Michael Andretti talks about Milwaukee Race
Legendary race car driver Michael Andretti is no stranger to Milwaukee. In the past, Andretti has won the Milwaukee IndyCar race five times as a driver and three times as a team owner.
Now he is back in Milwaukee as race organizer and promoter. Andretti Sports Marketing Wisconsin, led by IndyCar team owner Michael Andretti, announced several weeks ago that it would promote the race and festival at the Milwaukee Mile in West Allis June 15-16.
The event will be headlined Saturday afternoon by an internationally televised IZOD IndyCar race and also will include many other events at the Wisconsin State Fair Grounds, including a post-race concert.
Andretti answered my questions recently, just days after promoting the IndyCar's race in St. Petersburg, Fla., and after he was "fired" by "Celebrity Apprentice" host Donald Trump March 11 as part of the popular NBC reality show.
Q: Why did you decide to get involved in putting on the race in Milwaukee?
A: "It was important to me and my family to keep Milwaukee on the schedule, I was really disappointed to see that the initial 2012 schedule didn’t include the Milwaukee Mile. I always loved racing at Milwaukee, so did my dad and we both have great memories here. I think the Mile is an ideal track for IndyCar. It’s a driver’s track and I think a great race for fans. We’re focused not just on getting back on the schedule. We’re going to put on a big event, entertainment along with really quality racing."
Q: What has been the reaction of the business community to your involvement? How do you win over those who have had bad experiences with past races at the Milwaukee Mile?
A: "That’s one of the things that has been so encouraging. Everyone we talk with is excited that the race is back and really want the IndyFest to be successful. We were in St. Petersburg (Fla.) this (past) weekend for the first race. I can’t tell you how many people mentioned they were excited to be racing in Milwaukee."
Q: Are you committed to putting on this race for more than just 2012 or does it depend on the financial results of this year's race?
A: "We want to make IndyFest a Milwaukee institution, an event people plan to attend for years to come."
Q: How will the Milwaukee race be similar to what you have done in St. Petersburg?
A: "St. Pete was a race that struggled and we bought the assets out of bankruptcy. It took a while to build it to where it’s at today – but I think it’s one of the best events on the schedule. Street racing, like in St. Pete, is a bit of a carnival surrounded by a race.
"We’re trying to bring that same festival feel to Milwaukee, thus IndyFest, and will integrate a lot of the event into the infield – the family zone, IndyCar Experience, concert, driver autograph sessions will all be within the track. We’re working hard to create some unique interactions that will let fans get a perspective they may not have gotten before. It will be different than the way most oval races are staged, and I think it will be a lot of fun."
Q: How hard has it been for you to move from being a race car driver to running the business side of a race team?
A: "I love racing, I’ve been around it my whole life and have always paid attention to the business side. As a driver you need to understand the business, from sponsorships and building a fan base to putting together a team of engineers and mechanics so in some ways it was a natural transition. I really enjoy the business side. It’s very competitive. In the end, it’s about being successful financially and on the track."
Q: Talk about your appearance on Celebrity Apprentice. What did you learn from being on the show?
A: "It was an interesting experience. I met some nice people. I learned a lot about human nature, good and bad. The one disappointing thing was the parts that aired didn’t really show how much I was working – they tended to show us standing around, you didn’t get a sense of the effort being put into the projects. The end was a bit bizarre. A lot of people were upset and said I got a bad deal, but I’m not really all that concerned with it.
"The season has started and we’ve got the Milwaukee IndyFest in a couple of months. That’s way more important to me." Milwaukee Business Journal