Fair Board fights for Milwaukee Mile money, new promoter

UPDATE In a move that is spun in a news release as a mutual decision, State Fair Park and Wisconsin Motorsports have ended their contract for racing promotion rights at the Milwaukee Mile on the fairgrounds.

Wisconsin Motorsports lasted less than six months after taking over for Milwaukee Mile Holdings in February.

Here's the announcement:

West Allis, WI – July 20, 2009 – At a special meeting of the Wisconsin State Fair Park Board of Directors held this evening, Monday, July 20, the sole item on the agenda was The Milwaukee Mile.

Wisconsin Motorsports, LLC, CEO and President Claude Napier met with the Fair Park Board to discuss track operations and the license agreement held by Wisconsin Motorsports for The Milwaukee Mile. As a result of the discussions, the parties mutually agreed to formally end the contract. “We appreciate the hard work and efforts of the staff and volunteers at The Milwaukee Mile," stated Fair Park Board Chairman Susan Crane. “This is difficult because we know the passion behind the efforts made by everyone at Wisconsin Motorsports. However, this is what must be done if we are to have any hope of keeping major racing."

In 2009, Wisconsin Motorsports, LLC, created a positive experience for the many fans attending the IRL and NASCAR events. The financial shortfalls, however, make it impossible for Wisconsin Motorsports to continue. The promoter honored over $1.0 million in race tickets for which it received no monetary compensation and also faced several other unanticipated and insurmountable financial challenges. “It is time for me to step aside and let someone else take the wheel," stated Claude Napier of Wisconsin Motorsports, LLC. “I sincerely hope and pray that someone steps forward and presents a proposal that works for everyone involved so that we can keep IRL and NASCAR at the oldest race track in the country. I know the Fair Park Board wishes for the same thing."

Wisconsin Motorsports, LLC, had previously authorized the Fair Park Board to negotiate with individuals or groups interested in becoming the new promoter of The Milwaukee Mile. That process will now accelerate with the hopes of obtaining a qualified promoter that can secure the IRL and NASCAR races for 2010. Interested promoters are asked to contact Wisconsin State Fair Park Interim Executive Director Craig Barkelar immediately and submit proposal no later than Friday, July 24, 2009. Barkelar can be contacted at (414) 266-7011 or Craig.Barkelar@wisconsin.gov.

The Milwaukee Mile, established in 1903, is the oldest operating racetrack in the United States.

This was hardly a surprise. Wisconsin Motorsports owes an undisclosed amount of money believed to total more than $2 million to the Indy Racing League and NASCAR for races this season. Napier also had a rent payment due to State Fair Park on Sunday.

There may still be other parties interested in the racing deal, but no serious contenders other than former promoters Frank and Dominic Giuffre have identified themselves. They walked away from a nearly completed agreement in 2005 and have not presented an actual proposal to State Fair Park since, according to Fair management. JSOnline.com

07/18/09 With the Wisconsin State Fair Park Board actively looking for new Milwaukee Mile investors, state lawyers have launched a legal battle to recover millions it says it is owed from a previously unsuccessful racetrack promoter.

The state Department of Justice, representing the fair, took legal steps this week to force Chase Bank to pay the state $2.61 million from the account of Milwaukee Mile Holdings LLC, the racetrack promoter.

The fair's board terminated its agreement with MMH in February. The investor group had announced in December 2008 that it planned to stop racing by December 2010, citing its inability to make a profit under the agreement it had with the fair.

With MMH out, Wisconsin Motorsports, led by former MMH executive Claude Napier, took over. But he ran into financial problems immediately, and has given State Fair officials permission to find yet another promoter.

In response, MMH on Thursday unsuccessfully tried to get a temporary restraining order in Dane County Circuit Court. However, Dane County Circuit Judge Juan B. Colas stayed his order denying the temporary restraining order and scheduled another hearing for Thursday.

"The judge made the correct decision and this ruling now paves the way for State Fair Park Board to receive $2.6 million from Milwaukee Mile's Bank. This has been a long-running dispute and yesterday's ruling should be a key factor in our efforts to bring closure to this matter," said Bill Cosh, a state Department of Justice spokesman.

Milwaukee Mile Holdings is not standing pat. In papers filed in Dane County, its attorney accused the State Fair of fraud, misrepresentation and breach of contract. The group plans to take its case to the state Appeals Court next week.

"In behalf of my client, this is just the latest effort as part of an overall charade by state fair officials to hide their bungling and have someone else pay for their many mistakes," said Evan Zeppos, an MMH spokesman. "We are disappointed in the judge's decision, but respect it." JSOnline.com

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