First off, I’d like to acknowledge driver Jason Leffler, who was fatally injured in a Sprint car accident in New Jersey on Wednesday night. Leffler drove in three IndyCar races, including the 2000 Indianapolis 500 – when he started and finished seventeenth. It is a bitter reminder that the sport we love can still have dire consequences. I’d like to extend my condolences to Jason Leffler’s family and friends.
As is almost always the case in this sport, when tragedy strikes – the sport will move on. This weekend, the IndyCar Series moves on to one of my favorite venues; The Milwaukee Mile. I say that as if I have been there. I have not. I haven’t been to the city of Milwaukee since I was thirteen years-old, but this track is on my short list of tracks to visit in my lifetime.
Most know of my appreciation for the history of this sport. Aside from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, there aren’t many tracks that are steeped in as much rich open-wheel history as The Milwaukee Mile.
This historic track opened in 1903 – six years prior to the opening of IMS. It was a dirt track until it was paved in 1954. The track sits on the grounds of the Wisconsin State Fair technically located in West Allis, Wisconsin. For years, the Champ cars of AAA & USAC ran there twice and sometimes three time a year. Traditionally, this was the first race immediately following the Indianapolis 500. That was interrupted in 1992, when it appeared problems with the Fair Board would prevent the race from happening. In the meantime, the Detroit Grand Prix was in the process of moving from downtown Detroit to Belle Isle, so they grabbed the date following Indianapolis when it appeared Milwaukee would be off of the CART schedule.
But Carl Haas took the race over as promoter and got the race back on the CART schedule, but at a later date. CART/Champ Car ran at Milwaukee through the 2006 season – at times being the only oval race on their entire schedule. The IRL began racing there in 2004, so that there were three seasons where the track hosted two events sanctioned by both series. Once Milwaukee was off of the Champ Car schedule, the IRL assumed the traditional slot after the Indianapolis 500, which it kept until the race was off the schedule in 2010.
That was the result of another debacle with the Fair Board and the promoter. It prevented The Milwaukee Mile from being able to claim that they were the longest continuous running track in open-wheel racing outside of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Currently, the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach holds that claim.
In 2011, Milwaukee returned to the IndyCar schedule. It was not a rousing success at the gate. For 2012, Michael Andretti took over promotion for The Mile and renamed the event The Milwaukee IndyFest. The day of the race was moved to Saturday, in order to free up Father’s Day. Attendance was much better and those that went report that the entire event was much more fan-friendly than in years past. From what I understand, fans are in for an even better experience this year.
But while those things are great for enhancing the fan experience; the main attraction is the race. Short oval racing can provide some of the most entertaining and competitive racing out there – and The Milwaukee Mile has given us some of the best short oval racing over the years.
This has been one of the most competitive points battles in years. There has been a new leader practically after almost every race. Currently, it’s Helio Castroneves with a twenty-two point lead over Marco Andretti. Last year’s Milwaukee winner, Ryan Hunter-Reay, is only five points behind Marco. Last season, his was the race that really started Hunter-Reay’s championship run. Tony Kanaan sits a good bit further back in fourth, but has won twice in Milwaukee.
Helio does not have a great record here. His best run at Milwaukee was his very first appearance there way back in 1998, when he finished second while driving for Bettenhausen Motorsports as a CART rookie. Other than that, his only other decent finish was in 2008 when he finished fifth. Marco Andretti has a similar pattern. His best finish at The Mile came in his rookie season of 2006, when he finished fifth. Other than that – his results have been fairly unremarkable.
Unless something changes with the history of those two drivers, it’s possible we could have another shakeup in the points, since the drivers in third and fourth in the points have a much better history at Milwaukee than those ahead of them.
Tony Kanaan has finished first and third in the only other two ovals this season. He has jumped to fourth in points and has a lot of momentum on his side. He also has that look in his eyes. He’s hungry. I picked him once this season – at Indianapolis, when no one else did. I’m going to ride that horse again for Milwaukee, as I think he’ll bring home a second win for KV Racing Technology as he scores his third career win at the famed and historic Milwaukee Mile.