How long before historic IndyCar track gets plowed under?

History be damned, Milwaukee is no longer a thriving racing market
History be damned, Milwaukee is no longer a thriving IndyCar racing market — yet another victim of the split in IndyCar Racing caused by Tony George and the IRL

Without a promoter, there will be no IndyCar race at the Milwaukee Mile next year, and without a race next year, there doesn't seem to be much hope for big-time racing at the track in the future.

"It's really hard to say," said Mark Miles, CEO of Hulman & Co., the parent company of IndyCar, during a conference call Tuesday.

"I don't feel terribly optimistic about it, although I think the Milwaukee market, darn it, it ought to have worked for us. There's a great tradition there."z

IndyCar announced its 2016 schedule Tuesday morning, and it didn't include any surprises. It contains 16 races, including the previously announced event at Road America in Elkhart Lake and a return to Phoenix, which also was no secret. Both had hosted Indy-style racing under several sanctioning bodies, Road America from 1982-2007 and Phoenix from 1964-2005.

Milwaukee was the most notable absence. The most recent promotion group, headed by driver-turned-team-owner Michael Andretti, had struggled to reach its goals for the event and then dissolved in a legal dispute since the race this year.

Road America officials entertained the idea of promoting the Mile, as well, but dismissed it. That might have been the best hope for Milwaukee but wasn't the only one.

"I don't think it's right to say it was dead when our friends in Elkhart Lake decided not to try to do both," Miles said. "There were other conversations with other prospective promoters and in the end it wasn't any one, it was none. That sort of made the decision for us."

IndyCar sought suggestions from local business partners, Miles said, and other parties inquired with the sanctioning body about the possibility of promoting.

The track is part of State Fair Park. IndyCar did ask about the Fair's interest in promoting, Fair executive director Rick Frenette said, but that discussion was brief.

Although the park promoted the track for a short time, officials have said for years they're not interested in doing that. The Fair doesn't have the expertise, staff or ability to undertake the financial risk, Frenette reiterated.

"They were active in thinking about whether they… could help identify a promoter," Miles said. "So we are very appreciative of their efforts and just sorry it didn't work out this time."

The first race at the Mile was held in 1903, predating the Indianapolis 500 by eight years, and at its peak the track hosted two Indy-car races each season. During a period in which there were two sanctioning bodies for major open-wheel racing in the United States, the Mile was among a handful to host both in the same year, from 2004-'06.

Over the past decade or so, a number of factors hurt the track, including the split in open-wheel racing, a decrease in promotional spending by sponsors, and a series of struggling promoters and changing race dates. The Mile also hosted NASCAR's second- and third-tier divisions but couldn't hold onto those as race organizers came and went.

"We could not find a Wisconsin promoter that we felt like could make all the pieces fit, and that's unfortunate," Miles said. "We would have liked to continue the history in Milwaukee."

But, he added, never say never.

"Phoenix and Elkhart Lake are back," Miles said. "That's probably noteworthy in this context."

Both, though, also have successful events for other types of racing, from NASCAR at Phoenix to sports cars and motorcycles at Road America.

The Mile does continue to host some club-level racing on the infield road course as well as driving schools.

There have been conversations with other groups about racing events, Frenette said, some of which would be open to spectators.

"I don't see in the near future that you're going to see bulldozers out there taking down the track," Frenette said. "If we use it for the little things that maybe aren't public (events)… if it's being used and we're taking in some revenue from it, we'll continue to do that and look to the future of how he might be (better) able to take some of that infield and incorporate it into the Fair." Dave Kallmann/Milwaukee Sentinel Journal

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