By Andy Tarnoff Publisher Published May 14, 2003 at 5:29 AM

The newly refurbished Milwaukee Mile celebrates its 100th season this summer and several upgrades are being unveiled to mark this venerable track's milestone. In addition to new grandstands and improved amenities for the fans, the Mile will sport something else when it hosts the Champ Car World Series on May 31 -- a dozen temporary towers pumping out 1.3 million watts of light.

For the first time in its storied history, the once privately owned horse-racing track will run a night race. Paul Tracy, the winner of the 2002 event, will try for a repeat under the glow of bright lights.

"I think it's a great opportunity for CART to host its first night race at a track with such tradition and heritage," Tracy said. "I understand the track has been revamped and moved into the 21st Century, and I'm excited to be going there as the defending champion for this historic event."

It's a fitting addition for the one-mile oval, which has actually been in been in existence since at least 1876. In 1891, the Agricultural Society of the State of Wisconsin purchased the land to create a permanent site for the Wisconsin State Fair. The track has operated as part of the fairgrounds ever since.

But auto racing at The Milwaukee Mile debuted on Sept. 11, 1903, when William Jones of Chicago won a five-lap speed contest, setting the first track record with a 72-second, 50 mph lap in the process. Five-, 10- and 15-mile races were common in the early days, as were 24-hour endurance races, which were staged in 1907 and 1908. It wasn't until 1915 that the first 100-mile race was held, with Louis Disbrow averaging 62.5 mph to take the checkered flag.

A hundred years later, the Mile looks toward its future. The lights are just one part of a $20.5 million renovation of the facility, and they will be removed after the race.

"When you look at the long-storied history of The Milwaukee Mile, when you talk to the people on the circuit, especially the drivers who come back, you understand how important The Mile is," said State Fair Park CEO Joe Chrnelich. "I think The Milwaukee Mile puts Wisconsin on the map, keeps us on the map. When you talk about racing hotbeds across the country, this remains one of them. It's the best oval around, and it's coming back strong."

"We are excited to create a new, exciting atmosphere for the devoted fan following what we have built over the years," said Milwaukee Mile race organizer Carl Haas. "We have made a lot of changes to the facility in the past 12 months, and I can think of no better way to show those changes off than to literally cast lights on them."

Shedding light on the subject

The night race will give The Milwaukee Mile a chance to show off the many changes and upgrades that have taken place during the last year. Two entire sections of grandstands, including the large center of the structure, have been retrofitted with new seating for 25,000 fans. New scoreboards and infield facilities will be added in time for the event.

"We are looking for something to make the race event a better show for our fans, and I think this will give us a combination of state-of-the-art facilities, urban proximity and racing history that is unmatched," said Vice President and General Manager Mark Perrone. "I think our track is paralleling the resurgence and energy level of CART, and we are looking forward to working together."

Fans will get three nights of action under the lights, with a Thursday night Champ Car practice, a Friday night qualifying, then Saturday night's race. The event will be Round 6 of the 2003 Bridgestone Presents The Champ Car World Series Powered by Ford with the Toyota Atlantic Championship and Barber Dodge Pro Series.

"We wanted to do something special for Milwaukee and for the fans that have supported us over all these years," said CART President and CEO Christopher R. Pook. "We are excited about the opportunities that running a night race presents and are glad to be able to present something new in such a valuable market for Championship Auto Racing Teams."

A timeline of the history of the Milwaukee Mile: 1903-2003

The Milwaukee Mile has hosted auto-racing events every year since 1903, making it the oldest continuously operating auto racing facility in the world. During that time, the track has seen nearly every type of motorsports competition, from turn-of-the-century "speed contests" and 24-hour endurance races to Depression- and WWII-era open-wheel car duels, USAC stock car events, midget racing, and now CART and NASCAR competition. The roster of past winners at The Milwaukee Mile is a veritable "who's-who" of racing history, including names like Barney Oldfield, Rex Mays, A.J. Foyt, Al Unser and Mario Andretti.

The Early Years (1903-1932)

From the beginning, The Milwaukee Mile attracted some of the biggest names in racing, including the sport's first truly famous racer, Barney Oldfield. In fact, Oldfield's exploits at The Milwaukee Mile helped build his legend. He set the track's record in 1905 and again in 1910, when he pushed his famous Blitzen Benz to an average speed of 70.l59 mph. In June 1917, he out-dueled Ralph DePalma in a series of 10, 15 and 25-mile match races, driving a car dubbed the "Golden Submarine" -- so named because it was painted gold and completely enclosed to protect the driver in case it overturned.

