Two days after the Indianapolis 500 in May, many of IndyCar's best were on the grounds at Wisconsin State Fair Park and the Milwaukee Mile, testing on the oval track in advance of this weekend's Milwaukee IndyFest.
Testing day is essentially an open air, public mechanic shop highlighted by the intermittent buzz of machines flying by at over 200 miles per hour.
The travel between races and the prep is routine, part of the job.
The Mile however, is far from just another track.
It's a legendary oval that has been part of racing for over a century, and to win is to join racing elite. It's such an important venue that Ryan Hunter-Reay said IndyCar drivers united as a group to push for the circuit's return two years ago, and important enough for team owner Mario Andretti to throw his weight behind it with his Andretti Sports Marketing arm.
Charlie Kimball, who drives for Novo Nordisk Chip Ganassi Racing, raced on the Mile for the first time in 2009 in Indy Lights and again last year. The son of British F1 and IndyCar designer Gordon Kimball, Charlie grew up around the history of the sport and has developed a fondness for Milwaukee.
"I've always been very conscious of history and paying homage to that and remembering that," Kimball said. "Without the pioneers in the sport, we don't have Indy Car racing as it is today, so you have to appreciate the work everybody did so it's something relevant. I love coming up here to Milwaukee because it's a great race. I think short track racing in an IndyCar is one of the best for the fans out there. It's incredible. Last year I got out of the car grinning. It was so much fun as a competitor to go out and race on a short track where there is so much going on."
Tony Kanaan, who is driving in the Geico car for KV Racing Technology, was all smiles as he moved about the track, site of his back-to-back victories in 2006 and 2007.
"I just love this place," he said. "Thanks to Michael Andretti for bringing it back. I keep telling people and I can't stress enough how great this track is. The proof is that everybody fights to have this place back every year if something happens, so hopefully we'll be able to make it successful, the way it was in the past and people will show up."
There is a reason why the list of past champions at the Mile reads like a who's who in open wheel – Dario Franchitti, A.J. Foyt, Mario Andretti and Juan Pablo Montoya to name a few – it's a tough track that requires the negotiation of the June heat, winds, long and flat turns and tight quarters.
"It's the oldest track that we have in the series and a short track like this is tradition, and it's also very challenging," three-time Indy 500 winner Helio Castroneves said. "When we don't have banking and you have powerful cars like IndyCar, it certainly makes it very tough. That's why it's fun, but that's why it's so difficult. There is so much going on that you really have to push every single lap. I think we should have more tracks like Milwaukee and certainly we are looking as a series to get on these types of tracks more often so that the competition and the safety and everything goes very well and we can have a great show for everyone."
The history of the venue isn't the only reason drivers and their teams love coming to Milwaukee – it's the total experience.
Many of the drivers said they wanted to catch a baseball game at Miller Park, but the Brewers are on the road this weekend in Minnesota. Kimball said there's a small Italian place he frequents in Waukesha while Castroneves likes the vibe downtown and you may find an Andretti at Mo's.
"When we're having fun it translates," Kimball said. "We're accessible to the fans because we enjoy the on track and we enjoy the off track as well. It's a combination of all the factors, to be able to come back to Milwaukee it's always such a great event, we get great fans out here."
Jim Owczarski is an award-winning sports journalist and comes to Milwaukee by way of the Chicago Sun-Times Media Network.
A three-year Wisconsin resident who has considered Milwaukee a second home for the better part of seven years, he brings to the market experience covering nearly all major and college sports.
To this point in his career, he has been awarded six national Associated Press Sports Editors awards for investigative reporting, feature writing, breaking news and projects. He is also a four-time nominee for the prestigious Peter J. Lisagor Awards for Exemplary Journalism, presented by the Chicago Headline Club, and is a two-time winner for Best Sports Story. He has also won numerous other Illinois Press Association, Illinois Associated Press and Northern Illinois Newspaper Association awards.
Jim's career started in earnest as a North Central College (Naperville, Ill.) senior in 2002 when he received a Richter Fellowship to cover the Chicago White Sox in spring training. He was hired by the Naperville Sun in 2003 and moved on to the Aurora Beacon News in 2007 before joining OnMilwaukee.com.
In that time, he has covered the events, news and personalities that make up the PGA Tour, LPGA Tour, Major League Baseball, the National Football League, the National Hockey League, NCAA football, baseball and men's and women's basketball as well as boxing, mixed martial arts and various U.S. Olympic teams.
Golf aficionados who venture into Illinois have also read Jim in GOLF Chicago Magazine as well as the Chicago District Golfer and Illinois Golfer magazines.