour that delayed the start of the Milwaukee IndyFest by an hour and a half, you’ve got to believe that everyone involved with the IZOD IndyCar Series came away with a much better feeling for this year’s race than this time last year. Apparently, race promoter Michael Andretti did, since he has already announced that he will continue promoting this race in 2013 – more on that in a bit.

As for that race itself, it was a good one. The pole winner was a familiar name – Dario Franchitti. He led a good portion of the race, running out front for the first sixty-three laps, but after he pitted – he never led again. After the pit stops cycled through, EJ Viso led up until Lap Ninety-Six when Justin Wilson’s engine let go in spectacular fashion. Then it was Helio Castroneves at the point, up until Lap 144, when Ryan Hunter-Reay passed him for the lead, which Hunter-Reay never relinquished. Hunter-Reay was visibly spent when he finally pulled his tired frame from the cockpit. – but he looked very happy with his win, nonetheless. He had earned this win – well, almost. His car and the car of Scott Dixon were obviously the class of the field, but Dixon was mysteriously penalized for jumping the start on a re-start. As it turns out, the mystery turned out to be a mistake of massive proportions. Oops! – more on that in a bit.

This race had it all. There was anticipation wondering if Michael Andretti and Company could actually pull this off with only a few months to prepare, as well as a delay in the start caused by weather. Fans got to see drivers from the top two teams in the series, Team Penske and Chip Ganassi Racing, lead a significant number of laps. There was a driving clinic exhibited by Scott Dixon who charged through the field from the twenty-first starting position. Then there was the controversial penalty that took Dixon out of contention for the win. Finally, for the second week in a row – fans got to witness a driver not driving for the aforementioned top two teams come away with the win.

TV Coverage: In the interest of full disclosure, I must admit that I missed almost all of the rain delay. Most of you know that I am in the middle of moving out of the house I’ve lived in for the past ten and a half years. I must be out by the end of this month, so I spent most of my Saturday moving furniture. I was about to make another run to the storage space late Saturday morning, when it dawned on me that I might miss the start of the race – so I set the DVR just in case. As we were driving our load of furniture, Susan (@chiapet58) noticed on Twitter that the race was being delayed due to rain. Knowing that, we took our time and got some other things done and got back home just before the start of the race. Therefore, I did not see any of the two-hour filler time and cannot comment on it.

What I can comment on is that although it wasn’t ideal that the race was moved over to ESPN News from ABC, I certainly understand it. There were contractual obligations in place to run the NASCAR Nationwide Series on ABC. While I saw some griping on my Twitter feed (@Oilpressureblog) about the race being moved, I’m grateful for two things. First of all, be glad that ESPN waited to make the switch just as the Nationwide race was about to go green. At least the powers-that-be consider an IndyCar race to be more important than the Nationwide pre-race show. Secondly, be glad that ABC/ESPN have enough outlets to shift things to. Had this been on NBC Sports Network and they were bumping up against something they deemed to be more vital than the IndyCar race – where would the IndyCar race go? Off the air? I don’t know if that would be the case or not, but I don’t even want to think about the complaints that would generate.

The Penalty: In the history of the NFL, there are certain moments that are so crucial – they are referred to in the simplest of terms. The Catch is the term used to refer to Dwight Clark’s end zone catch from Joe Montana to lift the San Francisco Forty-Niners over the Dallas Cowboys in the 1981 NFC Championship game. The Drive is used to symbolize John Elway’s masterful use of the clock to drive the Denver Broncos down the field to snatch away the Cleveland Browns dreams of going to their first Super Bowl following the 1986 season. The following year, the same Browns team suffered another disappointment in another AFC Championship game when Earnest Byner committed The Fumble. Anyway, you get the idea.