DePalma also played a significant role in The Mile's development. In 1911, he won the inaugural Milwaukee Mile Championship Car race, as well as the famed Indianapolis Speedway Race held the following weekend. He was one of ten racers to compete in both events. Although The Mile's "first-race-after-Indy" status didn't become entrenched until 1947, it has since become one of the longest-running traditions in motorsports.

The Milwaukee Mile faced a series of unique challenges during the years surrounding World War I. Since the original purpose of the track was for racing horses, the early retaining walls were little more than picket fences until concrete barriers were installed in the 1920s. With the horsemen and auto racers sharing the same track, special attention to the dirt surface was necessary, forcing the track's groundskeeper to loosen the surface for horse racing and to harden it for cars. In the 1920s, board tracks sprang up across the country and The Mile fell from favor with many drivers, who preferred the smoother and faster board tracks. However, this gave the facility a chance to develop a number of local drivers and its first promoter of note -- Tom Marchese. During his tenure, which lasted from 1929 through 1967, Marchese promoted more major races at The Milwaukee Mile than any other promoter in the history of the speedway.

Return to Prominence (1933-1953)

In the 1930s, The Mile returned to national prominence with the development of a new grandstand area, which replaced the original grandstand built in 1914. Holding 14,900 spectators, it was built over time in three sections, and then merged via a common roof in 1938. Fortified several times through the ensuing decades, it stood until September 2002.

Some of the first big events held in the newly improved facility had nothing to do with auto racing. Through much of the 1930s, the Green Bay Packers played two games a year on The Milwaukee Mile's infield, and the site even hosted the 1939 NFL Championship game in which the Packers beat the New York Giants, 27 - 0. The Milwaukee Chiefs from the American Football League also played their home games there in 1941.

Champ Cars made their first appearance at The Milwaukee Mile on July 17, 1933. But before the 100-mile race could get underway, a rainstorm hit the track, washing out the show. A group of drivers, led by Wilbur Shaw, convinced promoter Tom Marchese to run the race the following day, in the process coining the now-popular sports term "rain date."

There were three other Champ Car races held at The Mile during the 1930s with Rex Mays winning in 1937, Chet Gardner in 1938 and Babe Stapp in 1939. Mays was the first to break the 90 mph barrier in 1934 with a lap of 39.47 seconds (91.21 mph). The 1937 race was perhaps the most memorable of the decade, since a scoring error caused it to end prematurely after the 96th lap, instead of the 100th.

The 1930s also saw the emergence of Tony Willman, who is still considered one of the top Midget and Sprint Car drivers ever to come out of Wisconsin. Willman's fame peaked on August 4, 1939, when his hometown of South Milwaukee made him honorary mayor and paraded him to that day's race in the official town car with another 200 supporters' vehicles driving behind. Fittingly, he won the event.

Although interrupted by World War II, the 1940s were marked by the continued growth of racing at The Mile and the continued domination of major events by Rex Mays, who won the 100-mile race in 1941 and again in 1946 (when racing resumed). In 1948, the facility held its first 200-mile Champ Car race as well as its first major stock car race.

From 1947 through 1980, The Milwaukee Mile was the site of more national Championship midget, stock and Indy car races than any other track in the country. Milwaukee had established itself as the premier one-mile oval in America. In July of 1950, 33,161 fans watched Myron Fohr win a 150-mile stock car race at The Mile, an attendance record that stood until July 4, 1993, when 34,260 people witnessed the return of the NASCAR Busch Grand National Series to Milwaukee.

In 1950, the June 100-mile race was named the Rex Mays Classic, while in 1961, the 200-mile August event was designated the Tony Bettenhausen Classic. These two races became mainstays on the Champ Car schedule through 1982, when the August event was eliminated.

Under Tom Marchese's skilled promotion, the track prospered as it enjoyed the unqualified backing of the State Fair Board and management. As the growth of racing continued, improvements were still being made, one of which would take the track into the modern era of auto racing.

A New Era (1954-1980)

The modern era began in May 1954 when the track was paved for the first time. However, during the 1950s and 60s, the quarter-mile dirt oval in the infield was the sight of numerous, weekly racing programs. Miles Melius of Slinger was the dominant driver, and Carl Kulow of Plymouth won frequently as well. Horseracing events also continued during The Wisconsin State Fair on the interior half-mile oval until 1959.

