Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Milwaukee Preview

This weekend, the Izod Indycar series returns to the venerable Milwaukee Mile after a year’s absence. Its return to the schedule was requested by fans, series CEO Randy Bernard, and (especially) the drivers. Unlike the cookie-cutter mile and a halfs, Milwaukee is a bullring that cannot be taken flat out and requires more driver activity and skill.

Before moving to the greater Milwaukee media market (I don’t think my current municipality of residence can be considered ‘suburban’), I honestly hadn’t given the race much thought. I’d been aware of its place in history, but aside from a couple of ghastly incidents, I don’t think I ever paid much attention. Even after moving here, personal turbulence kept me away from races. In 2009, I was suffering through the middle of a period of extended unemployment when attending the Indy 500 after a six year hiatus proved therapeutic. I debated off and on attending the Mile race before finally deciding that a half hour drive and a parking-lot ticket were small prices to pay for another great time at the races. The race did not disappoint, and I now always make an effort to attend whatever races I can.

I think this race has real potential for being a community event and a highlight of the calendar. And I’m not just saying that because it’s my home track. Milwaukee (like Indianapolis) is that rare major race track that’s actually located well within a city. As part of the state fairgrounds, it is surrounded on all sides by business districts and residential areas. Those potential spectators and profit-making businesspeople stand to benefit in ways not possible for even neighbors of downtown street circuits. They have a literal home race, one that could actually be in their backyard. And it’s an oval-arguably the easier race for the new or inexperienced fan to get into and follow. Hopefully the current promoters will be able to exploit the track’s advantages in location, layout, and race-loving residents and return Milwaukee to a place of prominence on the schedule.

Since May began with a fly-away event in Brazil and continued with the extravaganza that is the run-up to Indianapolis, and was followed by the experimental Texas Twin 275s, Milwaukee is the first “normal” race in more than two months. There will be no Byzantine qualifying procedure, no parade, no halftime show draw, nothing fancy-just a race. Which is kind of refreshing. After a month of May most of them would rather forget, the five Penske and Ganassi drivers showed last week that the world is not ready to spin off its axis. With two wins and seven top fives between them, the paddock was reminded who the dominant forces in the series are.

Will Power has to remain the favorite after tossing the oval monkey off his back last week. I’ll spare my readers further discussion of the other Galactic Empire drivers. Graham Rahal qualified on the front row here in 2009 and finished best-in-class (4th) in a Newman-Haas car. I’ll make the logical extension and mention current Newman-Haas pilot, veteran Oriol Servia, as well. Danica Patrick strikes me as the most likely of the Andretti Autosport drivers to have a good day. Tony Kanaan can’t ever be counted out (and is a two-time winner here), and it’s entirely possible the Sam Schmidt Motorsports stable will surprise again. Most wins among active drivers is Paul Tracy with 4, but it remains to be seen if his team can keep up with Penske and Ganassi on an oval.

I’m looking forward to a good race, with double-file restarts, some passes for the lead, and a lot of action through the field.

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