This could be the last year for IndyCar racing in Milwaukee

Michael Andretti has done his best to save the Milwaukee race.

I'm not sure what to think.

Fans want racing at the Milwaukee Mile. They'll tell you they do.

They fretted as each promoter passed through a revolving door and the future for the graying track seemed to grow increasingly bleak. They took some solace that although NASCAR left, it moved only as far as Road America for 2010. But, no, that wasn't what they really wanted. IndyCar went away for a year and then, after one more shot, said it would leave again. More bad news. The handwriting was on the white concrete wall before Michael Andretti put together a deal for 2012.

And the fans were grateful. They shook his hand, smiles broadened and voices quivered when they told him they were. The middle-agers who remembered races during the State Fair when they were kids. The old-timers who couldn't bear the thought of the old place fading away. The diehards from Indiana who felt a connection from their beloved race each May to the track that for decades followed theirs on the schedule. They wanted racing at the Milwaukee Mile, and they were happy to have it.

So we come to Year 4 of Milwaukee IndyFest, the Andretti Sports Marketing attempt to preserve a little slice of racing history, to give the fans who said — like Michael Andretti, himself — that Indy cars needed to race on that venerable track as they had for a century.

Expectations are modest, at best.

Nothing about the first three years says this weekend will be a rousing success. Not at the gate, anyway, if that's how you judge the success of an event.

Maybe that's not the measuring stick anymore. People have more options than ever and don't seem as inclined to spend money on live entertainment anymore. TV ratings draw sponsors, which pay the bills that keep the show on the road. So in some ways, building a TV audience might be a better sign of success than even half-filling the grandstands.

"It's such a big walk-up (audience), so it's one of those things where you don't really know, " IndyFest managing director Kevin Healy said Thursday when asked about ticket sales. "We're about flat with last year.

"As with anything that's outdoors, the weather is always going to be a factor."

Skeptics point to the date as a reason for a low turnout. That's a legitimate concern. This is third consecutive different weekend for the race and fourth in six years.

On the other hand, tying the race in with the Millers at Milwaukee vintage event provides both a huge contrast and a direct connection between the track's history and the sport as it is today. So maybe that's worth something.

There've been complaints from those hoping for more that there hasn't been much advertising. That's just not the case, Healy said, although the spending has been more concentrated on southeastern Wisconsin than last year and a bit heavier in radio.

So I asked Healy the sort of question it's sad to ask now, before an event has arrived, does IndyFest have a future?

"We're actively in discussions with IndyCar on that," Healy said. "I honestly…can't say much beyond that."

At some point, racing at the Mile has to make business sense. People who want it need to spend money with the people who've made it happen. Sentiment – the wanting, the pleading, the relief and the thank-yous – only goes so far.

"It's been a labor of love" for Andretti, Healy said, "so there's always some frustration." Dave Kallmann/Milwaukee Sentinel Journal

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