Aug 19, 2014, 1:00 PM EDT
Several factors need to be taken into play when doing a weekend debrief of last weekend’s Milwaukee IndyFest, the third crack by Andretti Sports Marketing in promoting a race at the legendary, one-mile oval.
One, the date changed. Date equity is often one of the keys to a successful event; it’s been something that Milwaukee is readjusting to. For ages, it was the week after the Indianapolis 500, but then it was shifted to later in June upon its return to the calendar in 2011, and then for 2014, switched to August.
Two, it didn’t rain pre-race. Each of the last two years, the Father’s Day Saturday, pop-up showers occurred and had an adverse affect on the walk-up crowd. With a glorious, sun-soaked Sunday this time around, the infield pre-race was buzzing.
Three, there is a general perception that oval attendance looks worse visually than at road and street courses. A road or street course race weekend may get as little as 10 to 15,000 patrons on race day, but if they’re neatly packed into say, three or four grandstands around a two-mile course, it looks like a sellout. But 20 or 25,000 at a Texas, Iowa or Milwaukee looks worse because the grandstand capacity is much bigger – either north of 30,000 on the short ovals or exceeding 75,000 at the 1.5-mile TMS.
So, consider those factors and the fact that visually speaking (top is 2013, bottom 2014), the grandstands appeared to be fuller this go around and you’ll have to say there were more positives than negatives to take away from the 2014 edition of an event that needed a big weekend.
Promotionally speaking, Andretti Sports Marketing had an active city presence for the better part of five months. Various driver appearances and other pre-race elements were chronicled throughout the process on MotorSportsTalk. There were at least some billboards present on the freeways driving up from Chicago/Indianapolis up north.
If there was one complaint I heard during the weekend, and perhaps fairly, it was that the event merchandise selection was lacking. So were the cream puffs for those outside victory lane. But certainly, the entertainment options weren’t. With rides, a Ferris Wheel, various food options, tweet-ups, the National Volleyball League and a concert stage all packed into the infield, there was plenty for families to engage in.
Crowd reports have been mixed. Honestly, I’d peg it a bit as close to 30,000. Robin Miller estimated a lower amount (18,000) in a piece for RACER.com but if event general manager Kevin Healy estimated last year’s at nearer to 28,000 (which seems high), and this one felt busier (believe me, it did) in a piece for the Business Journal Serving Greater Milwaukee, so it should be a little bit higher. And any growth, especially given the above factors, is a good thing. Estimates of 35 to 40,000, as ABC Supply Co. owner Diane Hendricks hoped for, were wide of the mark.
Did the fans get treated to one of the best races of the year? Frankly, no. Will Power checked out in one of his most clutch performances in the Verizon IndyCar Series, and he won with tenacity (he survived an early battle with Tony Kanaan), pace (consistent 150+ mph laps before the tires fell off) and fuel saving (going 62 laps on a final stint).
But that says something more to the quality of IndyCar races throughout the year than it does a lack of excitement with Milwaukee. The downside to the racing in Sunday’s case was that it required a second screen experience – generally the Verizon INDYCAR 14 app or a laptop – to enhance the viewing of the race, and follow the respective strategies and timing & scoring.
Perhaps the tires fell off too fast, and the horsepower isn’t high enough to where it could be. Still, neither Juan Pablo Montoya nor Kanaan blamed anything bad about Sunday’s race on the current package – they blamed it on drivers who were difficult to pass as slower traffic.
The corporate support for this race was up, and that is a big takeaway. Michael Andretti said pre-race how happy he was with the uptick, and considering events need all the local and corporate support they can get, it’s a positive sign. ABC Supply’s presence as title sponsor is a good thing – so is Direct Supply’s, Marcus Hotels, the Metro Milwaukee Honda Dealers, and on down the line. There was a street party on the Friday night, with a charity event for Racing for Kids also well-received.
Seeing news reports that “Milwaukee has just been confirmed for 2015″ is erroneous. The race was announced as being locked into a two-year deal last October. The only new news this weekend about the event’s status was its reported 2015 date, initially pegged as August 22-23 (so a week later, but still a week after the State Fair) by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel‘s Dave Kallmann.
All told, while there continue to be elements the event needs to improve on, both on and off-track, I think Andretti Sports Marketing delivered another solid event overall.
As always, the fan interest needs to back up the promoter and corporate efforts – and that will remain IndyCar’s biggest challenge on ovals going forward.
Sep 29, 2014, 9:30 PM EDT
NBCSN’s Marty Snider has more from Stewart’s press conference today in North Carolina.
Sep 29, 2014, 8:30 PM EDT
Instead of racing to protect his position in the Chase, Jeff Gordon went into attack mode Sunday at Dover – and it paid off with a win. Check out his Victory Lane interview with NASCAR AMERICA’s Kelli Stavast here.
Sep 29, 2014, 7:30 PM EDT
All the notes and numbers to keep in mind as the Contender Round begins on Kansas’ 1.5-mile oval.
Sep 29, 2014, 6:45 PM EDT
Coming up: Highlights from the first cut race of the Chase; reports on Kevin Harvick’s tire failure and Hendrick Motorsports; Tony Stewart speaks about trying to carry on after his involvement in a fatal sprint car accident.
Sep 29, 2014, 5:15 PM EDT
Josef Newgarden ends P13 in 2014, after a year where an overall top-10 finish was possible.
Sep 29, 2014, 4:47 PM EDT
A nice display of sportsmanship after a tough day at the Monster Mile.
Sep 29, 2014, 4:15 PM EDT
It was a tough year for James Hinchcliffe, who ended P12 in the IndyCar points.
Sep 29, 2014, 3:33 PM EDT
Hamilton hopes to join the list of famous names that have won at Suzuka, while Rosberg turns the page on his disappointing Singapore Grand Prix.
Sep 29, 2014, 3:15 PM EDT
Ryan Briscoe’s return to IndyCar was quiet, clean and productive.
Sep 29, 2014, 3:05 PM EDT
Simon Pagenaud leaves the past behind, and readies for Team Penske opportunity.
Sep 29, 2014, 2:15 PM EDT
Lack of bonus points notwithstanding, Logano’s pleased about where he and his No. 22 Team Penske crew stand going into the next round of the Chase.
Sep 29, 2014, 2:00 PM EDT
The latest young drivers to earn Team USA Scholarship are named.
Sep 29, 2014, 1:00 PM EDT
Also: Tony Stewart opens up; IndyCar’s Simon Pagenaud jumps to Team Penske; and the stage is set for a wild season finale in Red Bull Global Rallycross.
Sep 29, 2014, 12:30 PM EDT
P14 for Tony Stewart at Dover felt like one of his better runs of the season, he explained Monday.
Sep 29, 2014, 12:10 PM EDT
Tony Stewart addresses the questions, and faces the media, in Charlotte.
Sep 29, 2014, 10:48 AM EDT
Pagenaud to Penske means IndyCar’s “big three” now have 12 cars between them – four apiece.
Sep 29, 2014, 10:06 AM EDT
Simon Pagenaud makes it official: he’s driving for Team Penske in 2015.
Sep 29, 2014, 10:00 AM EDT
Gabby Chaves (pictured) and Rodolfo Gonzalez set for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports IndyCar tests.
Sep 29, 2014, 9:30 AM EDT
8Star Motorsports commits to Indy Lights with first car order placed.
Video from NASCAR America
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