After Saturday’s race, Scott Dixon and Target Chip Ganassi will always remember The Penalty. At the time, it appeared to be a phantom call. The only thing that even looked like Scott Dixon jumped a re-start, was a re-start that was waved off as if it never happened. As it turned out, there was a foul-up of massive proportions between a scoring computer and a video display that showed data that was one lap delayed (or something like that). I’m not sure exactly what happened and at this point it doesn’t matter.

Scott Dixon was understandably livid and rightfully so. Personally, I think Dixon had a better car than Ryan Hunter-Reay and had he been allowed to continue his surge to the front, I think he would have gotten around RHR, but we’ll never know.

What does matter is that Director of Race Control, Beaux Barfield, acknowledged the foul-up and took full responsibility for it. Now an apology to Scott Dixon and Chip Ganassi doesn’t put any points back in Dixon’s column and probably means very little to them today, but it means a lot to the fans of this sport. The fact that Barfield essentially said “I goofed” and immediately owned up to it, carries a lot of weight with me. I’m not sure I ever heard his predecessor come out and say that, unless prodded by upper-management. That type of behavior is not limited to previous IndyCar regimes. NASCAR is famous for phantom calls and they never even bother to explain. They essentially tell the media and the fans that it is simply none of their business (a nod to our friend Pressdog). Formula One carries the same type of arrogance when it comes to explaining decisions.

Although Scott Dixon got royally screwed on the call, at least Beaux Barfield had the guts to admit fault. That buys him some leeway with the fans for now, but a repeated pattern of such blown calls will have fans clamoring for his head the same way they did for Brian Barnhart’s. Such is the thankless and no-win job of the Chief Steward.

Praise for Michael Andretti: Although the Andretti name has been intertwined throughout this sport for almost a half-century, not everyone speaks the name with fondness and reverence. Regardless of what you think of the Andretti’s however, Michael Andretti deserves high praise for what he has done for this sport over the last decade. After his very successful driving career was done, he has easily stepped into the role of team owner and race promoter. This has never been more evident than what he pulled off at The Milwaukee Mile this past weekend.

After the dismal showing by fans at this track last year, the chances of the IZOD IndyCar Series ever returning to this historic venue looked hopeless. It was not on the original schedule released last fall and the future of Indy cars running there ever again appeared bleak, at best.

Then, in mid-February – Michael Andretti announced that he and his marketing company would assume promotional responsibilities and try to bring Milwaukee back from the dead, just one last time. Given the extremely short amount of time he had, few gave him much hope of any success. On top of running a race successful race team, Michael Andretti was trying to cram an entire year’s worth of work into four months.

He wasn’t just trying to keep things status quo, either. That formula had already been proven to fail. In that time frame, Andretti made wholesale changes to the event and created a buzz around Milwaukee and throughout the IndyCar fan base. Although the stands weren’t close to being full, they certainly looked a lot better than last year. If Michael Andretti could pull off what he did in four months, imagine how much he can build on this for next year. After what I saw and read about Saturday, I feel better about the long-term future of this event than I have in years.

Michael Andretti stuck his neck, reputation and financial image on the line in order to save the track where he had so much success as a driver. He has also stepped up to promote the one-year old Baltimore Grand Prix. This was a successful event last fall, but behind the scenes – it has been a political and financial disaster. Recognizing the potential for this to be a long-term great event, Andretti has stepped up to provide some stability and leadership.

It is my opinion that the series and its fans owe a great deal of gratitude to Michael Andretti for stepping up and going out of his way to help the sport he loves.

All in all: I thought this was a great race and for only four months of planning – a great event. A Saturday race at noon, was not ideal but it was probably better for the fans to not have it on Father’s Day as it was last year. Hopefully, Michael Andretti and the series can get together and find a more suitable date on the schedule for next season.

Please note: As mentioned earlier, I am in the midst of a move. The movers come this weekend and I still have a million things to do. There will be no post this Wednesday June 20. I will have a post on Friday June 22 prior to the Iowa race and then a post next Monday June 25 following the race (that is, if I can find my computer after the move). I cannot guarantee that this Wednesday will be the only day I miss, but after the Fourth of July holiday, I should be settled in and finally living with my new bride.

