Wisconsin is not regarded by many people as a mecca for auto racing. However, it does have a fair history in the sport. Tracks like Road America (Elkhart Lake) and Madison International Speedway have been around for over 40 years, while the Milwaukee Mile has been around for over 100 years.
The historic racetrack on the Wisconsin State Fairgrounds in West Allis is in trouble. After its most recent run of major events, the Milwaukee Mile may be about to shut its doors for good.
The NASCAR Nationwide and Craftsman Truck Series races run at Milwaukee two weeks ago are the biggest events the sanctioning body brings to Wisconsin on an annual basis. The IndyCar series has typically run at the Mile the weekend after the Indianapolis 500.
All of these races are in serious jeopardy, thanks to the inability of Mile promoter Claude Napier to pay the bills from those events.
Napier's organization owes NASCAR nearly $1.9 million for staging two races in June and owes the Indy Racing League an undisclosed amount for its weekend in May. The organizer of a spectator event in August - the track's final opportunity for a significant payday this season - said this week that he is ready to walk away from his commitment.This isn't child's play. The Milwaukee Mile, at 107 years of age, is the oldest racing facility anywhere in the United States. It hosted its first racing event way back in 1903, even before there was an Indianapolis 500. In a state that features legendary venues such as Lambeau Field and Camp Randall Stadium, the Milwaukee Mile is Wisconsin's most historic sports facility.
Former promoters Dominic and Frank Giuffre tell the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that they think it's "too late" to save the Mile, though they say they'd like a crack at it.
Current NASCAR drivers like Matt Kenseth, Paul Menard, Kelly Bires, Johnny Sauter, Travis Kvapil, and Scott Wimmer all hail from the Badger State. Matt's father, Roy, has organized a stock car event at the Mile in August, but he may be on the verge of pulling that event from the track.
Wisconsin race fans will still have opportunities to see some great racing at Road America and at MIS if the Mile closes. The problem is it can be argued Road America is the only other track in the state configured to host a NASCAR or IRL event. The IRL probably has enough road-course races as is, and NASCAR appears to be allergic to the concept.
Meanwhile, the Giuffres, according to the Journal Sentinel, are doing what they can to make it clear to State Fair Park management that they want a shot at resurrecting the speedway.
The Giuffres made their most recent contact with fair management this week, sending a letter to Chairman Susan Crane and members of the board. In it, they estimated the value of the track at $150 million, called the Mile "one of Wisconsin's crown jewels, and yet it is tarnishing the reputation of the state," and said its demise would be an "incalculable" loss to the state.Racing will continue in Wisconsin. Just this week, Kenseth and Sprint Cup points leader Tony Stewart drove in a race at Madison, near Kenseth's hometown of Cambridge. That said, the loss of either the IRL or NASCAR events at Milwaukee would be a blow to Wisconsin's visibility on the racing map.
It would leave either Iowa Speedway and Chicagoland as the closest tracks for Wisconsin fans to catch NASCAR or Indy racing.