Can Milwaukee Succeed In 2012?
All indications are that the IZOD IndyCar Series will announce the Milwaukee Mile as their sixteenth race of the season and fifth oval, on February 13 – the same date as the State of the Series event in Indianapolis. If we are to believe the rumor mill, the race will take place on June 17 – barely four months from the date it is to be officially announced.
On the surface – for oval die-hards like myself, this is welcomed news; simply due to the fact that the 2012 slate is seriously lacking ovals. But after stepping back and looking at the long-term future for the event, I’m not so sure.
Don’t get me wrong. I want the event to succeed. That’s the problem – I’m not so sure that the event can succeed, at least not in 2012.
INDYCAR CEO Randy Bernard has all but said that if the series returns to Milwaukee this season, it’s a do-or-die situation. If they can’t make it work for 2012, then there will be no further attempts to return to the mile oval in the near future. If the track and the city of Milwaukee are going to be saddled with an ultimatum, it’s not fair to expect all parties involved to pull off such an event in four months.
I understand why Milwaukee wasn’t originally on the schedule. The situation with the Wisconsin State Fair Board has been a mess for years. Promoters have come and gone. Some, such as Carl Haas, have given honest efforts in the past. Others, who shall remain nameless, have been somewhat less than honest and have ended up owing INDYCAR, NASCAR and other series a significant amount of money.
Randy Bernard tried to be more proactive this past season and the series took a more hands-on role in the promotion of the race, after it had been left off of the 2010 schedule. They loaded the weekend schedule with two USAC races, a Star Mazda and USF2000 race along with the Firestone Indy Lights and IZOD IndyCar Series races. As I recall, the weatherman cooperated and the IndyCar race was an exciting race.
Unfortunately, the event bombed at the gate and the stands looked embarrassingly empty on television. There were many theories as to why the turnout was so low. Some say it was due to a cumbersome website where tickets were sold. Others point to the fact that tickets were priced way too high. Then, when it became obvious that ticket sales were poor – they came up with a two-for-one ticket deal that alienated those that had already paid full price for their tickets. The series was hoping for a strong walk-up crowd that didn’t materialize. All in all, a great race went unnoticed in person.
This track isn’t Kentucky, New Hampshire or Nashville; which are all relatively new sites that have fallen off of the IndyCar schedule. This is The Milwaukee Mile – one of the most historic and the most revered venue in IndyCar lore outside of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. In fact, the one-mile oval at Milwaukee was hosting races in 1903 – six years before IMS was even built. This is a track that earned its way onto the IndyCar schedule long ago and shouldn’t have to prove itself in a four-month chaotic scramble of desperation.
If this is indeed a do-or-die situation for Milwaukee, I’d prefer to leave it off of the schedule for this season and do things right for the long-term future. Many were upset that New Hampshire ended up being a one-and-done event after a rainy weekend killed its expected walk-up crowd last season. If people are that upset over New Hampshire, can you imagine the outrage if Milwaukee is abandoned if they fail after a four-month ticket blitz that starts in the dead of winter in Wisconsin?
I’ve made no secret that I am a big fan of Randy Bernard. He has done so much good in his two years on the job, that I hate to think where things would be without his efforts. But being a fan doesn’t mean that I agree with everything he has done. Some of the things he announced I initially disagreed with, but he turned out to be right and I was wrong. But he has had a few misses along the way. Curt Cavin pointed out on Trackside last night that Randy Bernard misread the gravity of the situation by not getting the 2012 schedule finalized early.
Through a series of missteps, the IZOD IndyCar Series is faced with the prospect of having only four oval races on its 2012 schedule. That has partially led to this situation with Milwaukee – ovals he was hoping for didn’t materialize, so he’s trying a quick fix to add one more oval with Milwaukee. They are also in danger of violating their contract with IZOD to hold at least sixteen races per season. The plan is to hold the season finale at a venue to be determined and race at Milwaukee in June to bring the season total to seventeen races, five of which would be ovals.
That’s all well and good and I would be all for it if the stakes for Milwaukee weren’t so high. But given the fact that Milwaukee will have only four months to sell tickets and get everything put together or face the possibility of never holding another IndyCar race again – that’s a difficult task for any venue, especially one that has had a recent history of poor planning.
The historical significance of The Milwaukee Mile to the IZOD IndyCar Series cannot be overstated. All the famous names of this sport – names like Ralph DePalma, Wilbur Shaw, Joel Thorne, Rex Mays and Ted Horn – were great names from the distant past that raced there. Race winners from the sixties included Parnelli Jones, AJ Foyt, Rodger Ward, Lloyd Ruby, Mario Andretti, Jim Clark, Al Unser, Bobby Unser and Joe Leonard. Winners from more recent times were Nigel Mansell, Michael Andretti, Paul Tracy, Rick Mears, Jimmy Vasser, Tony Kanaan, Ryan Briscoe, Scott Dixon and Dario Franchitti. I think you catch my drift that The Milwaukee Mile spans the history of American open-wheel racing and is far too important to be threatened by short-term goals.
If Milwaukee is to be judged on a one-race effort, then I say don’t even attempt to run it in 2012. Plan ahead and gear up for a full-fledged effort for 2013 and judge it on how well it does at the gate after it has been given every chance to succeed. To throw it together in four months and make a judgment on its future is setting up the event for certain failure. Some say it can be done in four months and if certain things had come together, it would have been a success in 2011. All I know is that it wasn’t, and as an outsider – I see nothing to make me think it would be a success in 2012 with only four months to plan it.
Unless, the IZOD IndyCar Series can make a long-term commitment to staying at The Milwaukee Mile for a number of years, I would prefer that they regroup and do things right a year from now. Otherwise, they run the risk of throwing away a large chunk of this sports cherished past. Personally, I’d rather not take that chance.