For Midwestern race fans, the Milwaukee Mile is renowned for its short track racing under the lights. Yet, the Mile is not just another race track.
With the track losing its two NASCAR sanctioned events in 2010, a chapter has been closed on this historic race track.
Just over 90 minutes from Chicago, the Milwaukee Mile sits on Wisconsin State fairgrounds in West Allis, Wisconsin.
The track, which is nestled in the heart of this small town, brings the town to life every June when the NASCAR Touring Series and Indy Racing League come to race.
The history goes back generations and reaches far across not only the Midwest, but auto racing in general.
The mile track started off as a horse racing track in the late 1800’s. The track, which operated as a dirt track up until 1953, was paved in 1954 with asphalt.
Just after the turn of the century, the first motorsport event was held there on September 11, 1903.
Chicagoan William Jones won a five lap speed contest and set the first track record with a 72 second, 50 mph lap.
In the coming years, the small, short track would go on to host events for the American Automobile Association, USAC, NASCAR, CART, and many regional series.
The Milwaukee Mile held more national Championship midget, stock, and Indy car races than any other track in the country between 1947 and 1980.
The track has seen some of motorsports greatest drivers to ever take the wheel, including A.J. Foyt, Mario Andretti, Bobby Rahal, Jeff Gordon, Rusty Wallace, Darrell Waltrip, Bobby and Davey Allison, and many, many more.
The first NASCAR Nationwide Series (then Busch Series) race was held there in 1984 and 1985, but the series did not return again until 1993 and has raced there since. The NASCAR Camping World Truck Series (then Craftsman truck) has had races at Milwaukee since the series inception in 1995.
Attending a race here is like a lap by lap history lesson in the making. When you get to West Allis, you wouldn’t know that the NASCAR Touring Series holds races here.
As you get closer to the track, the streets though are humming with people and race fans from all over, wearing their favorite driver’s number with pride.
Fans from all across the country make the trek every year for a chance to see their favorite drivers get back to their racing roots.
The community opens up their backyards and often times their driveways for fans to come and enjoy their crown jewel.
Last summer, I went with my friend Kim Hayes to the Nationwide Milwaukee race and spoke with a lady who let us park my car in her yard.
She said this was their extra source of income. They loved having the races here because the race fans are so much fun.
Times were tough and while they charged for parking at their homes, the NASCAR races allowed them to make a little extra money.
Now the community has lost the income that comes from fans renting motel rooms and eating at local restaurants.
They have also lost the pride that comes along with hosting a marquee event. This small town takes center stage for a few hours twice a year on warm June nights.
As we walked away from the track after the race, I could not help but look back and take in the moment.
I still get chills to think of the legends that raced here and of the backyard dreamers who one day hoped to race at this historic track.
We both said we were coming back in 2010, not just because the racing was amazing and the finish was spectacular, but because I could not imagine a better place to spend a Saturday evening than at this Wisconsin race track.
Now I will have to wait and hope that in 2011 I get to make the hour and half drive north and sit on the aluminum stands and take in being part of this track's history once again.