During the 1960s, Norm Nelson of Racine dominated the USAC late-model stock car ranks. He won Championships in 1960, 1965 and 1966 and started in 75 straight USAC late-model stock car races at The Mile, winning 11 times.

The 1960s were also marked by the emergence of rear-engine vehicles on the Champ Car circuit, debuting at Milwaukee in 1962. In 1963, the rear-engine Lotus-Fords of Dan Clark and Dan Gurney dominated the field in the August race, with Clark taking the checkered flag in a record speed of 109.303 mph.

The last victory for a traditional roadster at Milwaukee came at the 1964 Rex Mays Classic when A. J. Foyt outclassed the field. Although Foyt would also switch to a rear-engine car before that season was over, he did have one last unintended appearance at The Mile in a front-engine car. In 1965, Foyt was forced to tow his dirt track car, a front-engine Offy, to Milwaukee from Springfield when his rear-engine Lotus-Ford, along with his crew, did not arrive in Milwaukee in time for qualifying. He proceeded to prepare the car himself for racing on pavement and then put the car on the pole with a speed of 107.881 mph. Foyt led 16 of the 200 laps but eventually finished second to Gordon Johncock. By 1966, only three roadsters were in the Rex Mays Classic field. The last year a front-engine roadster raced at The Mile was in 1970 with Bob Harkey at the wheel.

The entire track was repaved at the end of the 1967 season. By 1970, most of the 1.2-mile road course in the infield had been obliterated with the enlargement of the pit area. The quarter-mile oval also went out of existence around the same time.

During the 1960s and into the early '70s, the most dominant stock car driver was Don White of Keokuk, Iowa. He won 14 stock car races, more than any driver in Milwaukee Mile history. Dominating stock cars in the mid-1970s was Butch Hartman, who won two USAC Championships and an amazing seven out of eight races on The Mile, duplicating the record of Parnelli Jones in the 1964 and '65 seasons.

The pre-eminent Champ Car driver of this period was Al Unser Sr., who won four times at The Mile and finished three miles ahead of the field at the 1970 Bettenhausen 200. Rick Mears also made his first appearance in Milwaukee during the late ‘70s, although surprisingly it came in a USAC stock car. Mears came back to win a USAC race in Milwaukee a year later and won Champ Car races at the track in 1988 and 1989.

The CART/NASCAR Era Begins (1980-1992)

1980 saw the first race sanctioned by Championship Auto Racing Teams (CART) -- the Tony Bettenhausen 200 on August 10. After 36 years of hosting two Champ Car races a year, just one race was run in 1983, and that has been the case ever since.

A controversy marked the finish of the 1983 race as Tom Sneva won the race -- his second at The Mile -- by a margin of 10 seconds. An inspection of Sneva's car revealed that it didn't have proper ground clearance on the side pod's mounted skirts, so Al Unser, Sr. was declared the winner. CART's technical staff later upheld a subsequent appeal by Sneva and reversed the ruling, giving the win back to Sneva two weeks later. Sneva won for the third straight time at The Mile in 1984, his fourth victory in five races at Milwaukee. 1984 was the first year the June event was 200 miles in length, which proved fortuitous for Sneva, snaring the lead from Rick Mears on lap 199.

NASCAR made its debut in Milwaukee in 1984 with the Busch Late Model Sportsman series, now known as the Busch series. The Busch Late Model Sportsman also raced in Milwaukee in 1985, NASCAR's last visit to The Mile until its return in 1993. Sam Ard drove to victory in the 200-mile race, followed by the two Wisconsin stock car legends, the late Alan Kulwicki and Dick Trickle, as well as Bobby and Davey Allison and Dale Jarrett, respectively. The 1985 event saw one of the most exciting finishes in Mile history as Jack Ingram and Rick Mast swapped the lead four times in the last six laps with Ingram winning by less than one car length.

In 1985, Miller Brewing Company became title sponsor of the Champ Car event. That year, Mario Andretti set a qualifying record of 147.608 mph and went on the win the Miller American 200. It was his fourth victory at The Mile, but his first since 1967. 1986 went down in history as the first time a father and son had won back-to-back races in Milwaukee as Michael Andretti took the checkered flag. He picked up his second win in a row at Milwaukee by winning the Miller American Racing 200 in 1987.

