One of my journo colleagues approached me following the weekend to ask if he might share his thoughts on the Milwaukee Race. See, he was at the race this weekend, not as a journalist, but as a fan. Normally he contributes to much more legit & respected pages on the interweb ;-), but felt for what he wanted to say, my little sandbox on the world wide web was the more appropriate venue to express himself. I was all excited for a ranting tome, filled with f-bombs and rage! But alas what I got was a beautifully written, heartfelt, first hand account of the weekend from ground level. (that’s what makes him so good at what he does)
So without further ado… I turn over my blog to Tony DiZinno
This Could Be The Last Time, I Don’t Know…
Leaving the Milwaukee Mile after Sunday’s IndyCar Series race, it didn’t feel like a normal exit to a day at the track. It felt like heading out of a funeral.
Some background first for a comparative example. I’ve tried to hide it publicly, but anyone who’s ever met me at a track either growing up as a rabid fan or in media centers as that “what is he doing here”-type youngster who isn’t jaded from years of coverage or filled from the buffet line, knows I was a CART and Champ Car guy. That’s what got me hooked on motorsports. That was my series. Once I turned 18 in 2007 I would have been able to cover the full 2008 Champ Car season, and that was a dream.
With that as background, everyone knows what a cluster-you-know-what 2008 turned out to be. I didn’t get to attend the 2008 Champ Car finale at Long Beach—this weird thing called college was happening—and instead was treated to the Danica Patrick Show on the telecast with turbos and a race interrupting her coronation following her fuel mileage-enhanced win halfway around the world in front of 17 awake fans. Still, I heard from those who attended the race it was a sad day where so many chapters of fandom in racing ended.
Sunday at Milwaukee felt, I’m guessing, the same way.
IndyCar, since Randy Bernard took over as CEO, has done some things to at least attempt to reignite memories or things everyone who was an open-wheel racing fan. Bringing Milwaukee back was one of them.
Milwaukee has this weird H-word, you know, history, going for it. It also usually puts on damn good races and forces the drivers to, you know, drive, and not flat-foot it for two hours on a bloody 1.5-mile oval like those that made Milka look half decent. OK, maybe that’s still a stretch…
As everyone knows, and as Bussa blogged in this space last week, the root cause of the issue at Milwaukee is the toxic blend of state politics, previous promoters who failed to pay sanctioning fees in full, and a lack of money backing this year’s race.
It didn’t look promising going in. When my mom and I bought tickets two weeks out, it looked as though 75 percent of the seats were still available. The reason, in part, was very high ticket prices ranging near the century mark at the highest end. Not anyone’s fault, except that the new promoters were stuck with the debt from the previous promoters and had to compensate.
Still, I wanted to go as a fan this time around because I wanted the proper outlet to view the whole track and not hold back on opinions.
A few days before the race, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported in two parts a deal to allow some two-for-one tickets and also to honor some additional sports or county events in the area, i.e. the Wisconsin State Fair or Summerfest. That sounded nice on the surface but reeked of desperation.
Attracting the actual interest was made all the more difficult without a title sponsor. There wasn’t much in the way of billboards, adverts, or soundbites on radio or TV promoting the event. Granted, the Milwaukee 225 show car and team made the rounds at events such as the Milwaukee Auto Show earlier this spring and I’m sure other events, but I don’t know how that translated into additional sales.
Anyway, we got to the track Sunday after some early morning rain which basically screwed the ladder series drivers from Star Mazda and U.S. F2000. Rain + ABC = these guys running post-the IndyCar race when the fans left.
Tickets? How about only one of the two we had being scanned. Not sure if this was part of the “two-for-one” deal. My mom even joked, “Well, we really only needed to buy one ticket and walked right in.” The grounds were far from packed. Despite shooting the breeze with a Graham Rahal fan and two others who drove up from Chicago, after they lost their own race, it didn’t look good.
The Indy Lights race was a dog. O2RT pulled out over the technical inspection brouhaha post-qualifying on Saturday, then when the race started three cars wrecked out of turn four and a fourth pulled into the pits with mechanical issues. The remaining eight cars proceeded to put on a show slightly less exciting than watching paint dry. And just like at Indy, no one knows how to pronounce winner Esteban Guerrieri’s last name …
Searching for optimism, even with a half an hour before the start of the IndyCar race, the main grandstand was about 30 to 40 percent full. At least we were entertained by a guy in front of us who’d already had a few too many brews—this is Milwaukee after all—and wondered why my mom and I only got straight lemonade instead of putting vodka in it.
My mom, however, made the unfortunate mistake of asking whether the rings he had on were Super Bowl rings. I’m sure it was tongue-in-cheek, but the response wasn’t. We found out as he had on a 1959 Indianapolis 500 winners’ ring as well as a USAC National Championship ring because he is Rodger Ward’s son.
%&#$. Oh, the things you miss when you’re in the media center.
Fifteen minutes to the start. Still no crowd.
The green fell and the 15 … I’m sorry, almost 15,000 that were there still got treated to an awesome race (it was better in person). With weird things like passing, lifting into the corners, shifting gears, lapped traffic and late-race drama.
There was still the usual “Impartiality? What impartiality?” standard implored by Brian Barnhart in race control when Takuma Sato got a drive-through for his pit lane antics on his first stop and eventual winner Dario Franchitti getting a Father’s Day gift for escaping penalty for hitting a tire.
The air was still in the place when TK put on his charge. When he crashed, the remaining life got sucked out of it. We slumped home, everyone sat down in their seats as Dario got the win.
And that was it. No post-race hoopla, Dario proceeded to gripe about Helio blocking on the interview, and within 10 to 15 minutes after the checkers there were easily less than 1,000 people left. I like Dario, but this reeked of sour grapes.
One other thought on the race: the procedure of lapped cars getting a wave-around two laps before the green, then pitting, and then exiting right into the path of the leaders after they restart was utterly mind-blowing. Given the speed differential plus these guys going out on cold tires, I was amazed there wasn’t a wreck when they exited. Something to consider…
With no traffic exiting, not many fans having shown up, no title sponsor, and a relative lack of interest from the State Fair Park board that has existed for years, it felt like we had seen the last open-wheel race here, if not the last altogether.
And that’s a bloody shame. I’m originally from Phoenix before I moved to Milwaukee for college (on that note, I’m still technically unemployed after graduating …) and there was one thing that city had going for it in open-wheel’s heyday, as well — Phoenix International Raceway. The one-mile oval had plenty of charges and moments that made it great as well.
Unfortunately PIR went the way of the front-engine roadster in terms of popularity in the market, and it will never come back under the ISC family of tracks and now having been rumored of being bastardized itself to fit NASCAR specs.
Milwaukee faces the same fate. It is the oldest operating race circuit, with racing dating to 1903. It’s flat. It’s stuck in a suburb amidst houses and families. It’s not corporate. It’s got character and charisma.
But the fans didn’t come back. It looked even worse on TV after watching the replay on the DVR.
Unfortunately, Milwaukee may meet its demise over, as Frances McDormand says in “Fargo,” “And for what? For a little bit of money.” There wasn’t much of it coming through the turnstiles this year and I’ll be shocked if that wasn’t the last time for IndyCars at the track. I don’t know…
About the Author: Tony started with Motorsport.com before he could enter a press room (in 2006 when he was 17), and has contributed to several motorsports websites since . He just graduated from Marquette in May 2011 and is not to be confused with his older cousin of the same name Tony Di Zinno, who has been a freelance photographer including a senior one for Racer mag!