Auto racing, it turns out, is not a business the state wants to run. Just 17 months after resuming control of the money-losing Milwaukee Mile, the State Fair Park Board is looking to farm it out again, saying the losses are too great and the business too risky for the state to underwrite. "The real issue here is whether the state should be in this business," State Fair Park Chairman Martin Greenberg said Friday of the Mile, which lost $2.5 million in its first full year since the state bought out its contract with Carl Haas Racing Ltd. in 2003. "Based on this performance, it's clear that this is a sportsman's game, not a state game," he said. Despite the losses, Milwaukee Mile General Manager Mark Perrone said he has received inquiries from "interested parties who recognize the track is on the upswing." Unloading the Mile – most likely the business and not the assets – is the latest step the park board is considering to put itself back in the black. Though the annual State Fair is profitable, the fair park lost $6.2 million over the last two years because of poor performances by the Milwaukee Mile, the Pettit National Ice Center and the 2-year-old Wisconsin Exposition Center. The Park Board last week gave Greenberg the OK to pursue other arrangements for running the track, which has operated on the fairgrounds for more than 100 years. The most likely scenario is that the Park Board will lease the Mile to a promoter in an arrangement similar to, though presumably more profitable than, the contract it had with Haas. The Mile lost the $2.5 million mostly on ticket revenue, despite doubling its number of races and increasing attendance by 110%, according to Perrone. It also did not secure the $300,000 in naming rights he projected in his budget. Even in hindsight, Barkelar said, buying out Haas was the right decision, because his contract, renegotiated under then-Chairman Bill Drew and Chrnelich, had shifted all of the debt risk onto the state. Milwaukee Journal Sentinel 10/14/04
This week's National Speed Sport News reports that "the recent losses the Milwaukee Mile has created for the Wisconsin State Fair may result in racing being abandoned at this historic track. Insiders say unless a new promoter is willing to take over and assume the risk, auto racing there will end. A beautiful new grandstand was opened recently and the track itself improved as well." From our perspective the future of this track is highly questionable. Both the Champ Car and the IRL races had lackluster attendance, certainly not enough to justify the expenditures made on the new grandstands. Scheduling both IRL and Champ Car events further diluted the already weak Milwaukee market and the split in open wheel racing caused by the creation of the IRL has resulted in a diminished open wheel fan base. Coupled with Champ Car's lackluster attendance at Las Vegas (and the IRL's before them), Nazareth's failure, and Phoenix's near-failure, just leads to further evidence to our theory that NASCAR "is oval racing" in the USA and Champ Car had better wake up and smell the roses. But wait, the list doesn't stop there, New Hampshire, Charlotte, Atlanta, Dover, Disney, Gateway, Fontana, etc. all failed under the IRL. NASCAR has a monopoly on the ovals and the sooner OWRS realizes that there is no future for oval racing in the USA for open wheel cars, the sooner they can focus on their core business – road racing. We get a kick out of the couple of hundred people who beat their chest and yell, saying Champ Car must retain ovals on their schedule. When hardly anyone shows up to watch the races, where's the business case for them? Mark C.