There are countless websites and social media pages dedicated to retired race tracks and abandoned speedways, all paying homage to what once was and how things used to be.
Thanks to the efforts of several individuals and organizations, The Milwaukee Mile, located on the Wisconsin State Fairgrounds in West Allis, Wis., is no longer one of these tracks in the rearview mirror.
Big-league auto racing returned to the famed one-mile oval last year as more than 100 drivers competed in four divisions — the ARCA Midwest Tour, Midwest Trucks, Mid-American Stock Cars and the Upper Midwest Vintage Series — in the first major racing event at the track since 2015.
Despite cold and rainy weather, a large group of fans turned out for the Father’s Day event. The strong showing of competitors and fans was enough to convince Wisconsin State Fair Park board members and event promoter, Track Enterprises, to schedule a second race for this year on June 13-14.
“We definitely think the future is bright for our event at The Milwaukee Mile, this year and beyond,” said Bob Sargent, president of Track Enterprises. “I see it staying true to Wisconsin grassroots multiple division racing with a mix of a lot of local guys and some national touring drivers getting an opportunity to race on one of America’s most iconic tracks.
“It’s a good product,” Sargent added. “We can definitely build on that and the possibility of Track Enterprises bringing other events with other sanctioning bodies to The Milwaukee Mile. Whatever makes sense for both us and ‘The Mile’ is definitely going to be discussed as we move forward.”
This is all good news not only for hard-core Wisconsin motorsports fans but for anyone who appreciates the history of American racing.
Here’s a quick history lesson. The one-mile dirt track at Wisconsin State Fair Park debuted as a horse racing venue in 1876. The first auto race there was run on Sept. 10, 1903, with William Jones from Chicago the winner. That was eight years before Ray Harroun won the inaugural Indianapolis 500 in 1911. Three weeks after Harroun’s victory in the 500, Ralph DePalma won both the 20- and 50-lap events during the Inaugural Milwaukee Mile Championship Races.
The races marked the beginning of Milwaukee’s position as the traditional second stop on the Championship Car Trail — a position that lasted for decades.
While virtually every other form of American motorsports has competed at the track through the years, the facility had lain dormant since 2015.
Ironically, the spark to again fire the engines at “America’s Legendary Oval” came from an unlikely source — drag racing.
“Bob and I had a meeting at the PRI Show in December 2017,” said Gregg McKarns, president of the ARCA Midwest Tour and often a partner with Sargent in promoting other racing events around the Midwest. “We had been talking about getting racing back to ‘The Mile’ for some time and we decided I would go talk to them. We talked about a two-day stock car show and while I was standing out on pit road talking to them, I wondered if we could do street drags there.
“Unfortunately, we couldn’t come together on the financials for the oval track deal for 2018, but I called Chuck Deery up at LaCrosse Speedway and told him I thought street drags at ‘The Mile’ made sense. His response was, ‘Let’s do it,’ so we went back to the fair board with a proposal to do five Tuesday night street drag events in the summer of 2018. Fortunately, they agreed, and we were able to get it going.”
The first street drag event at The Milwaukee Mile in May 2018 drew 138 cars. That number grew and a second year of five events was scheduled for 2019. The decision proved to be a sound one as the popularity of The Milwaukee Mile street drags exploded with last year’s season finale featuring 313 bracket entries, no room left in the 100-stall Show and Shine area, and more than 2,000 people watching the action from the infield.
“Getting the street-drag deal rolling for 2018 allowed us to get our relationship with ‘The Mile’ on solid footing,” said McKarns. “You always have to walk before you run and, frankly, we took some shots from a fair amount of people who said what we were going to do with the street drags wasn’t racing. People directly asked me why I was wasting my time. What they didn’t realize is that we hoped the street drags would lead to the return of racing events at ‘The Mile.’ That was they goal for us all along. As it turned out, that’s exactly what happened.”
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