For the second race in a row, the schedule maker has dealt a bad hand to those wanting to attend an IndyCar race. Two weeks ago, the tremendous race at Fontana was scheduled to run in the heat of the day in late June. As it turns out, the temperatures were only in the low nineties. But few locals opted to attend the race. That’s unfortunate because they missed a heckuva show.
This weekend, the race is scheduled as almost a one-day event. The IndyCars will not hit the track for practice until late Saturday afternoon. Then they will practice, qualify and race all in the same day on Sunday. The green flag does not wave until 5:30 pm Eastern time, 4:30 local time. That’s unfortunate for those that have to travel more than a couple of hours to attend the race. They have to either be dead tired at work the next day, stay the night in a hotel and take off Monday or stay home. Chances are, most will stay home. That’s why I say it’s unfortunate.
From what I have heard the last few years, Michael Andretti has done an outstanding job promoting this race. He has served as the promoter since it was revived in 2011 after a one-year hiatus. Michael understands the importance of this race, and for good reason. He has won more Indy car races (five) at Milwaukee than any living driver. Many living drivers won at Milwaukee four times, including AJ Foyt, Mario Andretti, Bobby Unser, Al Unser, Tom Sneva, Gordon Johncock, and Johnny Rutherford. By winning seven times, only the great Rodger Ward conquered The Milwaukee Mile more times than Michael Andretti.
So it’s understandable why Michael Andretti wants to see races continue at this historic venue. But Michael Andretti is also an astute businessman. He knows that he cannot continue to throw good money after bad if no one is going to come to the track. Those that have been going to races at “The Mile” since the forties say that Andretti Sports Marketing has done the best job they’ve ever seen to try and lure fans to the famous track, yet they are not showing up.
Rumor has it that this could be the last year that Milwaukee is on the schedule, simply due to poor attendance. While that is certainly understandable, it is also a shame. Not only is this an historic venue, it currently provides exciting short-track style racing.
From the end of World War II through 2009, there was always at least one Indy car race each year at the Milwaukee Mile. Many years there were two and sometimes even three races per season. From 2004 to 2006, Milwaukee hosted races on both sides of “the split” before Champ Car left “The Mile” in 2007, one year before their final season prior to reunification.
Aside from the names listed above, other iconic drivers that have won at Milwaukee include Rex Mays, Ted Horn, Johnnie Parsons, Walt Faulkner, Tony Bettenhausen, Mike Nazaruk, Jack McGrath, Chuck Stevenson, Manny Ayulo, Pat Flaherty, Jimmy Bryan and Jim Rathmann.
Most years since 1949, Milwaukee was usually the next race on the schedule right after Indianapolis. Uncertainty of the event taking place in 1992, shoved it to the end of June. By the next year, it was back in its post-Indianapolis slot. CART, Champ Car or IndyCar raced in that spot on the calendar until 2010, when there was no race at “The Mile”. Since the race was reinstated in 2011, it has run in mid-to-late June, August and now July.
Fire has been a threat over the years at Milwaukee. AJ Foyt severely burned his hands in a practice crash at Milwaukee in 1966. Jim Hurtubise suffered his near fatal burns in a crash involving Foyt and Rodger Ward in 1964. It was during his recovery that doctors set his hands in permanent position to grip a steering wheel. Infamous driver Ed Elisian lost his life in a fiery crash at Milwaukee in 1959.
This is also the site of one of the more epic events in racing history – when AJ Foyt had to run his dirt car against the low-slung rear-engine Indy cars of the day. His own Lotus had experienced major problems in the shop and did not show up. Foyt had won in his dirt car at Springfield the day before, so he unloaded the dirt car and proceeded to put it on the pole for the Tony Bettenhausen 200 at Milwaukee in August 1965. Foyt finished second, mainly due to the extra time to fill up a dirt car since it wasn’t designed for pit stops. The site of the upright dirt car leading the sleek Indy cars to the green flag is one that will live forever.
There are more recent memories as well. In 2008, when rumors were spreading that Ryan Briscoe was on the verge of losing his ride at Team Penske – Briscoe responded with a resounding win. 2007 saw the rear-wing of Helio Castroneves snap backwards on the front straightaway as he was leading, sending him head-on into the inside retaining wall. It was a scary moment, but Helio walked away. That was also the race where Dan Wheldon touched wheels with Danica Patrick, resulting in the now-famous scene in the pits where Danica shoved a smirking Wheldon.
Last year’s race was somewhat forgettable. Will Power won from the pole, leading 229 of the 250 laps. He held off Juan Montoya at the end and Tony Kanaan finished third. But last year’s race notwithstanding, the Milwaukee Mile usually puts on a great show.
I’m not sure what to expect Sunday. Although this is an oval, the series usually runs their high downforce setup – and that means that Honda is probably vulnerable. As we saw two weeks ago, Honda’s superspeedway configuration is very competitive with Chevy. Their high downforce setup generally reserved for road/street courses – not so much.
Two of my personal favorite drivers without fulltime rides will be in Sunday’s race. Pippa Mann returns for her fourth race for Dale Coyne this season. Pippa has been on all the ovals so far this year, but this is her first time in the larger IndyCar on a short oval. She ran short ovals in her Indy Lights days, but her last year in that series was in 2010 and her only start at Milwaukee was in 2009. Hopefully, she’ll do well on Sunday because she is also scheduled to be back in the car at Iowa next Saturday night. Justin Wilson returns to Andretti Autosport and will finish out the season with them. Here’s hoping they both do well on Sunday.
But they both drive Hondas and it will be a Chevy that will win this race. But it may not be a Penske car. Last year’s win for Team Penske was the exception at Milwaukee and not the norm. Since Team Penske started racing in the late sixties, they’ve accumulated only five wins at Milwaukee in more than forty-five years. It’s been an especially tough track for Helio Castroneves. After running second in 1998 for Tony Bettenhausen; Helio has scored only four top-ten finishes at Milwaukee and three of those have been since 2011.
Chip Ganassi Racing hasn’t burned up The Mile either. In their twenty-four years of existence, they’ve only scored four wins at Milwaukee – the most recent being Dario Franchitti in 2011. Andretti Autosport has had the most recent success. They have five wins at Milwaukee since Dario Franchitti won their first one in 2004.
So who is my pick for this race? None of the above. I’m going with a Chevy driver looking to turn his fortunes around for this season – Ed Carpenter. He’s due.