One is quite new. The other is old…Make that very old.
But despite their differences in racing history, the streets of Baltimore and the Milwaukee Mile have been in the same boat this offseason as places that appeared on the verge of losing their IZOD IndyCar Series events.
The inaugural Baltimore Grand Prix last September was a smash hit in terms of attendance and the race itself, won by Team Penske’s Will Power, was memorable as well. But all the positive publicity for the sport and for Baltimore City soon gave way to news of major financial troubles for the race’s promoter, Baltimore Racing Development.
A few months before, the Milwaukee Mile made what was supposed to be a triumphant return to open-wheel racing. Unfortunately, the oldest operating motor speedway in the world suffered a disappointing turnout in the stands for Dario Franchitti’s historic 29th career victory, a win that tied him with four-time Indianapolis 500 champion Rick Mears for ninth all-time on the American open-wheel wins list.
As a result, the fates of these two events were uncertain for much of this winter. But with roughly one month to go before the start of the season, new promoters for both Baltimore and Milwaukee have come to help save these popular stops on the INDYCAR calendar.
Downforce Racing, a three-person team made up of Indianapolis-based contractor Dale Dillon and former Constellation Energy executives Felix Dawson and Daniel Reck, has been chosen to run the Baltimore Grand Prix for the next five years.
Dillon has plenty of experience in racing, having helped put on past INDYCAR events (St. Petersburg, Toronto) and serving as operations leader for last year’s BGP in the weeks leading up to it. With just six months until the IndyCars return to the Inner Harbor, he and his partners will have to work quickly in setting up promotions, ticket sales and sponsorships.
But with the addition of Downforce comes the chance to build upon the successes that the first BGP did have and ensure INDYCAR’s ongoing efforts in gaining new fans in the northeast United States won’t go for naught. The fact that over 160,000 people attended the three-day race weekend in Baltimore last year proves that there is a legitimate market for the sport. It just needs a proper team to make sure the race does right by the city it serves and Downforce is aiming to be that team.
Meanwhile, a familiar figure to INDYCAR fans has decided to step back into the promotions game and has chosen Milwaukee as his new company’s first venture.
Andretti Sports Marketing, led by five-time Milwaukee winner and team owner Michael Andretti, will manage the new “Milwaukee IndyFest,” an attempt to bring the party-hardy atmosphere of a street race to an oval. Considering Andretti’s past experience running street races, the concept could prove promising in years ahead for both the Mile and the sport.
Everyone already knows how much trouble that motorsports have had to deal with as a result of the economy and how fans’ discretionary income is not as large as it once was. People have always wanted the most bang for their buck, but that need has become underlined in recent years.
Street races realize this, loading up the track schedule with undercard events and bringing in all kinds of live entertainment (music, sports, carnivals, etc.) for those who want something to do when the track’s cold. At this point, it’s critical that the ovals ramp up their “E-value” to match and that’s what Andretti Sports Marketing is attempting to do with the Mile.
Downforce in Baltimore and ASM in Milwaukee both have their share of ground to cover with not a lot of time to do it in: The Milwaukee IndyFest is set for June 15-16 and the Baltimore Grand Prix goes off the first weekend of September.
Furthermore, these are still long-term projects that will need to grow with time. Considering the alternatives – losing any hope at a foothold in the Northeast and a vital, venerable link to the sport’s history – a little patience is necessary.
But if both groups can come through with the visions for their respective events, INDYCAR’s future will be that much better.
Chris Estrada maintains IndyRacingRevolution.com and has covered sports at all levels for multiple print and digital outlets. He has written for INDYCAR Nation since 2011 and can be reached via e-mail (firstname.lastname@example.org) and on Twitter (@estradawriting).