I apologize in advance for a couple of absences, but if you’ve ever moved after ten years and two kids in one place – you know what I’m dealing with. Thanks for your patience.

George Phillips

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28 Responses to “Random Thoughts On Milwaukee”

  1. Hopefully next year, after they secure the Ferris Wheel rental, they’ll see to it to have more than 2 of the dozens of fairgrounds food vendors open for business.

    • I’m not sure how it works at the WI State Fairgrounds, but here in Minnesota, the food vendors on the grounds are independent contractors. So the decision to open is up to them. Put butts in the seats, and I’m sure they’ll see the revenue potential of opening their stands.

      • Ron Ford Says:

        Tom is correct. The food vendors on the Wisconsin State Fairgrounds are independent contractors like those at Minnesota. (It is worth noting that at the Minnesota fair you can get “walleye on a stick”. Awesome!)

        • Yes they are independent, however a vast majority of them were fenced off in a way I’d never seen before at The Mile.

          (fyi, most of them were open last year throughout the fairgrounds)

          And if they aren’t going to open, then the promoter needs to provide better temporary options.

  2. Ron Ford Says:

    What JB is suggesting above is a bit more complicated to accomplish than one might guess, but the Andretti group is aware of the need for more food vendors to be open on the fairgrounds (outside the track) and I am sure they will respond.

    Other than that, one would have to go all the way back to the Carl Haas promotion days to find the attention to detail that Andretti Marketing put into this event. In my long memory, I can’t remember anyone doing it better.

    As for the stands being full again someday, I think the attendence will be even better next year. It felt crowded to those of us there Saturday. However, I don’t know if the “golden years” of oval track stands being full will ever repeat unless and until the series itself regains that level of popularity. Having said that, props to the folks over at Iowa.

    I would like to repeat what I wrote earlier over at Pressdog’s site: MIchael Andretti was whizzing about the infield on his scooter an hour before the race with probably a kazillion things on his mind including the approaching onset of rain. During that time I never once saw him fail to stop to sign an autograph or acknowledge thanks to a fan.

    The Road American promoter was at the race Saturday. Hopefully a deal can be put together to stage a 16th race there in august.

    • My son and I are already planning on Road America August 19th. I have in laws in Kohler, so we can’t resist the free room & board. C’mon Randy, make it happen.

  3. The American Mut Says:

    Dixons car developed a throttle issue, and wouldn’t have won either way. Quite probably he’d have finished about where he was just the same. Doesn’t make a blown cal any better, but he’s been one of the biggest beneficiaries of no calls for years.

  4. Barfield did not blow the call! He should have stuck to his guns. Dixon blatantly jumped the waved off restart. In fact, he caused the wave off. That should be a penalty.

    TCGR should consider this their comeuppance for the egregious no call when Franchitti drove about 2 car widths wide of the normal line in Turn 1 at Long Beach and put Newgarden in the wall.

  5. George,

    I attended last year’s race and this weekend’s race and the difference in the preparation, promotion, execution, and overall attitude between 2011 and 2012 was night and day. It actually felt like the promoters WANTED you to attend the race. That said, there were a few things the Andretti folks could fix for next year:

    1) More food stands open on race day, as others cited.
    2) Don’t have the Friday autograph session for the IndyCar drivers at the same time as the Indy Lights race is going on. My wife and I wanted to watch the race and attend the autograph session, and gave up trying to get autographs so we could see the race.
    3) Kindly announce WHO is sitting for the autographs. The promoters didn’t announce the Friday session attendees until 5:15 PM and the session started @ 6:15.
    4) Run ads on the Chicago TV and radio stations. Didn’t hear ANY on any of our local stations, in contrast to the Carl Haas days.

