Last year at this time, rabid fans of the IZOD IndyCar Series were anxiously awaiting the return of the Milwaukee Mile to the schedule. After falling off the 2010 schedule, we were all excited to learn that it had returned for 2011. Why were we so excited? Because this is a great track steeped in open-wheel tradition. In fact, the Milwaukee Mile is six years older than the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Many of the great names that have conquered both tracks are names like De Palma, Shaw, Parsons, Rathmann, Foyt, Andretti, Unser & Mears.
But when last year’s return after a one-year absence was in the books, no one was talking about what a historic return it was. Instead, there were lingering and legitimate questions about whether or not the race had a viable future. Oh, and by the way – the race was a dud. Dario Franchitti led 161 laps on his way to a dominating performance that was never in doubt. It’s estimated that the Father’s Day crowd that was on hand to witness the snoozer may have been less than fifteen thousand. Ouch!
This was not the jubilant celebratory return of the historic race that Randy Bernard & Company had hoped for. In fact, it was an embarrassment. If this was the best that a supposed cradle of open-wheel racing could do, most (myself included) figured that we had seen the last of IndyCar’s running at the historic mile oval.
Credit Michael Andretti for putting his money where his mouth is. Rodger Ward leads the all-time win list at Milwaukee with seven wins, but Michael Andretti is not too far behind with five. He has stepped up and taken over the promotion himself to insure that there is at least one more chapter for IndyCar’s at a track where he enjoyed so much success. The Andretti family knows and appreciates the history of this sport, since they played such a part in writing it. Now Michael is doing what he can to make sure this race doesn’t go away without a fight.
My question is; why does there need to be a fight? Why has attendance dropped off so much in the last two decades. In the early nineties, the stands were packed. Of course, those were the old stands which were covered. They have been replaced with bright shiny aluminum stands which radiate heat and tend to bake their occupants. The June weather in Wisconsin can be pretty unpredictable. I’ve seen races there where fans were bundled up for the cold and others where the oppressive heat made everyone wilt. Exposed metal stands are not an appealing thought with a forecast in the nineties.
If I lived in the Midwest, this would be an annual destination of mine. Since this is somewhat of a do or die situation for this race, I would be there this weekend if I weren’t in the middle of moving out of the house I’ve called home for the last ten and a half years. As it is, I’m doing well to be able to pound out three posts a week. I say this only to explain why I am not putting my money where my mouth is this weekend.
As for the race itself, I expect it to be a good one. The racing is usually very good at Milwaukee because it is more of a driver’s track. You need to know what you’re doing to get around there. The flat turns do not lend itself to where the driver keeps their foot in it the whole way around and just hangs on.
This week will be even more interesting because the two leaders in the points battle, Will Power and Scott Dixon, will both sustain ten-spot penalties on Saturday’s grid due to engine failures suffered in testing at Iowa earlier this week. That will certainly spice things up to have the point leaders starting from mid-pack, at best. Other drivers that will be set back ten spots due to either blown engines or unauthorized engine changes are Justin Wilson, Mike Conway, Josef Newgarden and Takuma Sato.
It’s been a few races since I made a prediction. My streak of correctly picking the winner lasted exactly one race – Will Power at Long Beach. I missed on São Paulo and Indianapolis and have not made a pick since then. I think I’ll get back into the prediction business. My pick for this week seems obvious. He has raced at Milwaukee twelve times. In that period, he has amassed two wins along with seven other top-ten finishes; including one third and two fourth place finishes. He has the car and the savvy to get the job done again tomorrow. Who am I talking about? This year’s winner – Tony Kanaan. We’ll see.