Running on the Quintessential Oval Track There's plenty of racing history at the Milwaukee Mile. by Gordon Kirby WEST ALLIS, Wisc. -- This weekend's Miller Lite 225 at the Milwaukee Mile closes the curtain on the opening segment of the...
Running on the Quintessential Oval Track
There's plenty of racing history at the Milwaukee Mile.
by Gordon Kirby
WEST ALLIS, Wisc. -- This weekend's Miller Lite 225 at the Milwaukee Mile closes the curtain on the opening segment of the CART season. Milwaukee will be the sixth oval among the year's first seven races, but after next weekend the focus of the FedEx Championship will shift to road and street circuits, with only three more oval tracks among the year's remaining 13 races.
The Milwaukee Mile is the quintessential one-mile oval. It is the world's oldest racetrack, hosting its first automobile race in 1903. In those days it was simply dirt, a horse track built originally in 1876 as part of George Stephen's farm. Annexed by the Wisconsin State Fair Board in 1891, the track saw both horse and automobile races through the early decades of this century, hosting its first AAA Championship car race in 1938. There was another Champ Car race in 1941 before the sport was placed on hiatus by World War II, but there's been a Champ Car race at Milwaukee every year since 1946.
From 1947-82, two races were run each year at the track. There was the traditional, post-Indy 500, early June date, then another race run in August in company with the State Fair. The June race was 150 miles long, the August race 200 miles. In 1965, no fewer than three races were run at Milwaukee.
The track was paved in 1954 -- six years later, Len Sutton became the first driver to win a race there at better than 100 mph. In August 1963, the track witnessed a historic milestone: Legendary Scotsman Jim Clark became the first man to win a Champ Car race driving a rear-engined car -- a Lotus/Ford, of course. Two years later, A.J. Foyt played a florid swan song for front-engined cars by qualifying his dirt car on the pole, in a field otherwise full of the new-fangled rear-engined machines. Foyt finished second in that race, but by then it was clear the day of the front-engined race car was over.
There have been many other memorable races on the Milwaukee Mile. In 1981, Mike Mosley came from the back of the field to win driving a stock-block Chevy-powered Eagle for Dan Gurney's All-American Racers. In 1990, Al Unser Jr. came from a mid-field starting position to win, despite a spin to avoid an out-of-control Randy Lewis. The following year, Michael Andretti led a family sweep -- cousin John finished second and father Mario third, the only time in Champ Car history that a family has finished 1-2-3 in a race.
Michael Andretti is considered a master of Milwaukee. He's won three times at the track and is always a factor. This year, hot off his great win at Gateway, Andretti again stands as the man to beat at Milwaukee. However, he'll have plenty of competition from championship leader Juan Montoya, Dario Franchitti, Greg Moore, teammate Christian Fittipaldi and all the other 20-somethings in the field.
With the turns banked barely five or six degrees, the Mile is flat and wide, making for great side-by-side racing. Even with this year's low downforce and single-element wings, the competitors say it remains a true driver's track, with multiple grooves and plenty of room to race.