McGEE: Milwaukee has rich racing history

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Ryan McGee

This weekend NASCAR rolls into Brewtown, USA for a rare Craftsman Truck/Busch Series doubleheader. But NASCAR certainly isn't the first visitor to Milwaukee. In fact, the name Milwaukee comes the word "millie-wah-kay" which is Algonquin for "the good land." Remember? Alice Cooper in Wayne's World? No? Nevermind. The track itself is a super flat, perfectly-shaped oval that looks deceivingly simple. "You look at it and think 'That place is going to be a piece of cake,'" says 1997 Busch race winner Randy Lajoie. "Then you get out there and it's about a hundred degrees and the track gets slick and your wheels start spinning off the corner and you go, 'Damn, this is hard!'" The media guide will tell you that the track is banked 9.25 degrees in the corners, but truthfully it's as flat as a three-day old Coke. The cars (or trucks) run way down on the bottom by the grass where the banking barely comes into play. The straights are an even 1,265 feet on the back and the front. You couldn't draw a more perfect oval with a room full of geometry teachers. "It races like a short track," says Hank Parker Jr., who finished 14th in his sponsor's namesake race one year ago. "Turns one and two are tight and usually single file. But turns three and four are two-wide just about all day." "That's where you have to make your move," says 2001 Busch and 1999 Truck winner . "You can pull up next to somebody in between three and four and then try to make your pass up off turn four onto the frontstretch." And that's the spot where drivers get to use two of their favorite words - "bite" and "downforce." "You have to have both is you want to pass anyone up off of four," says Lajoie. "At the end of long green flag runs, which we have a lot of up there, your tires are getting slick and so is the track. If your car is getting good grip and pushes those tires down in there, then you can dig up off that corner and get a run on someone. That's bite." The Milwaukee Mile is one of the best-kept secrets in motorsports when it comes to the latest wave of new fans, but to racing purists and historians a race in Milwaukee is like a trip to Fenway Park or Yankee Stadium. The Mile is actually the oldest racing circuit in the United States, even older than its more prestigious cousin to the south in Indianapolis. The original oval was plowed onto some farmland in rural Milwaukee and started holding horse races as early as 1876. When some guy named Ford started mass-producing "horseless carriages" down the road in Detroit, someone decided it would be a good idea to take a ride around the track.

Speeding up

The first official "Auto Speed Contest" was held on the mile in 1903 and saw William Jones of Chicago bust it around the oval with an average speed of 50 miles per hour. Over the last 99 years, Mr. Jones has been joined on the list of Milwaukee winners by the likes of Barney Oldfield, Ralph DePalma, A.J. Foyt, Mario Andretti, and that Ford guy from Detroit. They've managed to improve a little in the speed category, though. Quaifying speeds for Sunday's Busch race will hover around 120 miles per hour and CART's Patrick Carpentier owns the overall track qualifying record at 179.748 mph — more than three-and-a-half times William Jones' 1903 pace.

Ah, memories

The most memorable Busch race at Milwaukee over the last few years had to be July 4th weekend of 1999. 17-year old was trailing series veteran as the two leaders dove into turn three to take the white flag. What happened next is open to interpretation — depending on whom you ask to describe it for you. "I got a great run on Jeff in the middle of three and four," Atwood said at the time. "I didn't mean to hit him, but I was just faster than he was and ran up on him" Green saw it a little differently then ... and still does. "He knocked the crap out of me is what he did. He hit me square in the rear and when I tried to save it I got out of the groove and he went by me. I know he was going for his first win and all, but I don't believe I could enjoy a win if that's how I decided to do it."

Anybody's race

The Mile was one of the original tracks on the inaugural Craftsman Truck Series schedule in 1995. Who's going to win this weekend? It's anyone's guess. In five events, there have been five different race winners and only one repeat pole-sitter — Jack Sprague in 1997 and 98. Sprague's truck success could make him the favorite for Sunday's Busch race. After startng all six CTS races, Sprague is the career leader in poles (2), races led (4), top fives (5), laps led (279), and money won (over $110,000). The pressure is on for Sprague. He continues to lead the Busch Series point standings by 68 over Scott Riggs and 110 over fellow Milwaukee winner . Ryan McGee is the producer of , which airs weeknights at 6 p.m. local on FOX Sports Net and 6:30 p.m. ET on SPEED Channel.

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