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DATE News (chronologically)
03/02/12
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Andretti might just have something in Milwaukee Mile race  
Can Michael Andretti return the Milwaukee Mile around and draw big crowds that CART used to draw in its heyday, or has the destruction of IndyCar Racing caused by Tony George's creation of the IRL just too much to overcome?
On the way to hear Michael Andretti explain how he plans to save racing at the Milwaukee Mile, I won't admit to coaxing the V8 beyond posted speed limits. That might tend to self-incriminate.

But the IndyCar event over in West Allis does rev my inner motor.

Although I was born and raised around NASCAR, it has not held my attention since home-area legends David Pearson and Butch Lindley left the track. The open-wheel set has been my thing since.

I'm a shameless fan of the race that adds a touch of international panache to the fried-cheese-curd ambience of State Fair Park. It might be the whine of 2.2-liter engines that kick out up to 700 horsepower. It might be the chance to see Ashley Judd in the infield. It might be that the racers are bright, articulate, accessible and witty as interview subjects.

No matter, it is one of my favorite events of a Milwaukee summer that packs a year's worth of living into a 13-week window of acceptable weather.

But not everyone has shared my enthusiasm for the race. Crowds have dropped off to the point that it's become a cruel tease, dying and coming back to life more than Freddy Krueger in an Elm Street teenager's nightmare.

The Andretti name packs a powerful punch. Mario's eldest son has had a remarkable career as a driver and a team owner, especially at the Mile. Now the 49-year-old businessman with deep pockets also is in the promotion business, and if he gets the Mile back on track for the long run, he should go to the head of Donald Trump's class as a current cast member on "Celebrity Apprentice."

Still, why does Andretti believe he can fill the grandstands like back in the day?

He gave me three reasons:

Promotion. He said recent local stops on the IndyCar circuit were so underpublicized that few knew a big-time event was even going on off W. Greenfield. Andretti says he has a big advertising budget.

Price. He plans to lower ticket costs.

And the sideshow. Andretti said there was nothing for spectators to do before except watch the race and go home.

That's the whole idea of marketing the rebirth of the now two-day event around the festival concept for which this town is known worldwide. Goodness knows, Milwaukee loves to save a buck and party down in the summertime. Adding concerts and such is what you'd call fairly smart promoting.

The race itself is going to be run on June 16, the day before Father's Day. Having it on Father's Day last year pretty much guaranteed an embarrassing turnstile count. Now, the race has a rain date in case Daytona-like conditions are visited upon the asphalt, as well as a nice noon time slot for ABC.

The Brewers are out of town that weekend. More important, Lebowski Fest is the following weekend. Even I could not have abided the race had it conflicted with the Dude.

Besides sponsors, there was another presence Thursday in a Pfister ballroom that projects this thing might work. Politicians. Lots of them. Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett. County Exec Chris Abele, whom I didn't initially recognize without the beard. West Allis Mayor Dan Devine, who, to my knowledge, never coached the Packers.

True, having too many politicians occasionally causes gridlock, but it's hard to make an event like this work without some level of governmental cooperation. So why are they now so eagerly involved in the race?

"Because nobody asked them before," Andretti said.

Andretti has good ideas and I'm happy he believes he is entering into a profitable business venture, but my colleague, Dave Kallmann, asked him the question that needed to be asked.

"You understand why I'm skeptical?" our racing writer said to Andretti.

"I understand," Andretti said. "It's up to us to prove to you that you're wrong. That's what we're going to do. I think we've got a lot of things going that have not been done in the past, maybe ever."

As long as the gentlemen and ladies are no longer starting, stopping and restarting their engines at the Mile, I say let 'em rip out of Turn 4. JSOnline.com

There’s room for skepticism on Milwaukee Mile plan

Having sat through several of these before, I've come to expect the parades of well-intentioned people with big ideas, surrounded by community leaders and all of them panting like excited puppies.

This time will be different, they say. We're here to help the Milwaukee Mile survive. . . . no, thrive. Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.

I'd love to tell you this latest try will work. I think it probably will, given Michael Andretti has staked his reputation that it will. But who knows?

No one truly will know until the evening of June 16, when Milwaukee IndyFest is over, the driver holding the trophy after 225 laps has said how important this tough ol' racetrack is to racing and the cleanup crew is sweeping confetti from victory lane and crushed beer cups from the concert.

In the mean time, here's what we're reasonably comfortable is true:

The legends old-time Mile fans remember will be out in full force.

Tickets will run about 30% cheaper than last year. (These guys know their market.) With sales going through State Fair box office, the process also should run smoother.

Sponsors have shown more interest than Andretti would have expected at this late date. "They're calling us," he said. "We're out there busting our butts for the race team, and we announced this and people we haven't even thought of calling are calling us." DHL, one of his team's backers, is already signed up.

There'll be a huge push to fill the infield designed to build and help convey a buzz about the event. It will have both a family fun zone and a "snake pit," too. Don't worry. Not together.

For all his interest in saving the Mile, Andretti wasn't ready from a business standpoint to do anything earlier, he said. He also probably was prevented from doing so by a noncompete clause in the agreement that split his company in 2007. Andretti kept the team, while Kevin Savoree and Kim Green took the company's race promotions arm.

Andretti is confident enough that the crowd will top 30,000 that he was willing to put a lunch tab on the line atop everything else. He says he'll top that; I say given recent history, a little skepticism is healthy.

I'm not so sure about crow, but I hope that's what I'm eating when I buy him his burger. JSOnline

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