Andretti revives racing in Milwaukee

Just when it looked as if racing was dead at the Milwaukee Mile, a group led by racing great Michael Andretti stepped forward with hopes to revitalize IndyCar racing at the historic track.

“(Andretti) saved racing here at the Milwaukee Mile,” said John Yingling, chairman of the Wisconsin State Fair Park Board.

Andretti Sports Marketing will present an IndyCar race at the Milwaukee Mile in West Allis on June 16. The race will be part of Milwaukee IndyFest, a new two-day festival that will include the race itself, a post-race concert, a family fun zone, free admission to qualifying and practice, and other activities and events.

The race will be 225 miles long and will be broadcast live on ABC-TV in the United States and on ESPN International worldwide.

The Milwaukee Mile claims to be the oldest continuously operating auto racing facility in the world, having hosted auto racing events since 1903. But the track has struggled to host major races in recent years as attendance has waned, different race promoters have failed to stay in business and the track has lost some events.

Andretti has strong feelings for the Milwaukee Mile and has had many great moments there. He won five races at the track as a driver and has been part of three race victories as an owner. Andretti said he couldn’t pass up an opportunity to save racing at the historic Milwaukee track.

“The (Milwaukee IndyCar) event has such history,” he said. “It’s very important to IndyCar, but it’s also very important to me and my family. We heard it was struggling and might not come back this year. We can’t let that happen.”

Former race promoter Wisconsin Motorsports LLC ceased its operation of the racetrack in 2009 when it owed millions of dollars to vendors, NASCAR and the Indy Racing League. NASCAR and the IZOD IndyCar Series cancelled their races at the Milwaukee Mile in 2010. NASCAR moved its Nationwide Series race from the Milwaukee Mile to Road America, located in western Sheboygan County. In 2011, the IZOD IndyCar Series returned to the Milwaukee Mile with a June 19 race. But poor attendance at that race again cast the future of IndyCar racing at the Milwaukee Mile in doubt, until Andretti’s group swooped in.

“We think we can learn from the mistakes that were made,” Andretti said. “We need to get the community more involved. We want to do this thing right. This is a city of festivals, so it was important to put festival in the name. It’s not going to be an ordinary race. It’s going to be a family event.”

Marcus Hotels and Resorts, a division of Milwaukee-based The Marcus Corp., and DHL will be event sponsors for Milwaukee IndyFest. The race is still seeking a title sponsor, said Jade Gurss, spokesman for Andretti Sports Marketing.

Marcus Hotels and Resorts will operate food and beverage corporate hospitality tents at Milwaukee IndyFest and will have its own corporate tent, said Peggy Williams-Smith, senior director of catering and event operations for Marcus Hotels and Resorts.

Marcus wanted to be a sponsor for Milwaukee IndyFest to promote its own brand and to support an event that brings visitors to Milwaukee and helps fill hotel rooms, Williams-Smith said.

“It just made sense for us to work with them,” she said.

Andretti’s group is determined to fill the stands at the Milwaukee Mile. Reserved seat ticket prices for the race start at $19, and overall ticket prices have been reduced more than 30 percent compared with last year’s race.

“Filling the grandstand and the infield is important to create excitement,” said Kevin Healy, managing director of Milwaukee IndyFest and former senior vice president of marketing and planning for AirTran Airways.

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