The Return of Professional Racing at the Milwaukee Mile Might Have to Wait

We’d like to say off to the races, but for now the races are just off.

Professional auto racing had been set to return to the famed Milwaukee Mile for a second consecutive year.

Now, the red flag is waving for those plans due to the lingering effects of the coronavirus pandemic.

Race organizer Track Enterprises and the ARCA Midwest Tour announced Tuesday that the stock-car race event scheduled for June 13-14 at the State Fair Park racetrack has been indefinitely postponed due to ongoing local and state recommended restrictions related to controlling the COVID-19 outbreak. 

Last year, ARCA brought professional racing back to the venerable one-mile oval for the first time since July 2015. That year, the Milwaukee Mile hosted the ABC Supply Wisconsin 250, an IndyCar Series race captured by French driver Sebastien Bourdais.

Officials from Wisconsin State Fair Park, the Midwest Tour and Track Enterprises have had several discussions over the past two months hoping to work out a scenario that would make it possible for this year’s late-spring event to take place. 

“Unfortunately, fans and drivers will have to wait a little longer to head back the historic facility,” ARCA Midwest Tour officials said in a statement.

The schedule was to include four divisions of racing, including the 100-lap headline event.

“Everybody was trying to be very hopeful, but ultimately having fans back in the stands, a mass gathering, that’s just not a possibility at this time,” Wisconsin State Fair Park Board Chairman John Yingling said.

Talks will continue between all parties to determine if the event can be rescheduled this season.

“We at State Fair Park and the promoter are looking to see what the future evolves into,” Yingling said. “Racing is an outdoor event, and that gives us confidence for the future.”

If the event can’t be held as planned this season, Yingling is confident that the ARCA race will return next season.

“I absolutely think professional racing will be back next season,” he said. “We looked at 2019 as the building block to start to have greater utilization of the track as a racetrack.”

In its heyday, the Milwaukee Mile traditionally hosted an Indy car race the weekend immediately following the Indianapolis 500. The track, which has hosted open-wheel and stock-car races, laid claim to being the world’s oldest operating motor speedway, having hosted at least one auto race every year from 1903, with the exception of the period during World War II, until 2010, when IndyCar and NASCAR pulled out. 

IndyCar race promoter and legendary driver Michael Andretti brought racing back to the Milwaukee Mile in 2011 but the IndyCar series once again pulled out in 2015 when his organization couldn’t make the event financially viable. Many feared professional auto racing would not return to the oval. There was even talk of clearing the property for redevelopment.   

The first two events scheduled to be contested on this season’s ARCA Midwest Tour – the Joe Shear Classic in Madison planned for May 3 and Jefferson Speedway’s Salute the Troops 100 on May 23 – already had been postponed after an extension of the state’s Safer at Home order.

The ARCA Midwest Tour had then hoped to open its 2020 season at the Milwaukee Mile. Last year’s feature race drew about 8,000 spectators, despite chilly, overcast weather, and was deemed a success by promoters.

“The turnout for last year’s event was better than expected, even with the less than favorable weather that we had,” promoter Bob Sargent said in December when announcing that the ARCA Midwest Tour would return. 

Yingling echoed that sentiment.

“I thought it the attendance was encouraging,” he said. “If 2020 can’t happen, then we’ll look to 2021.”

For those who have already purchased tickets for the Milwaukee Mile event, please contact the State Fair Park office at 414-266-7100 for more information.

Comments

comments

Rich Rovito is a freelance writer for Milwaukee Magazine.