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track news
Milwaukee Mile to close
Three years after it was turned over to a private promoter, the Milwaukee Mile continues to drag down State Fair Park’s financial position, according to an audit released Friday.

And at least one lawmaker said it may be time to shut down the world’s oldest continually operating racetrack.

The annual report by the Wisconsin Legislative Audit Bureau said State Fair Park turned a profit in 2006-’07 for the first time in eight years, and is predicting a $400,000 profit this year.

But that news was obscured by concerns about the Milwaukee Mile, growing red ink at the Wisconsin Exposition Center, and a potential conflict of interest involving the park’s agricultural director. According to the Audit Bureau, State Fair Park will incur about $1.1 million annually in debt service payments beginning this year that were supposed to be covered by Milwaukee Mile Holdings LLC when it took over as promoter in December 2005. Those costs were shifted back to the park in contract revisions that cut the amount the promoter had to pay in licensing fees.

“We cannot continue to amend this agreement to the detriment of the taxpayer,” said Rep. Suzanne Jeskewitz, co-chair of the state’s Joint Legislative Audit Committee. “Perhaps it’s time to determine if we need to cut our losses and redevelop the property. How much money can you throw down a black hole?” State Fair Park Deputy Director and Chief Financial Officer Craig Barkelar said there will be no more revisions to the contract. Both he and Milwaukee Mile Holdings Chairman Craig Stoehr said it would be premature to shut down the Mile. Nevertheless, reaction within the racing community was swift.

“That came from the mouth of a politician, right? That sums up politicians, really,” said driver Dario Franchitti, an IndyCar Series winner, after hearing of Jeskewitz’s comments at Chicagoland Speedway. “It just upsets me that they even think about doing that. It’s a great facility. I saw the Nationwide race was a really good crowd. The IndyCar race was a good crowd. Cup teams test up there as well, and there’s other races that go on there, too. I mean, come on, guys. I would hope that doesn’t happen.”

ESPN commentator Rusty Wallace, a five-time winner at the Mile in United States Auto Club and American Speed Association stock cars, said for the track to close “would be horrible.”

“It’s time for their staff and their marketing people to get off their asses and sell more sponsorships and promote it better so they don’t lose money,” said Wallace, who is involved in the track business as designer of Iowa Speedway.

That track hosts the IndyCar Series, ARCA stock cars and the ASA Midwest Series stock cars. Although 100,000-plus-seat, corporate-owned tracks have come to dominate the racing industry, there is still a place for smaller venues such as Milwaukee and Iowa, Wallace said. Also in the audit:

• The bureau recommended that the fair park board re-evaluate the way it selects livestock judges and seek an opinion from the state’s Government Accountability Board on whether Agriculture Department Director Brian Bolan’s outside business interests represent a conflict of interest. More at jsonline.com
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