MILWAUKEE – As Michael Andretti takes over as the promoter of the struggling Milwaukee Mile IndyCar race, he knows he won't have the mainstream appeal of Danica Patrick to help bring fans back to the track.
He insists that isn't necessarily a bad thing.
Andretti, Patrick's former car owner in IndyCar, says the series is better off in some respects without her.
"I think we're strong in our own way," said Andretti, who still is a team owner in the series. "Yeah, we lost Danica, but I'm not sure that's going to be negative. I think she brought a lot of good stuff, but she brought a lot of other things that really took away from the rest of our series. And I don't think that's healthy. And I think NASCAR's going to find that."
Patrick has left IndyCar and will concentrate full-time on her NASCAR career this season.
Andretti went out of his way to make it clear that his comments weren't meant as a criticism of Patrick, but rather a criticism of the amount of media attention she receives as the expense of other drivers.
"It became all about her," Andretti said. "Even our racing was secondary. I mean, to talk about her finishing 12th in the field, it was taking away from our real stars that we have that really were not getting the billing they should get."
So as Andretti and his company, Andretti Sports Marketing, begin to ramp up promotion of the June 15-16 event in Milwaukee, he hopes to lure back fans with drivers such as his son, Marco, along with Graham Rahal, Will Power, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Ryan Briscoe, Dario Franchitti and promising young driver James Hinchcliffe. The IndyCar season begins March 25 in St. Petersburg, Fla.
"We've got major-league talent that has been sort of in the shadow," Andretti said. "Now they're going to be back out again."
The Mile also is trying to get back in the spotlight, too.
Milwaukee once was a cornerstone of the IndyCar schedule, hosting a race on the weekend immediately after the Indianapolis 500. But the event — and the track itself, which dates to 1903 — have lost their luster in recent years. After multiple promoters failed to make racing at the Mile a successful business, the track didn't host any major events in 2010.
Another promoter brought IndyCar back to Milwaukee last year, but the race drew a disappointing crowd. NASCAR's Nationwide and Truck Series haven't returned.
Milwaukee initially was left off the 2012 IndyCar schedule until a last-ditch commitment by Andretti's group to take another swing at making it a success. Andretti, who won at Milwaukee five times as a driver and three times as a car owner, says his group has studied past mistakes and will learn from them to make the event work.
"The more we dug into it, the more we felt like this could be a real success," Andretti said. "There's just been mistakes made in the past, so we're trying to learn from them. I think No. 1 was you just never really felt the community involvement, and that was the first thing we had to attack."
Andretti hopes to draw at least 30,000 fans and hopefully far more.
Andretti said having the race on the Sunday of Father's Day weekend last year was a mistake; the race now is on the Saturday of Father's Day weekend. Andretti also said ticket prices have been too high, there hasn't been enough promotion and there haven't been enough activities at the track beyond watching racing.
Andretti's group is marketing the race as a two-day "Milwaukee IndyFest," hoping to associate it with the local festivals that are a staple of summer in Milwaukee. There will be a concert after the race, with a performer to be announced. The track will have a family-friendly area and a Ferris wheel.
"It's going to be a festival, it's not just going to be a race," Andretti said.
Since announcing that he was stepping in to promote the Milwaukee race, Andretti says he has received thanks from several drivers who love the historic 1-mile track.
"The moment we announced it, I couldn't believe all the thank yous I got from the competitors for saving the event," Andretti said. "That shows you."