Milwaukee Talks: IndyCar's Ryan Hunter-Reay
Ryan Hunter-Reay needed a jacket last Monday at the corner of 7th and State, despite the sun and near 70-degree weather in Downtown Milwaukee.
"I'm a Florida boy," he laughed tugging on an Andretti Motor Sports fleece.
That said, the 30-year-old from Ft. Lauderdale loves Milwaukee, site of one of the most impressive victories in IndyCar history – his 2004 win at the Milwaukee Mile where he finished in a "clean sweep," starting from pole position and leading in all 250 laps of the race.
"I love the city, I love Milwaukee and certainly love the track (at the Milwaukee Mile)," Hunter-Reay said. "Anytime we get a chance to come up here it's good news for me."
Hunter-Reay reminisced a bit about the race and professed his affection for the city as he was in town to ride along with several Milwaukee Police Department bicycle officers. OnMilwaukee.com caught up with the five-time IndyCar champion in this edition of Milwaukee Talks.
OnMilwaukee.com: You dominated here in 2004. Can that win translate to 2012?
Ryan Huntery-Reay: This track has been like fire and ice for me. It's either been right on, everything's clicking, or it's been the complete opposite. Because it's a flatter track like that, it's so respected by the drivers. If you ask any driver where they want succeed at, it's usually (the Indianapolis 500) and Milwaukee. Milwaukee is like Indy in a way. It's so much shorter but it's tough to make work. It's one that you have to really respect."
OMC: What does it mean to have your team, Andretti Sports, involved in this event?
RHR: Michael has taken up the Milwaukee race because of the opportunity and really the potential that the event has. This could be huge. This event in the past was a major mark on the calendar for the IndyCar series and the Milwaukee are and hopefully we'll get back to that. After a few years of absence on IndyCar's part, we're back, we came back last year, and we're hoping to start a run of consistency with a mainstay on the schedule. That's the idea. We really want to make this a big event. Milwaukee IndyFest this year, with Andretti Sports Marketing promoting it, is going to be huge.
OMC: You seem to have a real affinity for the city.
RHR: This place has been special to me. It's probably my most memorable win, that night when I led all 250 laps. It was my first oval win and there was no better place to do it than Milwaukee. I love Milwaukee. I love being here. This place has been special to me. When you get this place right, Milwaukee has some of the best race fans in the world, in my opinion. I've had good times in the city, there's good people around here and I have a tight relationship with Briggs and Stratton, as well. It's a great place. When I heard we were coming up here a month after the Indy 500, I was all over it. Hopefully, it'll be a mainstay on the calendar now and the fans will come. These new cars make for some great racing.
OMC: Racing was great here, then it was gone, now it's trying to rebuild. That can be difficult.
RHR: It is hard to rebuild it. As with any sporting event, you need consistency, you need to count on that calendar date to be there every year, you plan around it and that's the way events work. You can't just expect to come back in one year and boom, just be back to the way it was. The series is getting more healthy, there's a lot of cars out there, car manufacturers battling, there's new cars, and now we've got the best chance we've had in such a long time to make this Milwaukee IndyCar race work.
The guys know what they're doing – they put on St. Petersburg, Toronto, and more to come – I think they're going to do a really, really good job with it. Milwaukee is important to every IndyCar driver. We came back last year mainly because the IndyCar drivers wanted it on the schedule so bad because it's IndyCar history. It's one of the oldest tracks in the world. IndyCars have been racing there as long as they have at (Indianapolis Motor Speedway). We need to be back, we need to have it on the calendar, and it makes for one of the best races of the year.
OMC: What's your pre-race schedule like here in town?
RHR: Usually we come in three or four days in advance of the race, just depending on the practice schedule. But just about every year I've attended this race I've gotten out to a Brewers game, gotten out into the city for some dinner. I make it a priority (to get out), especially here in Milwaukee especially because I love the area so much. It'd be a shame to just go straight to the hotel room from the race track the whole weekend.
OMC: Have you been here enough that you've found a "must visit" place?
RHR: There's a place called 4th Base. Love that. I've been going there since I was in Formula Atlantics (in early 2000s). We have some places that we eat out by West Allis. I try to get to a Brewers game. Miller Park is just awesome. It's probably the coolest baseball field I've seen.
OMC: Do you feel the same affection back from Milwaukee race fans?
RHR: Yeah. Over the years, I've really felt a huge fan base here. This track is part of IndyCar history. It is IndyCar. It's a part of it. And we need to back here and the fans certainly see it that way too. We just need to make the event work.
We were away for a little while, we came back, we couldn't expect it to be a home run the first year back but now it's going to be done right with Andretti Sports Marketing and the people here will embrace an event that's consistent I think. It' worked in the past and there's no reason it shouldn't work in the future. I've certainly feel a lot of love from the fans here and I appreciate that.
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