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IndyCar drivers Understand the History of Milwaukee

Young Racers Are Aware of Prestigious Past of “The Mile”
Friday, April 22, 2011

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Mario Andretti in the Brawner Hawk Ford in 1969 at the Milwaukee Mile
The legacy of the Milwaukee Mile is known to any generation of racers including the current group of IZOD IndyCar Series drivers set to compete in this year’s Milwaukee 225.

The most famous one-mile auto racing facility in the world just drips of motorsports history dating back to 1903 when William Jones captured the track’s first auto racing event at the Wisconsin State Fair Park.  Past winners of Milwaukee Indy car (or Big Cars as they were called in 1920s and 1930s, or Championship cars in the 1940 and 1950s) races include some of the most famous names to ever sit in a race car. 

Names likes Barney Oldfield, Ralph DePalma (the first Milwaukee Indy car winner in 1911), Wilbur Shaw, Rex Mays, Tony Bettenhausen, Rodger Ward (the winningest Indy car driver at the Mile with seven victories), A.J. Foyt, Mario Andretti, Jim Clark (who won his first Indy car race here), Parnelli Jones, Gordon Johncock, Johnny Rutherford, Tom Sneva, Rick Mears, Michael Andretti and all of the Unsers – Bobby, Al and Al Jr. – have reached The Mile’s victory lane.

And current IndyCar Series stars such as Dario Franchitti, Scott Dixon, Tony Kanaan, Ryan Briscoe, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Sebastian Bourdais have experienced the thrill of taking the Milwaukee Mile checkered flag.

The new contingent of IZOD IndyCar Series drivers are primed to return to the longest running auto racing track in the world with the Milwaukee 225 Fathers’ Day Weekend racing extravaganza on June 18-19.  In addition to the 185-mile per hour IZOD IndyCar Series machines, the Milwaukee 225 two-day spectacular will feature six other races.

“The Milwaukee Mile has so much history as a race track,” said Hunter-Reay, who led all 250 laps in winning the 2004 ChampCar feature on The Mile.  “You have to have a lot of respect for the track.  Almost every great driver has raced at Milwaukee and many of them have won.  The Milwaukee track makes some of the best racing in the series, period.  That is why the drivers love the track so much.”

Every driver on the current IZOD IndyCar Series knows some history of the Milwaukee Mile.  They know it is the oldest oval track.  They know the famous names and the great races that have taken place at The Mile.  Now they want to be a part of the Milwaukee Mile history this year.

“People relate to history and the depth of the history at the Milwaukee Mile,” said Danica Patrick, who drove her first oval race at Milwaukee in the 2003 Formula Atlantic race.  “That is what makes the Indy 500 so special and it is 100 years old this year.  And the Milwaukee Mile is older.  It was my first oval track race and I am so happy we are going back.”

History at the Milwaukee Mile does not just include auto racing.

The Green Bay Packers won the NFL Championship in 1939 in the infield of the track when the Packers defeated the New York Giants, 27-0.  Twice a year, the Packers played at the Milwaukee Mile. 

But the majority of competition events at the Milwaukee Mile were racing related.  The Mile hosted a variety of racing contests from sports cars to motorcycles to stock cars to midgets to Indy Cars.  Annually, the Mile contested an Indy car race the week after the Indy 500 as well as a date during the Wisconsin State Fair in August.

A.J. Foyt leads 1965 Milwaukee Mile field in a front engine roadster.  Since then rear-engine cars have dominated IndyCar Racing.
People still talk of the famed 1965 race in August when Foyt drove his front-engine dirt car to the pole against a host of the rear-engine cars.  Foyt’s rear-engine car and crew were late to the race that Aug. 22, 1965. A.J. had won the dirt track mile event at Springfield, Ill., and had to prepare the dirt car for Indy car competition the next day.  He won the pole and almost won the race.

“I couldn’t believe I sat the car on the pole against guys like  (Dan) Gurney, (Jim) Clark, Parnelli (Jones) and all of the rear-engine Fords with  my dirt car,” said Foyt, a four-time Mile Indy car winner who’ll field the ABC Supply-sponsored car for Vitor Meira in this year’s race .  “I won the day before in Springfield on the dirt mile.  I probably would have won that day in Milwaukee with the dirt car but I had to make a pit stop for fuel.  The car was made to run 100 miles for dirt races, but not 200.  I came back to finish second.  That race is one of the highlights of my career.”

“You hear stories about A.J., Mario, Mears, Rutherford and the guys from way back in the 1930s and 1940s,” said Meira, who won the pole position at the IndyCar Series’ first race in 2004.  “I am so glad we can go to a place with such great history.  It is a good place to race.  The Milwaukee race needs to be in the IZOD IndyCar Series every year.”

The most recent Milwaukee 225 winner, Scott Dixon, was ecstatic when he heard the Milwaukee Mile was back on the IZOD IndyCar Series schedule for 2011.

“When I saw the (IZOD IndyCar Series) schedule come out, I was so happy to see the Milwaukee Mile come back on the circuit,” said Dixon, who captured the 2009 Milwaukee race.  “We are the last winners there. There is so much history at Milwaukee.  It is a track that we can race well and it hasn’t been changed over many years.  You can go two or three wide in the turns and really drive our cars.  I have had some great races there in the past.”

There have been great races at the Milwaukee Mile dating back to 1903, and the Milwaukee 225 on June 19 is expected to join the long list of outstanding events.

And the IZOD IndyCar Series drivers want to be a part of the Milwaukee Mile history on June 19.

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