This has been a tough week all the way around. Hollywood has seen the death of a couple of legends, civil unrest in the heartland and the tragic story of what took place in upstate New York last Saturday night. I think we could all use a lift this weekend. I can’t think of a better way to chase the blues away than this weekend’s Milwaukee IndyFest.
Although some other track promoters may grumble that Michael Andretti has been given a substantial discount to host a Verizon IndyCar Series race at The Milwaukee Mile, you have to admire what he has done. He has taken a two-hour race (maybe) and built an entire weekend of festivities around it.
When most tracks claim to have activities other than racing, they usually mean a concert. This weekend actually started yesterday with a visit by drivers to participate in a Racing for Kids event at Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin. Then last night, the drivers took part in a Bartender Challenge with all “tips” going to Racing for Kids. Tonight, there is a Block Street party downtown with a free autograph session.
At the track on Saturday, aside from normal track activity, there is a carnival atmosphere at the track – literally. From what I hear from fans that have been there in recent years, there is something to interest everyone in the family. I look forward to hearing from regular commenter Ron Ford, who lives in the Milwaukee area, to fill us in on all the specifics that are going on there this weekend. Oh, by the way…there is also a race on Sunday.
Along with Iowa, this is one of my favorite ovals away from Indianapolis. It is also the oldest. Founded in 1903, The Milwaukee Mile is six years older than IMS. There have been many memorable moments at this old track, and some not so memorable moments, as well. The great Jim Hurtubise was badly burned in a frightening crash in 1964. Although he returned to racing, he was never the same. The infamous and controversial Ed Elisian lost his life at Milwaukee in 1959.
My personal favorite story to come from The Milwaukee Mile was when AJ Foyt’s car failed to show in 1965, and he was forced to qualify his dirt car. Not only did he qualify, he put the car on the pole. The sight of Foyt’s upright dirt car amongst the sleek rear-engine cars of the day is one of my favorite pictures. Unbelievable, Foyt finished second in the race. Many theorize he would have won, had his fuel tank been as large as his competitors.
More recent memories are a famous dust-up between Dan Wheldon and Danica Patrick in 2007. That was the same year that Helio Castroneves crashed on the front straightaway after his rear wing suddenly collapsed, sending him into the wall.
Most recently, this has been the playground for Ryan Hunter-Reay. He has won the last two races at The Mile and is picked by many to win this weekend. Counting a Champ Car race in 2004, Hunter-Reay has won three times on this historic track. But he is not the only multiple winner in the field. Tony Kanaan has won two in a row as well, in 2006 and 2007, while with Andretti-Green. Other former winners in the field include Juan Montoya (2000), Sébastien Bourdais (Champ Car – 2006), Ryan Briscoe (2008) and Scott Dixon (2009).
I still say there are four legitimate contenders for the championship. Will Power leads his Penske teammate Helio Castroneves by only four points. After that it’s Hunter-Reay who is sixty-three points behind Power, and then Simon Pagenaud only one point behind Hunter-Reay. With two of the remaining three races being ovals, I’m not sure that Pagenaud can make up enough ground to be considered a threat to win the championship- considering he is so much stronger on non-ovals. But don’t be too fooled by that. Pagenaud finished fourth at Texas and sixth at Pocono, so his supposed weakness on ovals may be more myth than anything. Still, I would look for a stronger performance from Hunter-Reay this weekend, than from Pagenaud.
If Hunter-Reay loses ground to the two Penske cars this weekend, we could be looking at a Team Penske battle for the championship. But all three Penske drivers have had decent results at Milwaukee over the years.
So how will it shake out? I look for Power and Castroneves to have strong points-paying performances this weekend, but neither will win. Hunter-Reay will loose his stronghold on The Mile and have a bad weekend – something he has had a lot of this season. But the winner will come from Chip Ganassi Racing for their second win of the season. Scott Dixon won an improbably victory at Mid-Ohio a couple of weeks ago. This weekend, his teammate will get the win. This year’s winner at Milwaukee will be Tony Kanaan.