    All of that is minor, the race came off 1000 times better than last year and the two friends we brought with want to come back for next year AND they want to buy more expensive seats higher up in the grandstands. So I’d call that a success!

    • billytheskink Says:

      One of the guys from Andretti’s promotion team was on the Trackside radio program last week and said that they did buy some spot time (not sure if it was on local stations or not) on television and radio in the Chicago market but that a full-on ad-blitz there was too expensive.

      I do hope that some of that spot time was bought during earlier IndyCar and even NASCAR and F1 broadcasts. If you’re buying spot time, getting your message to those core consumers first is a good idea.

  6. Barfield made a mistake and I think the next time he has a decision like that to make he will take a bit more time and look at the tape. As for the race, I, too, thought that Milwaukee has stepped up to it’s previous status as an “icon” on the INDYCAR schedule. Michael Andretti will probably pack the stands next year because it looks like it is on a heck of a foundation. Also, the DW12 is a heck of a car.

    Maybe Michael would consider buying the Nashville Super Speedway. ;)

  7. It was a great weekend experience overall. It was totally night & day from last year. The street party on Thursday night was alot of fun & there were alot of people who saw it from their office windows & came down to have fun & see what all the excitement was about.

    The part that got me the most excited Thursday night was seeing Michael go on stage, and tell everyone to come out to the track & what they were in store for. He was walking around the festival & stopped to sign autographs and shake fan’s hands. I never saw him real excited or anything but he was really psyched up Thursday night.

    Also it was fun seeing Jr Hildebrand walking the festival grounds & taking time out to talk with the fans.

    Suggestions for next year. Very minor indeed.

    * More food on the front stretch (again now that the vendors saw the turnout this should change).

    * Have a charity run & walk on the mile either Thursday or Friday night.

  8. Carburetor Says:

    I didn’t think this was an overly exciting race, but maybe the last two oval races had set the bar higher for me. It seemed as though passing was again difficult to achieve. It is good that there is more opportunity for someone other than the Target and Penske cars to win however, and that might add some attraction to the series for those who like to root for the “underdogs.” The series has a long ways to go though as is evidenced by being replaced on the major tv network by the undercard series on NASCAR.

    It would be nice if we could get these restarts improved. I’m also beginning to wonder just how long Bobby Rahal is going to hang with Sato tearing up his equipment every week. He seems to be regressing (or did he ever progress?).

    • billytheskink Says:

      I really want to like Sato. He’s fast, he’s friendly, he doesn’t whine much, he doesn’t drive dirty, he’s easy to like… but every time you think he’s figured it out, he puts his car in the wall again. It’s tough to honestly say that you like a punchline.

  9. billytheskink Says:

    I’m thrilled that the race was successful enough to return next year given the challenges of the short promotion schedule and the rain. I had made plans to come up for this one, fearing it would be the last IndyCar race at Milwaukee, and was quite unhappy when those plans fell apart in early May. Looks like I’ll get at least one more chance and hopefully many more after that.
    Big kudos to Michael Andretti, who was never a favorite driver of mine, for committing to the Mile. He’s done as much as any team owner has done for the sport in a long time.

    Not necessarily a Milwaukee comment, but I haven’t seen anyone comment on it anywhere else… kudos also go to RC Cola for putting a picture of Marco Andretti on their can 12-packs and 2-liter bottles around early May and continuing to do so now. Given the size of the brand, RC has historically supported auto racing quite well, and this makes it that much easier to continue to call it my favorite sodapop.

    • Ron Ford Says:

      I had not had an RC Cola for a long time, but I bought a lot of them on Friday and Saturday. A nice change from Coke Cokes. I will continue to buy them since they support racing.

    • Great point on the RC Cola. Driving back from Indy this year, we picked up a couple of bottles, and I introduced my son to it. When we got home, he asked Mom to pick some up at the grocery store, and I was shocked to see Marco on the packaging. Gotta love a sponsor that activates it’s sponsorship. Target? Are you listening?