In 1990, the Champ Car race took the name "Miller Genuine Draft 200." Al Unser Jr. won that event after leader Michael Andretti ran out of fuel on the 198th lap. Little Al's victory made it the ninth Milwaukee Mile win for the Unser family. His father, Al, Sr. and his Uncle Bobby, each have four. In 1991, a first in the worldwide history of auto racing occurred as three members of the same family finished 1-2-3 in a major Champ Car event. Michael Andretti won the race followed by his cousin, John, in second and father, Mario, in third. Michael's brother, Jeff, was also in the field, finishing 11th.

The Carl Haas Era (1992-Present)

In 1992, with Milwaukee in danger of losing its CART race, Carl Haas was given a long-term contract to organize all racing activity at the storied facility. Working feverishly with the combined help of the Wisconsin State Fair Board, Wisconsin Sports Authority and Miller Brewing Company, Haas was able to save the race and begin a series of improvements that have culminated with the completion of the new grandstands for the 2003 season.

Shortly after Haas took over, a new front stretch wall was installed and 700 gallons of paint were used to give the grandstand and other structures a fresh look in time for the Miller Genuine Draft 200. A record crowd of more than 43,000 saw Michael Andretti make it two wins in a row with a record average speed of 138.031 mph. Bobby Rahal, who set a new track record in qualifying, finished second followed by Scott Brayton in third. The 1993 event saw reigning Formula One World Champion, Nigel Mansell, pass Raul Boesel with 19 laps remaining to claim his first career oval track victory. Mansell went on to win the CART Championship the same year.

In 1994, Team Penske swept the top three positions in the only rain-shortened Champ Car race in Milwaukee Mile history. Al Unser Jr. won, with Emerson Fittipaldi finishing second and Paul Tracy in third. The following year, Tracy moved to the top step of the victory podium, driving for the team owned by Haas.

Haas was back in the victory lane again the next year when Michael Andretti held off Al Unser Jr. by less than two-tenths of a second to record his fifth Milwaukee Mile victory. The track was resurfaced again prior to the 1996 race, which was won by Michael Andretti. More new names were added to Milwaukee Mile winner's list when Greg Moore won in 1997 and Jimmy Vasser took the checkered flag in 1998.

In addition to stellar CART action, the Carl Haas era in Milwaukee has also been marked by the return of NASCAR racing for the first time since the mid-80s. On July 4th 1993, a record crowd was on hand for the NASCAR Busch Series Havoline "Formula 3" 250, which was won in thrilling fashion by Steve Grissom. Another exciting NASCAR finish occurred in 1996, when local hero Dick Trickle was passed with just four laps to go by Roy "Buckshot" Jones, who went on to win the first major race of his career by a scant .002 second over Mike McLaughlin.


The NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series visited The Mile in its inaugural 1995 season with Mike Skinner winning both the pole and the race. The truck series has returned each year since and the track has proved to be the perfect match. In 1996, the series record was set when 17 lead changes occurred during the race.

Both the NASCAR Busch Series and Craftsman Truck Series have been extremely popular at The Milwaukee Mile, with attendance records set at the 1993 event and again at the NASCAR Busch Series events in 1996, '98 and in '99 when 43,434 saw rookie Casey Atwood win. In 2000, the NASCAR Busch Series at The Mile went to Jeff Green, and was then swept for the next two years by Greg Biffle.

The Milwaukee CART races have been marked by a series of foreign-born winners, with Canadian Paul Tracy grabbing his second victory in 1999, followed by Juan Montoya of Columbia in 2000, Kenny Brack of Sweden in 2001, and then Tracy again in 2002. But America is not without her due. In 2000, Kurt Busch captured both the pole and the race in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series. The following year, the victory went to former Franklin resident Ted Musgrave, and in 2002, it went to Terry Cook.

Andy is the president, publisher and founder of OnMilwaukee. He returned to Milwaukee in 1996 after living on the East Coast for nine years, where he wrote for The Dallas Morning News Washington Bureau and worked in the White House Office of Communications. He was also Associate Editor of The GW Hatchet, his college newspaper at The George Washington University.

Before launching in 1998 at age 23, he worked in public relations for two Milwaukee firms, most of the time daydreaming about starting his own publication.

Hobbies include running when he finds the time, fixing the rust on his '75 MGB, mowing the lawn at his cottage in the Northwoods, and making an annual pilgrimage to Phoenix for Brewers Spring Training.