Tell us how a race at the Milwaukee Mile can succeed after Indy-car and stock-car events have failed. Then show us.
Prove to us – after all the talk about how important the Mile is racing and vice-versa – that people will actually support it. That they’ll come. And then they’ll come back.
Bob Sargent, who is promoting the latest in a string of “racing returns to the Mile” events, is well aware of the venerable track’s history, its struggles and its challenges. He has spent five years studying and the past couple of months betting against his doubters, and he was ready for skeptics Thursday.
“We’ve had a lot of local support already and interest … people who are interested in helping,” said Sargent, president of Illinois-based Track Enterprises, which puts on regional- and national-level special events around the country. “With the local tracks around here, there’s a really good base of not only participants but fans, sponsors. We rely a lot on that.
“We’ll do just about every type of promotion we can. We still do a lot of old-school, person-to person marketing, but we (also) pride ourselves on doing new … social media, whatever it takes.
“I feel like we’re like a restaurant. We need every type of menu, every piece of the puzzle. We’ll concentrate on all of those.”
The Father’s Day event was announced in November. The appearance by Sargent and representatives of State Fair Park management and the competing series was the beginning of serious promotion and an opportunity to share details.
The ARCA Midwest Tour’s 100-mile headliner June 16 will be accompanied by the Mid-American Stock Car Series, Midwest Truck Series, Upper Midwest Vintage Racing Series and Vintage Indy Registry. Tickets will go on sale March 4 through Track Enterprises and State Fair Park.
The Midwest Tour, then under different ownership, raced at the Mile from 2012-'14.
Wisconsin driver Travis Sauter won the first of those races, held under temporary lights on a week night in front of about 12,000 spectators. NASCAR star Kyle Busch won the second, a twilight race shortened from 150 laps to 115 because of darkness. Erik Jones, now in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, won in 2014 on the Sunday before Father’s Day in front of a paltry crowd.
Sargent has a break-even point in mind for as how many spectators the event must draw to be considered successful and worthy of another try in 2020. He didn’t share, but did generalize: 5,000 would be a disappointment, 10,000 would be a smashing success.
The Mile hosted its first race in 1903 and has been referred to as the country's oldest continuously operating speedway. It hosted open-wheel and stock-car events until 2010, when promoter problems led IndyCar Series and NASCAR races to be moved elsewhere.
Indy cars returned from 2011-'15 – including three Father’s Day weekend races – but promoter Michael Andretti could not make the event financially viable. Since then, the infield road course has been used by sports-car clubs, and last summer Midwest Tour owner Gregg McKarns launched monthly drag races that will return.
“One positive coming out of this is the Fair board’s willingness and positive attitude has really been good. That’s helped a lot,” Sargent said. “It’s really been a fresh thing to have somebody wanting it as bad as we want it.”
Track Enterprises has nearly 40 special events scheduled in 13 states this season, including ARCA stock car and USAC open-wheel races at the Indiana and Illinois state fairgrounds. It owns tracks in conjunction with three-time NASCAR champion Tony Stewart and retired NASCAR drivers Ken Schrader and Kenny Wallace, and operates some weekly shows.
The group also has been involved previously with the Midwest Tour in promotions in Elko, Minnesota, and Clermont, Indiana.
Sargent said he has pursued a number of NASCAR drivers to participate but did not share any commitments. The Monster Energy Cup Series is off that weekend, and the Gander Outdoors Truck Series (Saturday) and Xfinity Series (Sunday) share a weekend at Iowa Speedway.
“We have a checklist of things we do to make the fan experience (positive), make the racers happy,” Sargent said. “Everybody has to want this experience on Father’s Day.
“We’ll hit all those checkmarks. We’ll look for sponsorships. And – I hate to say this – the weather is probably one of our biggest concerns. But if the weather cooperates, we can normally do well at these things.”
All right. Let's give it a shot. See what you can do.
Email Dave Kallmann at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @davekallmann.