  10. Brian from NY Says:

    Hey George, Nice post, but i disagree with you on Dixon. Did they screw up the call, hell yeah, but I don’t think it would have mattered that much. Dixon stated that they started having problems with the handling of the car and they were struggling to just stay on the lead lap. Would he have finished higher then 11th, maybe, but he never would have hanged on for a top five finished or contended with Ryan. He maybe lost one or two position, but that’s about it.

  11. rc cola = good. andretti “saving” milwaukee = good. call on Dixon for jumping restart = good. less downforce, more horsepower = good. hinch climbing champ. ladder = bon. non Penske/Ganassi winners = good. blue fence = I’m on the fence about it. positive feedback from those attending = good.

    restarts = fugly. abc = predictably bland aero kit news = nonexistent dhl activation = good. china substitute = still pending tv ratings = I shudder to think.

  12. JHall14 Says:

    Great weekend. Love the Saturday afternoon race time. Good racing and love those restarts. Why the drivers complain about double file restarts when they immediately go to 3 and 4 wide is beyond me. Great job by Andretti Marketing in a short time. A+ for a tremedous weekend.

  13. Steve K Says:

    Dixon didn’t jump a restart (it was aborted and he never gained an advatage). I also doubt the 9 car beats RHR since his car had a throttle problem–wouldnt go full. It is safe to say he would have nontheless finished higher.

    Anyone else not like the IndyCar points system? I wish they only awarded poonts to the top 12. Indo not understand how a 25th place finish is worth 1/5th of a win.

  14. james t suel Says:

    M.ANDRETTI AND HIS COMPANY DID A GREAT JOB THIS PAST WEEKEND. THE TICKET PRICES WERE GOOD,OTHER FORMS OF ENTERTANMENT WERE MANY. I WAS AT THE RACE IT WAS A FUN DAY. THE MILE SEATS ABOUT 35000 AN I THINK THERE WERE 20000 + THERE SATURDAY! WITHOUT THE RAIN DELAY I BELIVE THE WALK UP GATE WOULD HAVE BEEN BETTER. IF YOU WERE NOT THERE ,YOUR PART OF THE ATTENDANCE PROBLEM! DIXON WAS FAST ,BUT DONT THINK HE WOULD OF CAUGHT RHR.

  15. My 2 cents on Milwaukee Event:
    1. Loved the fan village – 11 and 8 year-old’s first ever raceday was a hit. (next year Indy for them)
    2. Food was too sparse behind front straight, but we walked to infield and had several options for food.
    3. Saw many people w Indyfest shirts buzzing arnd in golf carts and working hard helping fans and vendors on Fri and Sat.
    4. Love the small oval scene, my first one. So easy to get everywhere, do everything around the track (compared to Indy and MIS and road courses)
    5. Sundrop/RC/Venom/Dr Pepper gave away free 6 oz cans during the rain delay behind straight near T1 near main entrance, Great idea!
    6. Lots of sponsor signs on stands and around the track made for a feeling that this event was in demand (even if they were primarily Andretti Racing sponsors)
    7. Fam and I decided to leave the seats for the Lights race and get in line early for the autograph session on Fri (was a huge hit with us all). I primarily see the 500 every year and maybe one other race, but this is the first time in all my years I’ve made time to do it. Have to thank all the drivers and Indycar for setting this up for fans. It meant a TON to my son and daughter (and my wife and I as well) to meet the drivers, get an autograph and interact. Often I think fans can be quite intimidated by the drivers, but they all seemed genuinely happy to interact and I didn’t detect any ‘fake’ enthusiasm, especially when greeting kids. I had heard much about this from other fans but had no real idea just how great this bunch of drivers would be in this situation. HUGE kudos to the drivers and Indycar on this because it’s not only the racing most come for, it’s the overall event and Andretti did a great job in my opinion.

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